The real cost: 21c ‘Labor & Materials’ gallery


Guest Contributor

May 10, 2019. The 21c Museum Hotel Louisville opened its doors to a new and improved gallery entitled “Labor & Materials,” displaying new functions of art in new lights of  a hardworking individual from every scope of life beyond the borders of America.

The exhibit has transitioned from the tales of toxic masculinity and the delicacy of expression from March 2018-19’s exhibit “Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation”to the silence of those who work for every penny.

The excitement of Derby festivities, gathered audiences of all ages to stop and take a peek inside the museum

As homage to the unpaid individuals working prior to the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, visitors are greeted by Kara Walker’s “Marvelous Sugar Baby”, a sculpture of an African boy who was a sugar and molasses attendant.

In awe, many gathered around the sculpture to evaluate Walker’s attention to detail.

Nine-year-old Kailyne Minsted and her grandma visited from Somerset, Ky.

“I just don’t know what to say. My mom and dad work because they’re grown ups. They work to pay for our house and to buy us [her siblings] toys. That kid looks younger than me. He doesn’t have a toy, he has a basket. If I was brown, would I be working like him,” Minsted said.

Other visitors wandered downstairs to something more familiar.

On the main wall, were hand woven baskets from indigenous cultures on the coasts of Venezuela decorated by logos of brands such as Louis Vuitton, HelloKitty, Nike, and Pacman.

The piece by Pepe Lopez, titled “Guapisimas” or “gorgeous”, highlights the trends of the tourist-driven market and the value placed on luxury goods without examining the conditions of individuals who made these brands available at your doorstep.

Carson Wassermann, Cincinnati native, visited during a quick get away with her husband.

“I’m a social worker and I’ve literally seen it all from the most educated to individuals living off government assistance.  I also paint to release some of the frustrations and emotions that come with the territory. Looking at this I feel smothered. I’ve practically raised my children with DC comics, HelloKitty, and Apple because that’s literally all we know. Up until reading the bio, I didn’t know exactly how the process of making my phone was someone’s livelihood. But, that just makes me wonder how little my husband and I know about the rest of the world,” Wassermann said.

More pieces similar as Walker and Lopez’s are featured throughout the lower level of the hotel, in neighboring rooms hangs stories of blue-collar employees from Africa and South America, captured in single collections.

In chromogenic prints, South African artist Zanele Muholi, captures the strength of the  domesticated workforce in “Massa and Minah I, II, and IV”.

The pieces feature the subject, Minah and her daily obstacles working to fulfill the pleasures of white family for over four decades.

Four pieces down stands Kristina Lindborg and Wallace McMullen, eyeing the rotation of a windmill.

Kristina Lindborg from Bloomington, Indiana stopped by just as a last stop before heading home.

“Looking at these pieces made my stomach turn. I’ve never had to live my life in service of some else’s life. I’ve worked in the office but I’ve never had to get on my knees and scrub floors for little to nothing. We don’t imagine ourselves in their shoes [black women] because we don’t have to. We’ve always had a leg up so why complain. I think today we take the luxuries of education for granted. I’ve got nieces who whine over christmas gifts when there are kids within the city who don’t have access to a book. It’s hard to place blame when luxury is all the children know. I just love this piece because it simplifies how we allow the inequities in the workforce and the injustices in working conditions to continue in a repetitive cycle without speaking up,” Lindborg said.

Wallace McMullen, a Louisville local said, “I never felt art. I’ve always looked at and sometimes touched it but, I never questioned it. We all know black people and hispanics see the most struggle. Observing the exhibit today made me feel like this isn’t just a “them” struggle in run down projects but, this is an “us” struggle. A struggle to make a penny in world where others make dollars. This struggle is one we see and pass like art”.

If you are interested in the remaining pieces of the exhibit, be sure to visit 21c Louisville on any day or at anytime.To explore 21c’s events, be sure to visit the 21c Museum and Hotel website or call at 1-844-577-5542.