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The Henry takes public art to the streets with upcoming exhibit ‘Set in Motion’

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Street View -- Henry Art Gallery

The Henry Art Gallery, located just off of Red Square, is home to work by artists from all over the world.

Due to the pandemic, the Henry Art Gallery is closed until further notice, but this hasn’t stopped the museum from continuing to share a love of art with the local community. With its doors closed to the public, the Henry has gotten creative in bringing art into the city.

Adapting to the available resources, senior curator of the Henry, Shamim Momin, has been working with both local and out-of-state artists to cultivate an exhibition in an unlikely place: on the sides of city buses. With “Set in Motion” — which, evidently, takes its name quite literally — Momin hopes to share and distribute art beyond the museum’s physical space.

“Everyone is under so much pressure, so we were thinking [about] what we could do in the public realm,” Momin said.

“Set in Motion” is the museum’s largest-scale project this fall, spanning 20 bus routes and featuring the work of 10 different artists. What’s unique about this project is its blend of artists — five of the 10 are from out of state and were contacted directly by the Henry for the exhibition, while the remaining are the winners of an open-call contest to represent local artists.

All of the artwork selected for the exhibition draws inspiration from the present moment and the pressing issues of this year. Amir H. Fallah, a Los Angeles-based artist, was delighted to take part in the exhibition and identifies its power to disseminate art in the public realm.

“What really excites me about [public art] is there is a chance to have a dialogue with people who otherwise would not be able to see artwork,” Fallah said.

Fallah said that while art may not normally be at the forefront of people’s minds, displaying the exhibition on buses invites public attention and discussion.

“I love the idea of somebody walking down the street and they see this bus ad, but it's not really advertising anything — there's a bit more of a mystery to it,” Fallah said. “I am hoping that that air of mystery might invite them to look into the artwork a bit more or investigate it further, and it might make a dialogue with the art world.”

Fallah’s piece is a colorful detail from a larger painting of his titled “Science is the antidote, Superstition is the disease.” He created the work prior to the pandemic, and it has only become more relevant as the year has progressed.

Full of vivid symbolism and detail that draws inspiration from his Iranian American heritage, Fallah hopes that his work stimulates others and gives viewers something to ponder as they encounter his work on the side of a metro bus.

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Another artist featured in the exhibition is Seattle-based Marin Burnett. Burnett works with portraiture in her free time and keeps a finger on the open-call applications around the city. She submitted several works to be considered for “Set in Motion” and was thrilled to see her personal favorite selected for the exhibition.

The piece, which is a multimodal portrait titled “Refracted Saints #1,” explores the experiences of Black women in navigating a world that doesn’t see them for who they are.

“Being a Black woman, you often find yourself in situations where you can’t be yourself,” Burnett said. “Who you actually are at home can’t match who you are in the world because of the way the world treats you and sees you.”

On one side of the painting is a portrait of a young woman with a halo, and on the other side is the same image, though deconstructed and distorted to represent how Black women present themselves in public.

For Burnett, who is a self-taught artist, the image holds a special place in her heart.

“It's really the first time that I think I was able to put myself and my artistic vision together,” Burnett said. “It's an actual artistic expression that was attached to me and my voice.” 

As her work circulates on metro buses, Burnett suspects that Black women will understand the message; she is also hoping that when others see the images, they will wonder about the dual depictions of the woman.

The “Set in Motion” exhibition is expected to appear on metro buses next month and will continue its journey through the streets of Seattle until February 2021.

Reach writer Andy Samms at Twitter: @andy_samms

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