Language in Times of Miscommunication

April Bey, “Yes, And I Just Love Your Hair Too,” 2019. Watercolor on canvas, thread, faux black fur, 52 by 72 inches.

“Language in Times of Miscommunication,” a new exhibition about the complexities of language and communication, is now on display at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA).

The exhibition presents works by 18 artists that incorporate various forms of language (poetry, speculative fiction and slang), modes of communication (propaganda, protest, social media and advertising) and research (archives, political documents and the news).

“Language in Times of Miscommunication” officially opened March 4 and forms a timely exchange about our nation’s divided reality, encouraged by the rise of divisive language and alternative narratives since 2016 — a year that marked a shift in recognizing the fallibility of communication in the United States.

Curator Lauren R. O’Connell said she noticed a change in her conversations with artists following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“Many found themselves at a standstill as they considered how their art could participate in the social and political landscape that was rapidly changing before their eyes,” O’Connell said of the artists. “It became clear that contemporary artistic production was moving toward a radical examination of social reality.”

The COVID-19 pandemic then added its own complexities of information and miscommunication, leading artists and curators to reconsider how to use their influence as cultural producers and critics. During this time, O’Connell began meeting over Zoom with artists who made bodies of work that incorporated language and that grappled with current events and the emotions they provoked.

In the end, the artists selected for this exhibition communicate through different media and on a variety of topics, yet all use art to reconsider the reality of our collective past, present and future. The artworks do not ignore the polemical and rarely assert fact or truth; rather they attempt to incite a critical and expansive discourse about the complexities of social reality.

“Several artworks reframe our country’s narrative by including marginalized voices from the past or proposing alternative, and sometimes radical, futures,” O’Connell said.

“For example, April Bey’s artwork in the exhibition introduces viewers to her parallel universe Atlantica, where life is free from Earth’s racism, oppressive hierarchies and colonial traumas. For the artist, the creation of Atlantica is a therapeutic strategy to exist as a queer, Black femme in this world.”

The exhibition includes artwork in a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, print, textile, ceramic, neon, video, sound, installation, social media and public intervention in three of SMoCA’s main galleries and front window, as well as various locations in Old Town Scottsdale.

Artists from a range of backgrounds and generations include Kristin Bauer, April Bey, Andrea Bowers, York Chang, Jeremy Dean, Jeffrey Gibson, Jenny Holzer, Christopher Jagmin, Glenn Ligon, Patrick Martinez, Elizabeth Moran, Ann Morton, Polymode, William Powhida, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Horacio Rodriguez, Safwat Saleem and Anna Tsouhlarakis.

The accompanying catalog acts as a twofold object — publication and artwork by the design studio Polymode — that presents an extensive essay and numerous color illustrations through an unorthodox layout to convey notions of intentional and unintentional miscommunication.

Using art and language to critique and rethink the equity of democracy, O’Connell’s catalog essay critically considers how Western society establishes and communicates its values to better understand the dysfunction systems in the United States. It also aims to engage in a philosophical discussion concerning the symbiotic and slippery relationship between opinion, fact and fiction, as relayed through communication.

“Language in Times of Miscommunication” is on display now through Aug. 27. It is organized by SMoCA and curated by Lauren R. O’Connell, curator of contemporary art, with Keshia Turley, curatorial assistant. Learn more at

Admission is $10 to $12 for non-members; $7 to $9 for students, seniors (65 and older) and veterans; and free for Scottsdale Arts ONE Members, healthcare workers, first responders and patrons 18 and younger. Admission to the museum is free every Thursday and every second Saturday of the month. Timed-entry tickets are required. Save time and money by booking online at

SMoCA is located at 7374 E. Second St. in Scottsdale. It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays. Visit for information.

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