During our conversation for The Rail about her current exhibition, Kay and I swerved onto the topic of art as activism.

Kay has used her artwork as a platform for advocacy for decades. In the current collection, Kay pointed to Trickle Down (2015) being a sharp criticism of the erroneous economic theory.

I brought up a few personal favorites, including a piece outside of the collection, “I Owe You” (2007).

“I Owe You” (2007) colored pencil on paper by Kay Rosen

 

Kay brightened and mentioned that she revived this work for a retrospective of her letterpress work for the Barbara Krakow Gallery, Kay Rosen: The Complete Letterpress Works, 1984-2017.

Originally, Kay created “I Owe You” to express resistance to the Energy Transfer Partners’ efforts to build the Dakota Access Pipeline less than one mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“Standing Rock really got to me,” she said. “Mistreatment of Native Americans goes back so far, and it is ongoing with other tribes.”

We marveled at the coincidence that IOU is in the middle of Sioux.

“Right in the heart of the word!” Kay exclaimed. “It is so amazing to me when this happens,” she continued. “The message is embedded in the name.”

‘“IOU’ is a found textual treasure,” she noted in the work’s description for her letterpress exhibition, which “required minor adjustments to color to address major historical wrongs.”

The message of the piece, Kay wrote was “both a promise and an apology to that tribe, and by extension, to the many other indigenous peoples whose rights and treaties have been trampled over the years.”

“I would love to do it large, billboard-size,” she told me, her hands outstretched. “This is a work that I would still like to get out in the world, as a message,” Kay said.

Me too.