The 7 Borders
“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.” Abraham Lincoln
KMAC presents The 7 Borders, an exhibition exploring artistic connections to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its seven border states – Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. With the unique distinction of being the only state in the nation with seven borders, Kentucky is positioned as a center for artists who have woven the narratives of this region into their work, examining shared histories and common threads. Taking a cue from 20th century regionalist painters like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, the artists in The 7 Borders investigate the concerns of a new regionalism and what it means to critically engage in a cultural, social, and political way with the surrounding landscape. Each of the artists represented is witness to varying views of the region focusing both on personal history and collective experience.
Kentucky began as an isolated county of Virginia separated from the eastern seaboard by the Appalachian mountain range. It was an area notoriously difficult to reach and on it’s admission to the United States of America it was regarded as the first western state. Geographically Kentucky is situated in the Upland South giving it equal historical claim as an eastern, western, northern, and southern state. The motto United We Stand Divided We Fall on Kentucky’s seal and flag reflects the decision Kentucky made to remain neutral during the Civil War, but it can also serve as the context for an exhibition that places Kentucky as a central force in the American art scene.
Highlighting artists who have found inspiration on the periphery of the major art markets on the east and west coasts The 7 Borders introduces ideas that are distinct to this region. Featuring both emerging and established artists, the exhibited works represent regional folk art, quilting, furniture design, photography, drawing, painting and sculpture. Each artist has created works that convey issues with deep resonance to Kentucky and our seven neighbors exploring themes from suburbia, urban culture, politics, seasonal change, and the region’s ties to coal mining and tobacco farming.
The participating artists represent a diverse set of living conditions and artistic practices. From the studios, cities, farms, and neighborhoods in which they work and create, to the landscapes they depict, and the people portrayed, these artists often employ locally sourced materials or depend on subjects in their immediate surroundings to give vitality to a process that ties their work to the location and provides a narrative about the importance of place. For some artists the suburban environment is an alien landscape best depicted as desolate, mundane and lifeless. Their critical take on the unsustainable nature of bedroom communities is often combined with support for a new urbanism that promotes less highways, more bike paths and a return to gathering places like cafes, bars and community gardens. The rural regions of The 7 Borders offer the craft practice of sourcing “the mountain way,” a technique for gathering the nearest discarded materials for making quilts, furniture and other items from the local artisans. Artists from multiple disciplines marked as having achieved contemporaneity have adopted this process.