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A Kansas City artist and poet hope to inspire change with exhibition promoting love, instead of war

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Artist Ada Koch, right, is joined at her new exhibition by poet Glenn North, center, and activist Rosilyn Temple. The three have collaborated over the last decade to use lessons from past wars to emphasize the need for love.

Artist Ada Koch takes inspiration from anti-war protest songs from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s in an exhibition in the Crossroads Arts District.

In the 1970 protest song, Edwin Starr asked the question: "War ... what is it good for?”

It’s a question artist Ada Koch has grappled with since childhood and continues to explore in an exhibition at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center.

There are nearly a dozen multimedia works, all inspired by anti-war protest songs from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, including artists from Bob Dylan to Iron Maiden.

“So the title of the show is ‘Remix: Love Over War,’” said Koch. “And the subtitle is ‘Changing the Narrative,’ which is an important part of our message.”

Koch grew up in Tennessee, where her parents worked at a production site for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.

“So I was indeed surrounded by this idea of the bomb,” she said, “and war and the Vietnam War and the Cold War.”

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
At Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, Ada Koch collaborated with neon artist Stephanie Leedy for "Echo," a neon and mixed media work visitors will see when they first enter the gallery.

One of her works called “Echo” features the word "WAR" in red neon and framed with the song’s lyrics.

“But I take those words and swing 'em all around,” she explained, “to make everyone think, 'What is it good for? What is it? What is good? What is war? Is it good?'”

She added, “And the music I grew up with were protest songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. So I went back and listened to those songs again. And sure enough, unfortunately, they're still very relevant today.”

Collaborating for change

The exhibition builds on Koch’s 10-year collaboration with poet Glenn North and non-violence activist Rosilyn Temple.

Temple started KC Mothers in Charge in 2011, after her own son was murdered, to provide support for other victims of violence.

“I love the way we all came together," said Temple, "and we’ve been able to put everything, that our gift that God gave us, you know."

She added, “It's been a blessing to meet them and be able to just come together as a bond.”

North, a poet and educator, first met Koch when they served on a grants panel.

“And I had really just started having this interest in what's called ekphrastic poetry, which is poetry written in response to a painting or a visual image, and it really gave me the opportunity to stretch," said North.

Meeting Temple, he said, provided a way to "engage the community in a meaningful way. So it wasn't just the art, the poetry."

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Ada Koch's "Loop," a suspended mixed media rotating sculpture, is inspired by Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"

One of Koch's works called “Loop” is inspired by Pete Seeger’s classic “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"

Sculptural strips of fabric, adorned with red, white and black flowers, hang suspended from a record.

“So you come away with this lace-like fabric of just flowers hanging down,” Koch described, “and it spins around and gives you this feeling of ongoing continuity.”

Koch’s series of paintings tied to the song “Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones is called “Flip Side” and repeats the word "BLACK" in black letters.

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
The Rolling Stones song "Paint It Black" inspired Ada Koch's "Flip Side." The installation includes sets of five letters, spelling the word "black" as well as a morgue painting.

The song, which first premiered in 1966, was written about the loss of a loved one. But, through the years, it’s been linked to war through movies like “Full Metal Jacket,” and “Call of Duty” which is a video game.

“So it became a protest song in its lifetime,” Koch said. “And now when I look at it, I think about Black Lives Matter and how it's taking on even more meaning in going different directions.”

The final piece in the show, “Loving Country,” ends on a more peaceful note; it’s inspired by George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).”

A man and a woman — both decked out in camouflage — embrace. The painting stretches out into pieces, and tambourines and mirrors line the wall.

In "Loving Country," Ada Koch described how the canvas "explodes outward." She asked, "So why can't we have an explosion of love instead of an explosion of mortar?"

“And those mirrors make the viewer a part of the piece,” described Koch. “And so it's very important to us that that message, that dialogue gets started and continues.”

An excerpt from North’s poem “Hope Forward” underscores Koch's message:

Hope springs eternal

in even the hardest

of human hearts

when accompanied

by love inevitably —

our deepest fears depart.

Koch says she stays hopeful. And for now, she says, the collaboration with North and Temple will continue because there's still war and violence — especially close to home.

‘Remix: Love Over War (Changing the Narrative)’ runs through Feb. 26 at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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