The Hemphill Fine Arts on 14th Street recently had an exhibit titled “Artist-Citizen, Washington DC.” This exhibition explored how artist interact with our nations capitol, a city that they regard as home. Wandering through the third floor gallery space the walls were not covered with images of the monuments as I expected, rather faces. These faces are what make up the city: it is not the buildings that create the political powerhouse that is D.C., but it is the individuals who have become passionate about the government and state of our nation. D.C. is a beautifully diverse city filled with unique personalities.
Within the first room was an entire wall filled with photographs of individuals dressed in what can only be described as the power suit. I remember my first visit to D.C. what truly captivated me wasn’t the monuments, or the historical sites, not even the museums and galleries (don’t get me wrong, these things are amazing), it was the people. I remember sitting on the metro around 9:00 am and watching all the men and women dressed in suits, caring brief cases and looking so purposeful as if today and every single day in the District was the opportunity to change the world. All these sophisticated people on the metro, during rush hour, were going to do just that. Their lives had purpose. I wanted to walk into the world that intentionally, determined, and purposeful. So here I am, living in D.C., looking at this piece on the wall of a small local gallery, and it was able to connect me to that initial emotion that drew me into the city.
In the Hemphill’s exhibit, each artist did an impeccable job capturing and expressing the essence of Washington D.C, an aesthetic that may be foreign to those who have not lived and loved this city. By shifting the focus of the art onto the people and landscape rather than objects so often featured when discussing Washington D.C. “Artist-Citizen” was able to reach the viewer on a more human level. Reminding all citizens that we are surrounded by the diversity and beauty of politics, arts, and history: being woven together to form a home.
In the press release for the exhibit, Hemphill states: “As we mark HEMPHILL’s 20th year, we are encouraged to think about the gallery’s investment in Washington—investment not only in the art community, but in the city at large…Through these visually rich and provocative art experiences, we hope to demonstrate how the Artist-Citizen engages us in the conditions of our community, revealing our connectedness, and enhancing our well being.” As a D.C. resident, and more importantly, someone who has found a home in this big city, “Artist-Citizen was one of the most impacting exhibitions I have seen, portraying the true emotions of Washington D.C.