Art has often been considered a universal form of expression, fostering a venue for diverse experimentation. However, this guise of representation quickly falls short when considering that the artist collections showcased in 18 major U.S. art museums are 87% male and 85% white. This Eurocentric narrative is evident in art history, education, and gallery work—by only highlighting art through such a narrow lens, many marginalized voices are left out and ignored.
Michael Granville, the exhibition director of virtual art gallery Illustrative Voices, hopes to change that narrative through his non-profit gallery.
“We wanted to be able to find a spot where people can communicate and where themes of social justice are not so tabooed, where we can all come to the table from our diverse backgrounds and meet as artists and community leaders, youth and older people,” said Granville.
The mission statement of Illustrative Voices explains how the gallery hopes to foster art creativity, education, and advocacy by empowering diverse voices to visually express stories of social justice. Granville and his colleague Jordan Fong created the gallery in light of the global pandemic as a way to promote accessibility and inclusivity during these times.
Granville explained, “It’s actually evolved from the pandemic because a lot of artists haven’t had a space, platform, or a place with four walls where they can show [their work.] It seems like the pandemic has allowed people to really be creative and find ways of connecting, of creating community and still being able to show their art.”
In addition to the interactive gallery, they host a Zoom reception where the different artists can come together and talk about their artwork. This emphasis on interdisciplinary discussion regarding content and societal relevance is a key pillar of the gallery’s mission. “We want to bring artists together to have that conversation… art has a way of reflecting the times and lifestyle, acting as a method to bring people together visually,” said Granville.
Illustrative Voices’ diverse exhibitions cover topics surrounding social justice, such as bullying, identity, Black liberation, and equality. “This is not trying to isolate [any] group; we want to bring everyone into Illustrative Voices. And that’s what it is—illustrative. We can show our art through film, photography, fine arts, sculpting, and just inclusion,” Granville added.
Oftentimes, larger, revered art galleries tend to highlight Western art which in turn pushes a predominantly white, male, and heteronormative narrative. Granville believes that accessibility can eventually replace the elitist nature of the art industry, explaining that socioeconomic status should never take away from an individual’s artistic opportunities.
Traditional art galleries tend to be rooted in their experience and physical environment, and a virtual gallery can potentially lose the interactive aspects that make many galleries so appealing. Even so, Granville thinks that the benefits to the virtual setting outweigh its drawbacks by existing solely in a digital landscape. He said, “One thing I’ve noticed from this is that the virtual experience expands outwards, [giving] people the chance to view it at their own time and in their own space.”
Currently, Illustrative Voices uses Kunstmatrix to host their art exhibitions where the viewer can easily scroll through a three-dimensional gallery, clicking on each piece to learn more about the artist, medium, and statement behind the artwork. “It’s very interactive, like a video game,” Granville noted.
Granville concluded, “We want to make the topic open for discussion in a non-threatening way. Through knowledge and understanding each other, it will help with being a more inclusive, equitable community, and then branch out from there. We want to promote advocacy, [recruiting] allies from different walks of life to bring everyone together through art. Being more diverse, more inclusive, and adding knowledge from across the whole spectrum is our goal, especially in this homogenous world.”