Open from March 25 – April 23, 2009
Artists: Nicole Awai, Erika Harrsch, Jane Jin Kaisen, Katia Kameli, Camilo Ontiveros,
Richard Ross, Patricia Ruiz-Navarro, Riiko Sakkinen, Dae Seung Seo, Steve Staso,
Eric Van Hove, O Zhang
Curated by Hyewon Yi
Opening Reception and Performance: Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 4:30 – 7:30 pm
Performer: Calvin Gladen
The Amelie A. Wallace Gallery at SUNY College at Old Westbury is pleased to announce the opening of a group exhibition of twelve artists’ works addressing issues of immigration and migration. Comprising such diverse media as video, film, photography, painting, drawing, sculpture and installation, The Borders offers the viewer an opportunity to consider the political, social, and economic contribution that human migration makes to racial diversity, multiculturalism, and issues of national security through the eyes of artists, some of whom have personal experience of immigration.
A large portion of the exhibition comments on crossing the US southern border at a time of heightened sensitivity not merely to national security, but also to ethnic conflict. Mexico has been the chief source of immigration for nearly two decades, so it is fitting that this show includes such works as Caution Project by Mexican artist Camilo Ontiveros, who offers road signs that display silhouettes of families escaping poverty for a better life “on the other side.” In Ontiveros‘s video mockumentary The Ear of the Pollo, chickens illegally crossing the border are interviewed for remote radio broadcast. Mexican social psychologist Patricia Ruiz-Navarro’s affecting candid images in Friendship is No Longer There document the last days of Friendship Park, a meeting place where Mexicans on opposite sides of the border touched each other, shared food, even celebrated a birthday through the poignant separation of a steel mesh fence. With the closing of the park in January 2009 and the construction of a new fence thirty meters to the north, the hope and comfort experienced by loved ones separated by the immigration nightmare that unsettles countless Mexican families has been crushed. Erika Harrsch, another Mexican artist and a recent immigrant to the US, draws on her personal experience of traveling between Mexico and the US to create United States of North America (2009), a fictitious passport written in the three NAFTA members’ languages and displaying the image of a monarch butterfly, pinned like a specimen in a display case. Known for its semi-annual migrations between Canada and Central Mexico, the monarch follows a mysterious progression that takes several generations to complete, not unlike the multi-national, multi-generational migrations of some foreigners who become Americans. Finnish artist Riiko Sakkinen, himself an immigrant residing in Spain, offers a series of sardonic drawings referencing Mexican illegal immigrant culture as viewed through familiar commercial images such as “Old El Paso Taco”, “Pépito”, “Mexican Chili con Carne”, and the derogatory term wetback, embroidered in gold letters on a luxurious hotel towel. Californian Richard Ross presents eerie photographs of Customs and Border Protection interrogation rooms at international airports, where law enforcement in an era of terrorist attacks results in added anxiety for those arriving on US shores.
Traveling back and forth, between-ness, and cultural hybridity are central elements in works by other artists in The Borders. Born in France to a French-Algerian family, Katia Kameli explores the hybridization of two cultures by juxtaposing Western references with Arabic ones in her film Bledi a Possible Scenario (2005) that documents the everyday lives of Algerians. Among the film’s scenes is a dialogue amongst French-Algerian teenagers that gives a glimpse into their personal struggles and views of their future. Nicole Awai, born in Trinidad and educated in the US, investigates her own between-ness in a series of drawings, Specimens from Local Ephemera, in which a jointed dual female figure represents spatial and cultural shifts by collapsing and reconstituting the artist’s Caribbean identity, blurring gender, class, race, and tradition. Korean artist Dae Seung Seo photographs inter-ethnic couples in Korean shopping malls. Previously one of the world’s most homogeneous populations, Korea’s rural areas have seen its young women migrate to the cities as a result of rapid industrialization and waning agriculture. To remedy this situation, rural men have “imported” Southeast Asian brides, thereby creating a new social landscape of mixed cultures.
Moving from one place to another is not always a choice, as seen in the subjects presented by the next group of artists. Chinese O Zhang, who now resides in New York, contributes Daddy & I, a series of photographs in which the artist arranges Chinese daughters with their Western adoptive fathers in garden settings. These affectionate portraits depict interracial harmony while suggesting the paternalism of Western colonialism. In a similar vein, Jane Jin Kaisen, a Korean adopted by Danish parents, presents an installation that includes a wedding dress embroidered with a map of US military bases, a photo album, and a video that comments upon the complex postcolonial relationship between the US military and the South Korean civilian population, a relationship that includes Korean women marrying American servicemen and Korean children being adopted by white American families. Algerian-born Belgian artist Eric Van Hove presents a slide record of A Nos Morts (2005), a two-part installation in Tambacounda, Senegal that references colonialism, slavery, and the African diaspora. In the first part, migratory birds from Europe defecate over cardboard letters that form an excerpt from a poem by Guadeloupean Sonny Rupaire. In the second part, Van Hove wrote in white chalk on the grounds of a cattle slaughterhouse a five page excerpt from Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land) by Afro-Martiniquan poet Aimé Césaire.
Detroit-born New York filmmaker Steve Staso presents The Cellar (2009), a triptych about three outsiders working in Hell’s Kitchen: a Lebanese immigrant cooking at French restaurant; a Colombian manicurist at a Korean-owned nail salon; and a lesbian African-American veteran of the Iraq War suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder who works as a building superintendent. Using both trained and untrained actors, many of whom are foreign born, and mixing factual and fictional elements, Staso’s film depicts the lives of multi-ethnic immigrants as they clash with mainstream society.
A reception to mark the opening of The Borders will be held between 4:30 pm and 7:30 pm on Wednesday, March 25, 2009. On opening night, actor Calvin Gladen will recite passages from Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land) by Aimé Césaire.
The exhibition remains on view through April 23, 2009. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday between
12 pm and 5pm, and by appointment.
The Borders received generous support from The School of Arts and Sciences, SUNY College at Old Westbury. The exhibition is part of the College-wide project “Immigration and the Migration of People”, which, during spring semester 2009, seeks to provide a common academic experience of the topic across departments.
The Wallace Gallery has arranged complimentary bus service to the opening reception. Guests will be picked up at 32nd Street & Park Avenue South near Chase Bank at 5:30pm. As space is limited, please contact Hyewon Yi to reserve seats.
For further information about The Borders, please contact gallery director Hyewon Yi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-421-5863.
Amelie A. Wallace Gallery, Campus Center, Main Level, SUNY College at Old Westbury
Route 107, Old Westbury, New York 11568 tel: 516.876.3056/2709, 646.421.5863 fax: 516.876.4984. http://www.oldwestbury.edu. e-mail: email@example.com. firstname.lastname@example.org.