Artists often want to provoke their audiences – and get them talking – by combining art with social activism. One such artist is Hyla Willis, recently named Artist of the Year by Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside.
Her Artist of the Year exhibition is titled “America’s Least Livable City and Other Works,” on view through July 20.
Ms. Willis moved to Pittsburgh in 1996 for graduate school, but she always saw the irony in this famous ranking: When Pittsburgh was named America’s most livable city by Rand McNally in 1985, Yuba City, Calif. – her hometown – was ranked least livable city on the list.
She begs to differ.
Part of what her multimedia installation does is enlighten the viewer about Yuba City – its history, its diverse population and the collective good humor and imagination of its townspeople. With photos, hand-painted signs, wall text, enlarged newspaper clippings, drawings and a projected video, Ms. Willis provides a glimpse of this still-proud agricultural community in Northern California.
The region boomed during the Gold Rush, she explains, with many early immigrants from Punjab (India/Pakistan) and China’s “Canton” province. Whites, Chicanos and migrant farm workers (primarily Mexican) were also part of the mix. Later, the Dust Bowl (folks from Texas/Oklahoma), and Beale Air Force Base impacted the area’s population.
“It’s a conceptual art piece,” she says, “about human relationships and measurement. I hope visitors will find it engaging and humorous, and that they will ‘complete the dialogue’ with their own thoughts about community and ranking systems.”
Ms. Willis teaches media arts at Robert Morris University and is a former president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts Pittsburgh. She earned her MFA at Carnegie Mellon University.
As a founding member of subRosa, a feminist art collective, she has exhibited, performed and held workshops in Europe, Asia, Australia and throughout North America. For her Artist of the Year show, Ms. Willis also includes archival materials from her work with subRosa.
For more information: pittsburgharts.org and littlescience.com.