by Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez
Discussions of social inequality and the course of its correction, social justice, may often feel overwhelming broad or too insurmountably complex to battle. It takes a long time to fully understand social problems, and for some, especially for those of us raised in circumstances of privilege, it can take even longer just to admit that a problem exists. Actions that successfully dismantle injustice are often difficult to sustain, and the enormity of the task has led to the frustration and fatigue of many a young activist.
For Sarah Scott, however, the intersecting issues of social injustice are personal, and through her artworks she skillfully distills large, complex social problems into accessible messages of instruction, correction, encouragement and empathy. In her solo exhibition, Tools for Change, Scott displays linocut prints, spray-painted stencils and sewn drawings that pulse with bold expressions of human rights, feminism, fair housing, community building and accessibility.
Scott was seemingly born into the role of activist. She was was born in her aunt’s home in Southeast Grand Rapids, set among the early community that would become the affordable housing nonprofit, Well House. The life and work of her aunt, who she describes as a “peacemaker”, have been an inspiration to Scott ever since. After attending school in Ohio, Scott returned to Grand Rapids to be nearer to her aunt and began an AmeriCorps position in the Heartside neighborhood. Among other civic activities, she volunteered at Heartside Gallery for a full decade before she was hired as the Arts Coordinator in 2008. In her experiences at Heartside and Well House, as well as in her own community in Grand Rapids’ Baxter Neighborhood, are endless stories of poverty, oppression, harassment and inequity, but also beauty, dignity and community pride. Fueled by these stories, Scott’s artwork is saturated with resolute articulations of social justice.
The printed black and white images and text are remarkably simple. Familiar objects, such as tools, buildings, slingshots and plants, are printed in a consistently relaxed and elastic style. The text is a similarly energetic and playful script, yet also unbendingly authoritative. We get the sense that the words could be spoken in a gracious and nurturing timbre among friends, but could quickly shift to a tone much more ferocious if confronted by a would-be oppressor.
A stoutly bordered print of just the word “no.”, for example, is initially a comforting reminder to maintain personal boundaries on one’s time, energy and commitments. It becomes a fierce and unwavering rally cry, however, when considered in the context of individual or community exploitation. Similarly, a stenciled and sewn banner that reads “TRUST WOMEN” is both an emblem of camaraderie and also a fearless battle flag in a war against those who would seek to legislate a woman’s body or discredit a woman’s power of consent.
The justice Scott advocates does not happen passively; it is undoubtedly hard work. In one piece, a lone seedling rising among a heavy urban hardscape implores the viewer, “This city needs you.” Other images of hammers and gears remind us that justice work is active, and at times, a toiling struggle. Another accompanies these images, however: “Rest for the Laborer” is a firm reminder that renewal in respite is something we should both seek for ourselves and provide for others.
Scott especially enjoys linocut and stencil printmaking because of its potential to be quickly and inexpensively reproduced. She believes art and the power of art making should be accessible to everyone. Her ability to condense multi-layered social subjects into accessible images and texts is also the greatest success of her work displayed in Tools for Change.
The public is invited to the artist reception and pop-up shop Friday, June 3 from 7-7 PM. The event is free and open to the public. Scott’s work will be featured at The Sparrows through June 30.
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1035 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
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Photo credit Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez