“Word on the Street,” which opened Thursday night at Artpace, is an exhibition of political and poetic felt banners by all-female artists and writers that addresses concerns they saw rise from the 2016 election, but that is also meant to be applicable to any number of social events in the community.
Centered on one horizontal red banner by New York-based artist Jenny Holzer, for example, is the phrase “PANTS ON FIRE” in a darker red, sans serif font. A vertical banner with Rothko-esque patterns by 2013 MacArthur Fellow Carrie Mae Weems says “CHANGE REQUIRES 2020 VISION.”
The collection is curated by the art collective House of Trees, which is composed of siblings Jennifer, Amy and Noah Khoshbin.
The project emerged when Amy Khoshbin created a large felt banner in New York City to take to the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. This sparked the decision to start a collection of pieces that Jennifer, who’s based in San Antonio, Amy and Noah, collaborated on.
Times Square Arts, an organization that handles public art in Times Square, and the Khoshbins connected on the project, and in Aug. 29, 2017, Word on the Street made its debut on street poles and on the sides of Bigbelly solar-powered trash and recycle bins in the iconic intersection. The exhibition lasted through February 2018 and ended up makes the art rounds throughout New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Socrates Sculpture Park; the Kimmel Center for University Life at New York University; The Watermill Center in Water Mill, N.Y.; and the PEN America World Voices Festival.
Now, the series makes its way to San Antonio, its first appearance outside New York.
The banners were fabricated by refugees from the Center For Refugee Services on Wurzbach Road. House of Trees connected the artists, writers and refugees to create the banners—the artists designed the banners, the writers provided the text, and the refugee seamstresses fabricated all the banners. Felt was chosen as the material to remain consistent with the first banner and because “there is something to them about felt that made them feel almost child-like and very comforting,” Jennifer explained. It is a “material people associate from when they were a child,” she said.
The exhibition also includes a series of nylon banner flags, on which House of Trees and noted San Antonio poet Naomi Shihab Nye collaborated.
The nylon banners on display at Artpace’s street-facing space, each contain short poems written by Nye “that would speak to our time in history but also make somebody feel better if they were walking down the street,” she said.
She came up with four words about how people should interact with each other: “Open palms hold more,” whereas a closed fist doesn’t hold much, she said. Other poems included are meant to make the viewer think.
Jennifer Khoshbin said the exhibit will likely travel to another Texas city or the west or east coasts later this year.
“The goal is to not have it as a static exhibition,” Khoshbin said. “Our goal is to continue to use it as a catalyst for inspiration, for hopefulness, for action. Each time we move it, we intend to grow the collection as people from the local area where it gets picked up are interested.”
Jennifer Khoshbin also has a mural titled “Interwoven,” that just went up on the side of the Houston Street Parking Garage facing Navarro Street that depicts immigrant women from Afghanistan, Turkey, Honduras, Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti, who she met at the refugee center. However, it’s not part of “Word on the Street.”
“Word on the Street” runs at Artpace, 445 N. Main Ave., through April 19.