BallotBox What is a vote worth?

BallotBox is a voting rights art exhibition that uses art as a catalyst for community engagement with new work by five artists who use an intersectional lens to examine issues related to voting rights, democracy, and citizenship. BallotBox, curated by Skylar Smith, is currently on display at 21c Museum Hotel Louisville.

While viewing the artwork, reflect on how the right to vote impacted the past, impacts the present and will impact the future. As well as, what voting means to you as an individual and to you as part of a democracy?

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. While this is a hugely significant milestone that countless women across the country fought for, after this amendment passed in 1920 many women were still disenfranchised, including African American women in the South, Native American women, and other women and men of color. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed discriminatory voting practices in southern states; and this year is the 55th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.- Skylar Smith, 'BallotBox' Curator

The artwork

I Vote

'I Vote'

Sandra Charles, Oil on Canvas, 2020.


This series of life-size oil paintings focuses on the history of the African American voting experience, our attitudes toward this right now, and how our attitudes may affect future generations. Each painting represents a figure from three different generations and how they viewed their quest for equality. The subjects of each painting are women in line to vote and the attitudes that helped shaped their generation. Each woman represents different periods of the African American history of voting in this country and their push for equality.- Sandra Charles, Artist

The first painting, Grandma’s Vote, focuses on the time from slavery through the Jim Crow era and how those who could vote felt it was a way to honor their heritage, and those who fought for this right. The figure is dressed formally, in her ‘Sunday Best’, reflecting this generation’s view that voting was a privilege. Grandma’s Vote represents a woman that the artist remembers from her parent’s generation.

The second painting, I Vote, focuses on the empowerment of African Americans as a people. This painting represents a woman from the artist’s own generation, and it is a tribute to the generation of voters who fought and protested during in the Civil Rights period, when the landmark Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, making state laws that prevented African Americans from voting, called ‘Jim Crow' Laws, illegal.

The third painting, Her Vote, focuses on the artist’s granddaughter's generation. Through the figure's stance and attire, the artist communicates this generation's perceptions of voting and their expectations of the future. Notice this figure’s clothing and attitude compared to Grandma’s Vote- this reflects the cynicism towards politics felt by some from the Millennial generation.

Will 2020 Be The Year Of The Young Voter?

A Choice Between 'We The People' And 'Something Darker'


The artist, Sandra Charles, used members of her own family as models for these paintings. If you were to recreate these images as reflections of members of your own family and their history, how would they compare?

If you were able to vote in this current election, would you feel that your vote matters?

You Sang Off Key

'You Sang Off Key'

Brianna Harlan, Mixed Media Installation, 2020


'You Sang Off Key' is an installation weaving personal, historical, and educational narrative together for a varied look at the relationship between the voter and the vote. The name is pulled from a story about my grandmother, Mattie Jones who experienced voter discrimination in Mississippi as a Black woman. She was requested to sing the national anthem, The Star-Bangled Banner, and then was denied her right to vote for singing “off key.” Her journey to becoming an honored civil rights activist is visually expressed by digital art printed on large velvet banners and an antique decommissioned ballot box wrapped in old and new chains- representing voter suppression that is both historic and still ubiquitous today. Through the exploration of these components, viewers are asked to reflect on their own experiences and feelings about voting. –Brianna Harlan, Artist

How a Louisville woman helped shape the city's civil rights movement. She's not done yet


If you had to sing the National Anthem right now, word-for-word, how would you do?

Have you ever been denied an opportunity merely based on your appearance? If so, in what ways has that experience impacted your life?

If you were denied the right to vote, would you take action? If so, what would you do?

Party Line

'Party Line'

Jennifer Maravillas, Mixed Media on Paper, 2020


These maps, often drawn behind closed doors, are a work of art to be considered. These lines tell the stories of our country through the imbalance of power and evolution of norms. They represent the redlining of votes and tools of authority wielded in the interests of politicians working toward staying in office, as opposed to representing their constituents. One person, one vote is an ideal we have never attained in the election of congress. –Jennifer Maravillas, Artist

Party Line compiles three datasets:

Total votes from the 2018 congressional election in each county represented by hues of red and blue. Value of color correlates to numbers of votes.

System of redistricting by state (Yellow)

Three congressional maps from 2011-2017 (Lines of black and purple)

These three sets of information, when viewed together, can show us where a district has been gerrymandered through cracking, diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts, and packing, concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts.


Can elections be fair when gerrymandering is involved?

Gerrymandering affects all citizens, how has it personally affected you and or those in your family?

Guessing Game

'Guessing Game'

Taylor Sanders, Mixed Media, 2020


'Guessing Game' focuses on literacy tests that were given to African Americans before being registered to vote during the Jim Crow era. Guessing Game combines the playfulness of an impossible guessing game to real and impossible literacy tests. The participant who can guess the number of gumballs closest to the actual amount wins a prize. Fun right? Well in this case, the people who can guess the correct number of gumballs can vote. Guessing Game calls attention to the ridiculousness of literacy tests that were given to African Americans beginning with Jim Crow laws, which successfully restricted many African Americans from voting. -Taylor Sanders,


Why do you think southern states created literacy tests that were nearly impossible to pass?

If you had to take a test before voting, would you still vote?


Taylor Sanders, Mixed Media, 2020

On election day, many voters are proud to wear the “I Voted” sticker or wristband given after voting. This piece removes the pride and happiness of being a voter, and focuses on a group of people who are not able to participate in voting. The redesigned sticker directs the spotlight onto inmates and formerly incarcerated people. Mass incarceration is a system in the United States that was created to criminalize people and make profit. Because of biased systems, like the police force and the justice system, African Americans are incarcerated more than any other race. One in every three African American men in the United States will serve jail time at some point in their lifetime. Because this system affects African Americans the most, there are many laws that restrict them from voting because of their criminal record, or because they are currently serving time during elections. -Taylor Sanders


Do you think current inmates or previously convicted felons should have the right to vote?

Better Seen Than Heard

'Better Seen Than Heard'

James R. Southard, Two Channel Digital Video (duration is yet unknown) 2020


Better Seen Than Unheard surveys the history of political campaigns and how they rely on the media to forward their cause to the public...The artist obtained archived footage of political ads and utilized a Photoshop tool called the ‘Heal Brush’, to remove the likeness of each political figure as well as their names from each advertisement. The goal of this artwork is to highlight the instruments that each campaign uses to convince, or even recruit, their audience into following their cause.


Each of these ads were created by different politicians. Do you see similar imagery in each ad? If so, how would you describe it?

What kinds of imagery and themes do political advertisements repeatedly use to convince the public to vote one way or another?

As we approach the U.S. Presidential election, and state-wide elections, and 2020 is a significant year for reflection on what a vote is worth, while considering the monumental efforts in past decades to secure voting rights, and contemporary voter access and engagement. -Skylar Smith, 'BallotBox' curator

What is your vote worth?


To view the BallotBox exhibit in person, please make an appointment to visit 21c Louisville


Created By
Kathryn Lenihan