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Language in Times of Miscommunication

Mar 4 - Aug 27, 2023

This exhibition presents artworks that use various forms of language to critically examine the complexities of social reality during times of rampant miscommunication.



Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) presents Language in Times of Miscommunication featuring artwork that incorporates various forms of language (poetry, speculative fiction, and slang), modes of communication (propaganda, protest, social media, and advertising), and research materials (archives, political documents, and the news) that together form a timely exchange about the slippery relationship between opinion, fact, and fiction, within the construct of our collective reality.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, argues that homo sapiens surpassed other species by creating complex languages, giving them the ability to articulate “things that exist purely in [the] imagination, such as gods, states, money, and human rights.” Over thousands of years of social evolution, human perception actualized fictions as core principles of civilization, reinforcing imagined hierarchies of power and influence. By examining past events and current actions through art that is critical of social reality we can begin to reveal the fictions that have informed society as we know it.

While this line of inquiry resonates globally, Language in Times of Miscommunication focuses on the United States to consider how the nation’s polemic atmosphere and increasingly divided reality is information by the redefinition of truth (reality that is possibly outside of human comprehension) as that which upholds personal ideology. Removed from the constraints of social agreement and systems of belief, as proposed by Trinh T. Minh-Ha in her book When the Moon Waxes Red, art critical of social reality can critique and deconstruct social norms by offering divergent perspectives. “To disrupt the existing systems of dominant values,” Trinh T. Minh-Ha writes, we must “see through the revolving door of all rationalizations” and “meet head on the truth of that struggle between fictions.” From this position, contemporary art can put forward a critical analysis of how divisive language and alternative narratives have unraveled U.S. society since 2016—a year that marked a shift in acknowledging the fallibility of communication.

Through the formats of exhibition, catalog, and special projects, Language in Times of Miscommunication acts as a platform to question how social fictions are created, interpreted, and, often, miscommunicated. Featuring work by 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.

Organized by Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Lauren R. O’Connell, curator of contemporary art, with Keshia Turley, curatorial assistant. Exhibition support provided by Presenting Partners Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, Presenting Sponsors Mark J. and Elizabeth L. Kogan Family Trust, and Supporting Sponsor Peggy Sharp.


SMoCA Gallery Guide

SMoCA Gallery Guide: Language in the Times of Miscommunication, 2023 | English

SMoCA Guía de la Galería: El Lenguaje en Tiempos de Mala Comunicación | 2023 | Español



Language in Times of Miscommunication is a thought-provoking book that delves into the complex ways in which language can both facilitate communication and create misunderstandings. The book explores the impact of cultural differences, linguistic nuances, and the use of technology on communication. It also examines how miscommunication can arise due to social and political factors, such as inequality and power struggles. Through insightful analysis and real-life examples, this book provides valuable insights into the challenges of communication in today’s globalized world.  This publication was written to coexist with the current exhibition at SMoCA.

Designed by the bicoastal, LGBTQ+, and minority-owned studio Polymode, the Language in Times of Miscommunication exhibition catalog is a twofold object—publication and artwork—that complicates the reception of text and image by shifting between clarity and distortion in order to visually manifest aspects of miscommunication. As an extension of the exhibition, this conceptual exhibition catalog features an essay by Lauren R. O’Connell and illustrations of artwork by 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.

$55 | order online


Spring Opening Celebration
Friday, March 3, 2023 | 7:00 – 9:00 PM
SMoCA | RSVP here

Join us for the opening of SMoCA’s newest exhibition, Language in Times of Miscommunication, and mingle with artists and fellow art lovers. Enjoy music by Miss Mixx in her Desert Disco Box, drinks from our cash bar, and light bites from a local food truck. Come celebrate with us!


PRINT MATTERS: Artist Book-Signing
Saturday, May 13, 2023 | 2:00 – 3:00 PM
SMoCA | RSVP here

Join us for a special book signing of three unique publications with artists Merryn Omotayo Alaka, Kristin Bauer, and Ann Morton; editor and writer Deborah Sussman; and curators Jennifer McCabe, Keshia Turley, and Lauren R. O’Connell. 


BLACK FUTURITY MATTERS: A Conversation with April Bey
Saturday, June 17, 2023 | 3:00 PM
Virginia G. Piper Theater | RSVP here

Artist April Bey sits down with Keshia Turley, curatorial assistant at SMoCA, to speak about the significance of Black futurity in her practice and beyond. The conversation will address Afrofuturism as a form of self-liberation and transformation, and its role in shaping Bey’s vivid parallel universe, Atlantica. Audience Q&A to follow.


WORDS MATTER: A Conversation with Kristin Bauer, Christopher Jagmin, Ann Morton, and Safwat Saleem
Thursday, July 13, 2023 | 7:00 PM
Location to be announced

Kristin Bauer, Christopher Jagmin, Ann Morton, and Safwat Saleem discuss the way words are used to reenforce hierarchy, illustrate opposition, impact identity, and shape our perception of reality with Lauren R. O’Connell, SMoCA curator of contemporary art. Followed by questions from the audience.


INDIGENOUS SOVEREIGNTY MATTERS: A Conversation with Anna Tsouhlarakis
Thursday, August 24, 2023 | 7:00 PM
Location to be announced

Anna Tsouhlarakis speaks about The Native Guide Project—a series of positive reinforcement phrases written by the artist in black block lettering that correct intentional and unintentional microaggressions toward Indigenous people and their culture. The artist will be in conversation with the moderator and followed by questions from the audience.


New Scottsdale art exhibit explores how we communicate with each other, The Show (NPR affiliate KJZZ), July 20, 2023

“I Really Like the Way You Respect Native American Rights”: The Native Guide Project by Anna Tsouhlarakis, Southwest Contemporary, May 10, 2023

How Do Artists Combat Propaganda?, review in Hyperallergic, April 10, 2023

Four Can’t-Miss Art Museum Exhibits You Should See Right Now Around Phoenix, Phoenix New Times, April 4, 2023

SMoCA curator’s project looks at miscommunication, interview with curator Lauren O’Connell, Scottsdale Progress, March 18, 2023

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Adds New Exhibit, interview with curator Lauren O’Connell, Arizona Horizon (Arizona PBS), March 2, 2023

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art presents ‘Language in Times of Miscommunication’, e-flux announcements

SMoCA Contemplates ‘Language in Times of Miscommunication’ with New Exhibition (Scottsdale Arts news release)

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