We Count: M Kelley
Interview with the artist, January 29, 2020
M Kelley. Vote (Peace and Participation), 2019. Relief print, thread, and fabric, 48 1/2 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist. © M Kelley. Photo: John Schweikert
M Kelley. Burn (Action and Incitement), 2020. Relief print, thread, and fabric, 50 3/8 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist. © M Kelley. Photo: John Schweikert
M Kelley. Lock (Provocation and Confinement), 2019. Relief print, thread, and fabric, 50 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist. © M Kelley. Photo: John Schweikert
M Kelley. Unlock (Vision and Struggle), 2019. Relief print, thread, and fabric, 51 x 29 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist. © M Kelley. Photo: John Schweikert
The right to vote weighs deeply on issues of representation within a system that governs you. What happens when one is placed outside of that system, yet expected to survive within its rules?
Because of my own experiences, I am most interested in individuals with whom the system has designated an “otherness,” a “separateness”—those who straddle a place of being simultaneously overlooked but also viewed through assumptions and stereotypes about their capacity and capability. I had worked previously with Project Return, and I chose to circle back to the criminal justice system and engage the conversation around disenfranchisement and restoration of voting rights.
Too often media and imagery around restoration rely heavily on images of incarceration. Because of the differences in which felonies can prevent the restoration of voting rights (a list that changes from state to state and often from year to year), I wanted to highlight the journey of reentry. I felt it imperative to avoid focusing on the crime, and instead focus on the impact on the community. Printmaking as a technique has always been the voice of the people; I chose iconic paper ballots for their universality, and the medium of flags for their utilitarian representation as a symbol of identity. The four colors correspond to ritualistic directional color—peace, vision, anger, and action. The four images—participation, struggle, confinement, and incitement—depict themes from interviews with those who have restored their rights, and those who continue to work toward system reform.
M Kelley’s career includes a diverse and thorough approach to the arts. Inviting others into collaboration, curiosity, and cross-pollination, Kelley helps create immersive, interactive spaces for dialogue, design thinking, and connection. Kelley’s civic and social practice work focuses on sustainability for artists at all levels, through creative placemaking, civic consulting, community development, advocacy, equitable access, and mentorship, with a focus on building and activating creative community workspaces.
As a studio practice, their portfolio includes venues and collections both locally and throughout the world; internationally, their work has been shown in venues within Brooklyn, Calgary, Cambridge, Chicago, Lexington (Kentucky), Los Angeles, Paris, San Francisco, and Seattle, among others, and resides in various academic, institutional, and private collections. As an arts reporter, Kelley regularly writes for journals and news outlets across the American Southeast. They also work as a sketchnote artist, live-documenting contemporary dialogues about equity, policy, and community within the arts, tech industries, and social justice fields, and seek to amplify marginalized voices.
Click on each image to enlarge.
Vote (Peace and Participation), 2019
Relief print, thread, and fabric