Today NCN features work by Kay Westhues, who is documenting how rural history and traditions are interpreted and transformed in the present. I encountered Kay’s work at the Evanston cultural center this past weekend, and was immediately struck by how she is able to show both the devastation and dignity of rural life. People who are suffering catastrophic economic and civil decline often have little choice but to cling to patriotic and religious symbols–even as they are being largely abandoned by state and church alike. Kay captures that predicament without condescension or mockery, and she seems to understand how people find a way to live within tattered legacies. This is a portrait of the people at the bottom of the Real America, people who might be in the Tea Party if they were even that well off.
You can see the rest of the exhibition here.
Kay lives in South Bend Indiana, where she and her partner, artist Jake Webster, run a small gallery and performance space called Artpost. She is currently working on a photo project about old artesian wells in the Midwest and the people who visit them; the project explores how these vestiges of the public commons continue to have meaning in contemporary rural life. More information is available at her website.