The Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) gallery in Pioneer Square is tucked into the east side of Third Avenue, away from the tight cluster of galleries in the neighborhood’s core. Large glass windows provide a glimpse inside, revealing a massive mural on the back wall. It depicts a woman, head tilted up, watching knowingly. Under her gaze bold words read, “Write back or get written out! Decolonize your history.”
“When you are a part of a group that has been targeted you become trained to fight for yourself,” said Aramis Hamer at a question-and-answer session at the gallery Feb. 4. “And so my segue into activism was just a rite of passage, it was something that was going to happen.”
Six women — including artists, activists and resisters — spoke on art as advocacy at the gallery’s newest exhibition “Hear Our Voice.” The exhibit has collected art that was used for protest signs at the Women’s March on Washington at the nation’s capital.
The mural’s creator, Jessica Sobogal, is a first-generation Colombian American muralist and one of the featured artists. Pieces by artists from the Trill Collective and the Amplifier Foundation joined Sobogal’s work along with a small selection from thousands of individual submissions. Sobogal explained that for her creating art is about representing communities and uplifting voices.
“The thing about the people or the narratives that I depict is that it’s not like their stories are unique,” Sobogal said. “It’s that they’re not being told or they’re being told by other people, which means they’re being told incorrectly. A lot of the work I do is the unwiring of that.”
The space is organized simply: an array of posters on the southern wall, a looping video of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., on the opposite wall and Sobogal’s unflinching mural at the end of the room. For a room so physically empty it is full of energy, of voices. The posters were signs created for the national Women’s March, highlighting radical topics from queer resistance to environmentalism. Most of the pieces on display are available digitally on the Amplifier Foundation’s website for free.
“You can do whatever you want with this artwork, this artwork is yours now,” said Cleo Barnett, program director for the Amplifier Foundation. “Not for sale or for profit, but what could you do with this artwork? It’s providing people with the knowledge of how to do this, and once you have that knowledge you can do anything.”
“Hear Our Voice” is merely the first iteration of the exhibit. It is slated to travel across the nation, after closing in Seattle on Feb. 25. CoCA seeks to continue its work with activist artists and art for advocacy in their upcoming exhibit “Make America Create Again,” which will feature works centering on the idea of advocacy and resistance. All works will be by members of CoCA and submissions for the exhibition are accepted until Feb. 12.