Jerry Truong, Rối (Tangled), 2014. Inkjet print, 11” x 16.5.” Courtesy of the artist.
When curator Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell first began soliciting artists for a group exhibition, she wasn’t entirely sure what the narrative thread would be. For the Washington, DC-based art advocate, the more immediate imperative was responding to the lack of diversity represented in the mainstream art world — a travesty exposed earlier this year by the Whitney Museum’s America Is Hard to See exhibition, which was overwhelmingly white and male.
As many artists of color, particularly foreign-born artists, signed on, Bryant-Greenwell began to see connections between “seemingly unrelated artists and forms.” Contrary to expectation, it wasn’t the two Iranian-born artists Golnar Adili and Elnaz Javani who have pieces that shared the most in common. Such an assumption falls into the trap Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once warned against in her TED Talk, “The Danger of the Singular Story.” Bryant-Greenwell herself cautions, “No one immigrant/foreign-born artist experience is exactly alike, and thus that reality bleeds into visual narrative forms in different ways.”
The theme of “outsider isolation” can be seen across the works of Javani, Rodrigo Valenzuela (Chilean born), and Michael Borek (Czech born). Meanwhile, Adela Andea (Romanian born), chukwumaa (Nigerian born), and Jerry Truong (Vietnamese born) explore “navigation” and the “transformation of identity.” These differences and similarities are a reflection of diverse imaginations that help create complexity and multiplicity in telling America’s immigrant stories.
In the interest of crossing not only cultural boundaries but also genres, The Offing is proud to present, in dialogue, texts that inform the artists of Country, Home below.
Red Holes, 2014. Transfer print and hand sewn on fabric, 16” x 24.” Courtesy of the artist.
“People are pressed to leave their countries, their homes and their acquaintances in order to take part in the general mobilization of industrial production, colonization and war. We have witnessed this as inept spectators of events including the massacre of Yarmouk in spring 2015, the umpteenth episode in the interminable ordeal of the Palestinian people. Simultaneously, we witness the deaths of black men in American cities: white policemen expressing an American unconscious that has never accepted the reality of multiculturalism. In Italy, where I live, we watch the horror unfolding over the Mediterranean Sea, as thousands of corpses lie underwater: Africans, Arabs, and Asians who all try to pass the Sicily Canal on makeshift boats.”
— Franco Berardi, “Building in a-topia”
Rối (Tangled), 2014. Inkjet print, 11” x 16.5.” Courtesy of the artist.
“Along with other people from our town, we floated across the sea, first in the hold of the fishing boat, and then in the hold of a U.S. Navy ship. At the refugee camp in Singapore, we slept on beds side by side and when our papers were processed and stamped, we packed our few possessions and left the camp together. We entered the revolving doors of airports and boarded plane after plane. We were lifted high over the Pacific Ocean. Holding on to one another, we moved through clouds, ghost vapors, time zones. On the other side, we walked through a light rain and climbed into a car together. We were carried through unfamiliar, brightly lit streets, and delivered to the sidewalk in front of a darkened house whose door we entered, after climbing five uneven steps together in what had become pouring rain.”
— Thi Diem Thuy Le, The Gangster We Are All Looking For
“And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
— Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
A Thousand Pages of Chest In A Thousand Pages of Mirror-Pink, 2011. Transfer on paper, beeswax, medical tape, 50 x 37 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
“A thousand pages of chest in a thousand pages of mirror
One body is finite, bodies become infinite.”
— Yadollah Royaee, “A Thousand Pages of Chest in A Thousand Pages of Mirror” (Persian poem translated by Golnar Adili)
Vianey C./Leather Mexican Folk Dance Shoe, 2011. Digital C-Print, facemounted on Plexiglas, mounted on sintra, aluminum brace, 15.75” x 15.175.” Courtesy of the artist.
“It is here, here in New York, where she has often been told that she does not seem Mexican, and something from her political background and something from her scientific attitude, her willingness to gather “cases” will make her wonder what that is. The bicentennial of Mexico’s independence is coming and she knows she will not celebrate it in her country; she will stay in New York. These two numbers of the bicentennial, one hundred plus one hundred, give her the key, that one hundred women will be photographed and each asked to bring an object that was meaningful in her migration from Mexico to the United States. The impulse has arrived to build a country that does not exist, making an impossible archeology, a visual museum of objects where she will realize the life she left behind, each one of them left behind, and which together account for who they are, in what they decided to keep with the same pride that they could not erase as if a scar from war.”
— Valerie Mejer, A Mexican in New York
Biopunk Mnemonics, 2012. CCF Lights, Plexiglas, LED, Computer fans, Power supply; 34”x34”x34.” Courtesy of the artist and Anya Tish Gallery, Houston, TX.
“Did she remember the war?
Insane question. Could anyone who had lived through the war forget it? A handful of people had tried to commit humanicide. They had nearly succeeded. She had, through sheer luck, managed to survive—only to be captured by heaven knew who and imprisoned. She had offered to answer their questions if they let her out of her cubicle. They refused.”
— Octavia E. Butler, Dawn (Xenogenesis Triology, Book #1)
The Builder, 2012. archival pigment print mounted on Dibond with artist frame, 30” x 40.” Courtesy of Upfor gallery.
“What defines the inhabitant? They are often sans-papiers (without papers), almost always economic refugees, and ultimately hustlers rather than workers. The worker’s ideal is a lifetime of employment in one company or institution. He/she expects to form a union with other workers, expects to buy a house and save money, and expects to leave a long career with a pension. The inhabitant has no such expectations. He/she simply hustles, making a living by juggling several things—cleaning floors, digging holes, selling pirated DVDs, climbing trees, loading trucks, dancing on the streets—at once. The inhabitant is the true entrepreneur. He/she must learn a lot of things (new languages, cultural information, job skills) with no support from institutions or the state.”
— Charles Mudede, “Inhabiting Landscapes”
Marshawn & awn & awn, 2015. Two-channel .WAV file, 5’00” minutes. Courtesy of the artist.
Marshawn Lynch Skittles Interview
Chinua Achebe’s Insights on the African Diaspora and Baldwin’s Comments at the 1980 ALA
And They Make Good Neighbours #0045, 2012. Pigment print, 12” x 18.” Courtesy of the artist.
And They Make Good Neighbours #6712, 2013. Pigment print, 12” x 18.” Courtesy of the artist.
“Perhaps a loss of harmony with the surrounding space, the inability to feel at home in the world, so oppressing to an expatriate, a refugee, an immigrant, however we call him, paradoxically integrates him in contemporary society and makes him, if he is an artist, understood by all.”
— Czeslaw Milosz, Introduction to Exiles by Josef Koudelka (photographer)
Country, Home: Curated by Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell runs until October 10, 2015 at the CUE Art Foundation in New York City.