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Curating Undefeated: Canvas(s)ing the Politics Around Voter Suppression Since Women’s Suffrage, an online and print exhibit

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
April 21st, 2021
Image from Undefeated exhibit

By Sally Brown, WVU Libraries Exhibits Coordinator

Curating the Art in the Libraries’ large, multi-disciplinary exhibitions since 2018’s WATER, has proved an enormous and exciting part of my role as Exhibits Coordinator. Through WATER (2018-19) and Appalachian Futures (2019-20), I developed these large exhibitions with upwards of 50 diverse contributors, two committees, a designer, several sponsoring partners and of course, the signing off of Dean Karen Diaz for these displays going up in the Downtown Campus Library for the academic year.

This year’s exhibition, Undefeated: Canvas(s)ing the Politics Around Voter Suppression Since Women’s Suffrage, in conjunction with the Suffrage Centennial and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was complex in its multidisciplinary, and  controversial in its political nature. The complexity was compounded by the pandemic not only logistically for exhibition display, but also as it heightened the unfolding story of contemporary voter suppression with myriad new voting considerations throughout the presidential election. Thankfully, the various contributors and partners allowed for multiple perspectives for this exhibition and its related programming and we were able to engage participation from WVU and broader communities.

Originally, the Art in the Libraries Committee settled on the idea to call for round artwork – a nod to the shape of the campaign button and the bicycle wheels so important to the suffrage movement – around various voter suppression themes, with a regional expert committee helping with the informational content, to be juried in spring, and designed and installed in the summer of 2020. We received around 100 submissions and were able to jury them down to 75. The expert committee of regional scholars and activists were able to create educational content to complement and give context to the artwork in early spring as well. Several individual students, classes and student groups helped contribute to some of the educational content as well as develop inspiring ideas for art, and smaller exhibits in conjunction with the main exhibit (one is up right now on the 26th amendment by public history students on the 6t floor).

As with each of our major exhibitions, planning for this one began a full year before installation and we were working under pre-pandemic assumptions. However, we all know what happened in March, 2020. While I was thrilled to begin integrating the content for our exhibition designer, I shifted to remote work as did many people. My job as Exhibits Coordinator was transformed, and notably so was Undefeated.  Considering the situation after some weeks, we decided to launch the exhibition online, with longer articles by the committee along with the artwork, in early August 2020 followed by the print launch in the spring of 2021. Our related programming also changed and initiated our launch of the Art in the Libraries Virtual Program series. Our subsequent five programs were dedicated to various voter suppression topics in collaboration with the West Virginia Women Vote Coalition. This partnership expanded the audience of the exhibition and the virtual environment allowed for more community engagement. 

These exhibitions are a significant undertaking – integrating content from several textual and visual contributors, designing for the large space of the main floor, central staircase and atrium of the Downtown Campus Library, followed by printing and installation. But this integration allows us to highlight diverse perspectives, diverse media, and diverse disciplinary and cultural practices on the topic while offering library users interesting and poignant displays to ponder during their visit.

While the library supports the rotation of several smaller exhibitions concurrently at the campus libraries, it is important that we make this interdisciplinary exhibition shine. Fundraising is necessary to help underwrite the design, production, installation and programming. With much grant writing and outreach to campus and off-campus organizations, we were able to secure funding to complete Undefeated, including from:

Lead Exhibit Sponsors: WVU Libraries, WVU Humanities Center, and WVU Faculty Senate Community Engagement Grant.

Exhibits and Events Sponsor: Reed College of Media.

Exhibit Sponsors: WVU Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; WVU Council for Women’s Concerns; WVU Loulie, the Valerie and William Canady College of Creative Arts; and West Virginia Humanities Council.

Supporters of WVU Libraries: Adventure West Virginia; Arts Monongahela; Morgantown Printing and Binding; and Catherine Wilson Jones.

The print installation is complete at the Downtown Campus Library (DCL) and thanks to the funding from these partners, offers a different and much more visual experience than the online exhibition through art with infographics and interactive elements designed by College of Creative Arts Graphic Design Professor Eve Faulkes. Because entry to the DCL is limited to WVU students, faculty and staff due to COVID, online viewers can experience the print exhibit via a walk through video on the Art in the Libraries Youtube channel. Anyone can also view all of the past virtual programs there as well.

We continued the conversation around women and voting with the last virtual program around the Equal Rights Amendment on April 8 now on YouTube, moderated by Danielle Emerling WVU Congressional & Political Papers Archivist. Emerling also curated the exhibition For the Dignity of Man and the Destiny of Democracy: The Voting Rights Act of 1965. This program also is in conjunction with the WVRHC exhibition,Women’s Suffrage in WV.

Thanks to the sponsoring partners, forged from all of this work and programming were so many new partnerships, and a new model for presenting exhibitions for the broadest impact; online and in print. The exhibition will live on, documented in both versions, on the WVU Research Repository.

Limited tours of Undefeated are available by contacting Exhibits Coordinator Sally Brown,, and following WVU Guest Guidelines.

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