Independence Day approaches, and a timely exhibit at the Salt Lake Art Center, All American: Defining Ourselves in a Time of Change, shows works from 13 contemporary artists from diverse backgrounds addressing what it is to be American in the 21st century. The works, says Jay Heuman, curator of exhibitions, “evokes a vital dialogue, whether with patriotic pride or cautious skepticism, about the icons and traditions that define us.” The exhibition probes contemporary realities that separate as well as unify in this “time of change.”
“As a nation, Americans look continually to our heritage, beliefs, and daily rituals to define ourselves as a culture,” said Heuman. Many believe this heritage is in peril with threats to our past putting our future in jeopardy. Relevant to all Americans and critical to Utah is the destruction of the land. Steven B. Smith’s 2007 print “Landscape Tableau No. 6, Ivins, Utah,” conveys the manipulation of nature to serve human purposes. It is an image that addresses increasing hazards to the ecosystem.
Conversely, a dramatic 2008 untitled digital photograph by Joe Compean offers an optimistic image of hope, change and unity. Said Heuman, “Our national identity is complex, and it is difficult to characterize a people by any one symbol, ethnicity or boundary.” The photograph, pictured above, captures an iconic moment in contemporary society where the future seems bright, as a American black woman stands holding the flag surrounded by individuals representative of a multifaceted America—an America of a new century.