A call went out from the Virginia Center for the Book in April of 2020, during the early horrors of COVID-19 and before a new tide of protest against racial injustice had launched. It was a call to writers and artists for print work responding to sexism, racism, and biases as seen and felt in our cultural landscape. This was to be an extension of Virginia Humanities work based on a two-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to heighten Virginia’s efforts in Changing the Narrative with exhibition sets made possible with additional support from the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.
During this time, those markers of historical injustice in our cultural landscape became the focal points of protest and iconoclasm by far more than artists and writers, forcing an ongoing reconsideration of inclusion amidst the heroes and narratives we teach, encounter, and interpret in our public spaces. The rapid shift prompted changes in long-standing public words (such as institutional, memorial, sports team names) and public spaces (statues and artworks).
These trends reframed the importance of this call to artists even while massive social changes were in progress. The work we received in response, consequently, marks the shift already underway and gives voice to the human encounters in the new work.
Art is a testing ground for complex feelings and experiences as they are first thought, shaped, and shared. As readers and viewers, we test our own experiences and biases against an artwork, in a characteristically human attempt to discern what is true. So we at Virginia Center for the Book offer these words and images as overlays to this cultural moment, as an opportunity for genuine seeing and listening to the ways our fellow Virginians are perceiving public spaces and public expression.
The title for this ongoing collection—Voice-Overs—offers in the artworks the opportunity to see the same spaces we inhabit through different eyes and to hear of them through voices and minds that may not resemble our own. Beyond this digital exhibit which all are welcome to visit and share, we anticipate the physical print works will be displayed and exhibited in venues throughout the Commonwealth at a time when gathering safely and the chance to see these works in person makes sense. We hope for the time being, viewers and listeners can enter this digital exhibit in the hope of a return to our living together in a revived public landscape, imbued with empathy and truth-telling.
All panels are labeled for the visually impaired, with full text added.
A limited number of additional copies of the following broadsides are available for purchase in support of the next public leg of this project in 2021:
• Allison Bell text “In this Shrine of the South”
• Rita Dove “Pedestrian Crossing, Charlottesville”
• Luisa A. Igloria “You Can’t Talk to Us Like That”
• Kevin McFadden “Often”
• Erika Meitner “I’ll Remember You As You Were Not As What You’ll Become”
• Kiki Petrosino “Essay in Architecture”
• Brian Teare “Of Feeling (Sonnet)”
• David Winship “Whitewashed”