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On view at M-AAA | Art by Jill Downen

By Margaret A. Keough

gallery installation of horizontal works of paper hung on wall, with a work on paper on scroll on a plinth

Mid-America Arts Alliance presents the exhibition I Spoke Truth and Someone Listened, featuring artworks by Kansas City-based artist Jill Downen. The exhibition is on view September 22–November 11, 2022, at Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA).

Artist Jill Downen’s newest series seeks to anchor, measure, and orient as communities collectively navigate a disinformation age. The site-specific, immersive exhibition at M-AAA invites visitors into a series of encounters with spoken word, works on paper, sound, and installation that explore the complex ways we perceive objective and subjective truths. It draws from audio recordings of project participants who spoke truth in a 2020–22 global exchange facilitated by the artist. The works reveal universal patterns in peoples’ value systems such as identity, family, and the importance of voice.

From the sidewalk, between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., listeners will encounter audio recordings that reflect diverse world views representing Australia, Brazil, Iran, Canada, France, Germany, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, and the US, in multiple languages, including Punjabi, Farsi, Spanish, English, and Lithuanian. These are voices of individuals who range in age from twelve to eighty-one and self-identify in a variety of ways including first-generation Americans, immigrants, cisgender, and LGBTQIA+. These speakers shared hope for the future of their children, expressed truth/s shaped by moments in time, and distinguished the difference between factual truth and being authentically true to oneself. They have spoken in declarations, poetry, story-telling, and readings from texts that identify with their truth/s.

Jill Downen is the recipient of numerous awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Stone and DeGuire Contemporary Art Award, the MacDowell National Endowment for the Arts residency, Cité International des Arts Residency in Paris, the Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artists Award, and a Santo Grant. They have created site-specific installations for Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; American University Museum at the Katzen Center in Washington, DC; and Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Downen’s work, Architectural Folly from a Future Place, created for Open Spaces: The Exhibition, was acquired by the City of Kansas City, Missouri, and remains on permanent view in Swope Park. Downen has lectured about their work extensively at venues including the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and the Luce Irigaray Circle Philosophy Conference in New York. They hold an MFA as a Danforth Scholar from Washington University in St. Louis, and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute, where they are currently an Associate Professor and Chair of Sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute. Downen is represented by Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, Missouri.

Support for First Fridays at Mid-America Arts Alliance comes from the Neighborhood Tourism Development Fund of the City of Kansas City, Missouri.


Image credit: Jill Downen, I Spoke Truth and Someone Listened, 2020–22; installation view, work on paper on loan from Thomas Sleet, Gina Golba, Emily Ryan, Amy Zoe Schonhoff, Char Schwall, Sara Gazi Asadollahi, Lelia Ghasempor, Kiana Henley; photo: Char Schwall