A large group exhibition by students from top art schools in the Bay Area, California, addressing
pressing contemporary concerns and personal / political issues in a variety of forms and media.
“The show is a celebration and a claim of what really makes America great, which is the diversity of the people that make it up, the diversity of cultures, the diversity of cultural backgrounds.” -- Kevin Chen
The exhibition displayed the works of 18 Master of Fine Art students 1. They were awarded funds toward their tuition or towards their careers as artists. The gallery showcased what is considered the best work of the upcoming MFA class.
A panel of three jurors, Lizetta LaFal Collins, Maria Ester Fernandez, and Kevin Chen, selected the artists from a pool of applicants going into the last year of their program at one of the six eligible local colleges and universities 2. The panel collectively chose the award recipients last summer and informed them in late July. As “there was no quota for painters or schools,” award recipients were chosen purely on merit.
Curator, Kevin Chen, then met with artists individually. With a background in the artists’ previous work, he collaborated with them to fill the gallery. Given the space with 45 foot ceilings and 16 foot walls, this was no easy feat. At that time, artists had a little over a month to fill one of the largest galleries in San Francisco.
The Murphy and Cadogan Awards were established in 1986. The donors--Edwin Anthony and Adalaine Bourdeaux--artists themselves, had struggled financially and understand the difference the award money can make for young artists.
Beyond the repayment of educational debts and providing funds for supplies, the awards give the MFA students a “chance to exhibit their art as any artist doing a gallery showing would. The idea is to give them a chance to experience what it is actually like." 3Students get exposure for their work and an understanding of gallery showings as a professional artist.
This show is particularly unique because it features the work of promising artists who are attending MFA programs in the Bay Area and seeks to create common threads among creative minds. The exhibition comes together through three separate themes: commentary on the state of humanity, consumerism in the United States, and a deteriorating environment to support human needs.
Upon entering the gallery, to the left, there is an analysis of the culture of money and consumerism. One such project, "Comes and Goes (Cloud Bank)", created by Lauren Jade Szabo 4, showcases aerial advertising of the word “money". She had originally created the large canvas displaying the text across clouds, but was “encouraged to start thinking about extending the composition past the frame of the canvas onto the wall, to do an actual mural on the wall.” 5 The gallery’s high ceilings and expansive walls caused her to create an even more impactful result. Problems of greed and the American consumerist culture that are overlooked on a day-to-day basis are imposingly displayed, conspicuous and unavoidable. Szabo emboldens her viewers to question society’s priorities in the age of technology. An advertisement such as this is full of false promise. More money is seen invariably as a solution but not as the problem.
Moving into the center of the gallery, the focus is on the state of humanity and human beings. Gianna Paniagua did a paper-cutting called "Force". The piece explores the juxtaposition between weakness and strength, in paper as in human bodies. Paniagua is a heart transplant recipient. The four times this year that her body has rejected the transplant have inspired her to explore this concept that she expands to a larger understanding of growth and decay. Her path as an artist was inspired by this relationship with her body. During treatment, she created a towering piece of cutouts resembling cells with reddened edges. There is strength in their numbers and repetitive pattern, but fragility in their decay and uniqueness. Her own cells rejected the distinctly different transplanted cells. Gianna portrays strength through her recoveries and artwork, where society may traditionally perceive fragility. She urges her audience to understand their relationships with their own bodies and understand where their strength lies.
As the viewer reaches the right side of the massive open gallery space, there are pieces illustrating the lack of human concern for the environment. With her canvases, "Cacophonous Float" and "Stretch", Abbey Gregg challenges the viewer to look into past, present, and future environmental effects of humans in the age of technology.
She contrasts the feedback loop of human life causing environmental depletion, and the resulting human casualties, alongside landscape painting with a technological lens. “It’s very eerie how relevant those are today, in the wake of all the hurricanes in the south. You can see the rising water level of the sea. Nature will always adapt; it’s just a matter of how humanity will adapt.” 6 There is a clear pattern of nature’s ability to consistently subsist, but there is need for humanity to adapt to those changing conditions.
This show encompasses “what really makes America great; that is the beauty in the diversity." Natani Notah’s and Kira Dominguez Hultren’s pieces boldly celebrate their roots within a society that conforms in appearance. Nick Mittelstead and Raphael Bustillos “elevate mundane materials to the status of art.” Sherwin Rio’s three pieces, born from his Philipino background and growing up in the United States, “are simple and so poetic that you can read many different story-lines into them.”7 The SOMArts gallery hosts this amalgamation of different stories, strifes, interests, backgrounds, and passions. And yet, commonalities in analysis and thought can be found. The audience is continuously drawn into questioning their relationships with society, themselves, and the larger world around them.
1 ARTISTS: EMILY BUDD, Rafael Bustillos, Amy Cella, Troy Chew, Abby Gregg, Kira Dominguez Hultren, Chris Marin, Nick Mittelstead, Hannah Perrine Mode, Natani Notah, Gianna Paniagua, Sherwin Rio (Murphy Award), Nancy Sayavong, Keith Secola, Keyvan Heydari Shovir, Amber Imrie-Situnayake, Lauren Szabo, and Victor Yañez-Lazcano.
2 Art schools: California College of the Arts, Mills College, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State University, Stanford University, and University of California, Berkeley
An exhibition curated by Camella DaEun Kim featuring 8 young artists: Jenny Donaire, Ting Ying Han, Gelare Khoshgozaran, Ann Le, Yoshie Sakai, Kyungmi Shin, Jimena Sarno, and Kim Ye at the Fellows of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, May 20 - July, 2017.
This past month I had the pleasure to go to Chinatown, Los Angeles to see an exhibition called ‘Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities’ at ‘Fellows of Contemporary Art (FOCA)’ Gallery. The curator, Camella DaEun Kim, put it together displaying the works of 8 artists who identify themselves as either immigrants or first generation Americans.
The exhibition’s title comes from the description of the type of VISA that foreign artists must obtain to be able to work and live in the U.S. as artists. Camella cleverly used the phrase to ridicule this VISA detail, showing that measuring someone’s right to mobility based on their 'extraordinary abilities’ end up being quite arbitrary. Nevertheless, both she and the other artists in the show were somehow empowered by the phrase.
The day of the panel discussion between artists and public, Camella opened the conversation by quoting the writer Julia Kristeva from ‘Strangers to Ourselves’:
“The foreigner lives within us; he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which understanding and affinity founder. The ‘foreigner’ then is something hidden in ourselves, something with the potential to destroy ‘home’ and something that is beyond ‘understanding’ our relations with each other.”
Camella underlined the collaborative aspect of this project, and explained how it created a true dialogue among the works, as well as the artists. This was an important aspect of the project, since her original idea was focused on how to negotiate with and support the other artists in order to make everything come together. Deeper than this alone, she mentioned having trouble with the tension between herself as an artist and herself as a curator for this exhibition. Working with other artists is a challenge, but it also teaches you to let go, to be open to collaboration in order to find the best way to make things work and make them flow.
The whole creation of the show was like a ‘family effort’ in that the artists had to figure out how to put together in one coherent exhibition several different media, how to fill the space, how to complement each other’s work, and how to make it function as a whole to get their ideas across and to communicate them to the viewers. In coming together, they worked through all the details, remembering the homes they grew up in, and sharing that feeling with the viewers walking into the gallery.
The collaboration between these women delivered great results. Upon walking into the exhibition space, you felt like you were walking into a home with different ‘rooms’. You saw two bedrooms, a living room, a sink, wallpapers, and everything in between that would set you in the space of a home. Every work was different, yet touching on similar undertones to complement each other, almost as if all the works had been created to be exhibited together, since each artist occupied one part of this ‘home’ that made up the exhibition. We later found out that half of the works had not been made until later in the installation process, which made it even more impressive as a collaboration.
Regardless of these artists’ different experiences growing up as immigrants or first-generation Americans, their backgrounds are linked to one another through memory and history. These are the driving forces in their understanding of themselves and those they love, and their art reflected it. Each artwork emanated the idea of family, whether functional or dysfunctional, the way those family dynamics affect us, as well as make us react. With their memories, each artist took us out of our place and put us in their shoes. They offered their experiences to us, piecing together each memory into a present-day abode for all to see.
Gelare Khoshgozaran –
Gelare presented 20 artworks that made up her mother’s thesis from when she was a graphic design student at the University of Teheran, Iran. 35 years later Gelare attended the same university.
After the revolution of 1979, the university shut down, some teachers were expelled, others fled. When it reopened, it had a new specific agenda for artists. Gelare's mother first idea for her thesis was rejected, and she had to do what she was recommended: designing a poster for the 20 most important days of the calendar.
The images Gelare presented in the show are tiny reproductions of her mother’s thesis work, which she did in collaboration with a calligrapher. She showed 18 of the 20 original pieces as mementos, in an attempt to reflect back on her own artist education and background. She made them into sliding images, shown by a projector, bringing back to life her mother’s work in its original medium.
Jimena Sarno –
Jimena has been in the U.S. for 25 years. She recalled being here during the referendum on Proposition 187, which stated that an illegal immigrant could be deported after seeking medical care. One of her first experiences here was being rushed to the hospital with a high fever, awfully scared of what could happen to her for seeking treatment.
Seeing radios as playing a large role in culture, especially in her home country, Argentina, for this exhibition she created a piece composed of many old radios. She called it ‘International Agreement’, responding on one hand to the title of the exhibition, ‘Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities’, on the other to the violence which is more in the open again, especially among immigrants.
In Jimena’s view, being an immigrant is not a temporary condition, due to current location or place, because home is always in the past, so the radios in her installation are there not only to represent an early technology of the past, but to bring back the memory and nostalgia of her home country, connecting her to specific moments from her past.
Kim Ye –
The inspiration for Kim’s works comes from her journey to the U.S. from China when she was 5 years old. Her parents didn’t speak English, so from her early age she became their translator/ambassador in the new culture. Not knowing what was going on either, she would mimic what others did around her. Her work expresses the idea of embodying the stranger, of trying to fit in; this act of assimilation translates into attempting to perform something correctly, and also trying to reflect what is being shown to you or presented as the ‘normal’. The ‘normal’ became for her a charged space, since she would constantly question whether she was doing ‘it’ correctly, as for example in celebrating American holidays, even if not knowing or understanding the meaning of what the celebrations represented.
Other works come from her memories and old photographs of her and her parents, their excitement for making it into the U.S., learning about the new culture, and wanting to document it. She said it was like her parents documented the ‘commercialization of choice’, and their excitement of not knowing where their lives were going to when they came here… ‘well, now we know’’ she said with a big laugh echoed by the viewers at the panel.
Yoshi Sakai –
Yoshi’s installation for the exhibition is part of the work ‘Koko’s Love’, a series of autobiographical videos conceived like episodes of ‘soap operas’, used to talk about familial disfunctionalities and functionalities. The main character in the story is Yuki, a girl whose family owns a liquor store, just as Yoshi’s family did.
For the exhibition she created an installation of the girl’s room, where on different screens you could see videos from her soap operas, as well as ‘family portraits’. Yoshi played all the characters in both videos and portraits, also using voice-overs. She speaks of the struggles of growing up as an Asian-American in California, trying to be the ‘model minority’, while tackling the issue of being a woman, and of what is expected of a woman in her culture. Humor is a big component in Yoshi’s work, as an explicit defense mechanism from the tension and anxiety we experience in today’s society.
Ting Ying Han –
Ting Ying started her project in 2010, working on culture identity and placement. Her work is about personal relationships with the family of origin. She digs deep into these issues, and rather than keeping them too personal, she makes them easy for others to relate to, for people to understand how complex being an immigrant can be: old vs. new ideas, rooted vs. learned culture, adaptation, and the enforcement of them all as a daily challenge.
She mentioned having always been interested in architecture and structure, specifically in creating partial structures, in their relation to exposure, in how the interior becomes the exterior, how a part of the inside is also part of the outside and vice versa, and how they come together as one environment. There is always change; home and space are ever changing, as people are, and this is how she feels as an immigrant; always the need to change, to let go of some of the old and bring in the new, like you would in rearranging your home, putting older things down in order to put up new ones.
Her installation showed different abstract shapes and colors, visual reminders of that ‘change’, reminders that even if things do not look the same, you will always have the memories of them, they are still with you. Two pillows dipped in wax hang from her installation, calling the attention to the viewer. It is a visual symbol of familiarity, company, and the malleability and ever-changing aspect of home spaces, people, and life.
Ann Le –
Ann Le is a first-generation Vietnamese-American. For this exhibition she created two wallpapers, which address the questions who she is and where she is from, of what ‘Americanization’ means to an immigrant. When creating a work she does a lot of research based on family portraits and the memories of the Vietnam War. She would also have long conversations with her mother about the difficult family journey from Vietnam to America, so that all the drawings/designs that make up the wallpaper patterns are actually small narratives from those histories, both personal and researched. They act as unconventional portraits, presented as something that is very domestic, literally like wallpaper.
‘Cherry Bomb’ specifically addresses these themes, patterned with beautiful cherry blossoms but also with weapons that were used by the North Vietnamese during the war. “Re-education, Graduation” speaks about her father, who was a soldier in the South Vietnamese Army; after the fall of South Vietnam, his choices were either being executed or being sent to a ‘re-education camp’; wanting neither, he decided to leave, though the journey was far from easy.
Jenny Donaire, originally from Nicaragua, and Kyungmi Shin, from Ghana, were unfortunately not present the day of the panel conversation. Here are excerpts from the gallery catalogue about their works:
Jenny Donaire –
“Jenny Donaire is an artist, architect and educator in Los Angeles. She was born in Nicaragua and migrated to the U.S. as a young girl. Her work is an exploration of family memory and identity formation as constructed through war, migration, and domesticity. Often, these constructions are resolved in her work through material metaphors for the vulnerability, fear, fragility, invisibility, and hope one might feel in the domestic realm when the memory of that space is shaped by instability, violence and resilience. She recreates memories of intimate interior spaces and objects that might shape one’s notion of self as it is played out through built domestic architectures.
'Untitled Kitchen Sink' is a recreation of her own and her mother's kitchen sinks. She reacts to specific sites and creates installations that reconfigure domestic symbols; distorted furniture and large-scale photographs bring the complexity of the domestic experience into the gallery space. These objects, as well as the absurdity of applying hundreds of layers of paint and spackle to furniture recall the emotional and labor-intensive process of home repair and the elements that comprise it.” (‘Fellows of Contemporary Art’, exhibition catalog)
Kyungmi shin –
“Her installation works since 2005 have been influenced tremendously by her experiences of spending time and building a studio home in Ghana, West Africa. What began as an adventurous fantasy of an affordable vacation home in a tropical landscape turned into a study of her own fear, guilt and prejudice as well as a lesson in the relationship between the developed and underdeveloped parts of the world.
She began to shift the focus of her artworks from investigation of perception and personal identity to that of the effects of global economic connections. Since 2007, she has been creating photo collages, videos, and sculptural installations that investigate the global connection by looking at the rituals, myths and the physical evidence of the interconnectedness between the developed and underdeveloped nations and the effects of globalization.” (‘Fellows of Contemporary Art’, exhibition catalog)
The exhibition, conceived and curated by Ushmita Sahu, wanted to create a dialogue that would go beyond the gallery and involve the community.
Hence right from the outset, several measures were taken to ensure a sustained dialogue with the artists as well as the viewers. Each artist was asked to respond to the words ‘I Am’ through prose or poetry, which were then printed as bookmarks that could be taken away by the viewers. The viewers were also asked to write their version of ‘I Am’ which became part of the Gallery display.
An interactive drawing session and walk through, which saw a lot of inquisitive questions and discussion, was organized for the neighborhood.
"Are gender centric exhibitions a valid trope today or are they just a dated cliché? Is conceiving an exhibition through the rubric of femininity important, or do such parameters only help to create a feeling of unease or restriction because not everyone identifies with such evaluations?
When I was trying to conceive “I am”, these questions positioned themselves as my liminal guiding principles.
It is easy to pass off an all women show by claiming to be a struggle for equality. While this is essentially true, however, I also believe that struggle is not the prerogative of any single group or gender. There are multitude stories of struggle and marginalisation irrespective of gender. However here, in this show, we focus on what makes a woman unique.
Like life itself, a woman encompasses multitudes and exists beyond predetermined stereotypes. Highlighting this diversity “I Am” is a celebratory tribute to the indomitable spirit of women through the works of twenty-five inter-generational artists, which includes new names fresh from art school to groundbreaking luminaries.
And so, just as any other group of people or friends come together to talk, discuss and dissent, here too the collection of various female voices speaking via their creativity, turn into an anthology, a dialogue that often overlaps, interplays and resonates with each other weaving multi-hued stories." (Ushmita Sahu, artist and curator)
"I am woman.You may see me in the movies. I am often referred to as "weak''. You may see me as a woman who needs to be rescued.
When you read a book, you will find me as a woman with only romantic interests, or vulnerable, or as a victim, or a mother. Very few movies and books project me as a three dimensional character.
I hope someday the world will understand that being "strong" isn't just about physical strength, or having strong convictions, but about being flawed, complex and realistic." (Promiti Hossain, Bangladesh)
"I am the suffocating disparity wrapped up in the shiny stitches of Zardozi
I am the trembling flight still breathing in the glass jar
I am the memory of the warm undercurrent of the frozen river
I am the lotus pond of the known and the light years of the unknown
I am the mesmerizing fragrance still travelling in the minds
Searching…….. researching……… / I am who I am / I am who I could be / I am who I would be / I am exactly who you are." (Sabrina Osborne, United Kingdom)
A Performance Piece
by Arni Sarkar, M.F.A. student at Visva Bharati University, took place in the gallery on the day of the opening.
The piece, a collaboration between artist and curator, questioned the Indian obsession with fair skin.
Arni’s performance was followed by heated debate, as most Indian women have, at some point of time in their lives, faced discrimination due to their skin tone. This is still a serious issue in this age and time, as ‘fairness creams’, promoted by famous film stars, are a multimillion-dollar industry in India.
With a growing awareness amongst the younger generation, there has recently been a backlash in the social media against these companies, as well as several campaigns aimed at eradicating this bias. The performance touched a deep-rooted emotional chord within the viewers.
"Fair & Lovely and all other fairness creams have propagated a mindset in India, which is predominantly a dark skinned country, that only ‘fair’ is ‘lovely’ and fairness is the mark of success in life. I feel that a person’s complexion should not be a reason for discrimination against them." (Arni Sarkar, performance artist)
Public Art Project
A public arts project was also organised, in keeping with AM Studio's aim of connecting with local people. It was received with open arms by the community, and on the day of the mural painting, the lane became the catalyst of conversation and interaction.
Artist Moutushi Chakraborty, along with students of Amity School of Fine Art, collaborated in creating a Wall Mural Public Arts Project. Facilitated by Ayan Mukherjee, Director of AM Studio, and curator Ushmita Sahu, the project took place in Bijoygarh, South Kolkata, on March 17.
"A nondescript factory wall, in close proximity to AM Studio, was was arranged for the purpose by AM Studio.
Since the project was an integral part of the exhibition ‘I AM’ curated by Ushmita Sahu in celebration of International Women’s Day, I chose for it the theme ‘Power of Femininity’.
Two full figured feminine forms loom large amidst the entire stretch of the mural; their dark complexion a beautiful contrast against the grey wall, challenging any fixed notions of female body. It was again a celebration of everywoman, hence very subtly a point was made with the two figures adorned with bright images of flora and fauna.
Using cardboard-stencils, colours were spray painted onto the wall with great enthusiasm by the participants.
The final image was a brilliant riot of colours that not only enlivened the wall and alley, but that sparked much enthusiasm among the residents of the community and curious passersby.
It once again reconfirmed the adage, ‘Art is most successful when it is shared.’" (Moutushi Chakraborty, participant artist/educator)
Artists’ comments about participating in 'I Am'
“I am” are the most important, simple, yet heavy words that hold our identity. Participating in a wonderful show on the theme ‘I am’ was a nice experience for me.
The most interesting aspect of the show was all the works were in small format, which created an intimate language. My work ‘Concrete Leakage’ is mainly about the relationship between me and the objects in my home, and on how the fragile human life leaves behind certain incidents, and sensitivity within the concrete structures of our private spaces.
The performance and the public interaction gave the show a much larger dimension. (Jayeti Bhattacharya, West Bengal)
‘We all have an idea of who we are, but that idea is rarely challenged or put to test .
The simple task given to the artists by the curator Ushmita Sahu, to complete the sentence I am ....... , led to the introspection of a spectrum of roles and attributes that I have assumed to get to what I am today.
That which defined me internally and from another's perspective does not necessarily represent who I am today. The roles are ever changing and never static.
It is the strength of the attributes I possess like passion, loyalty, ferociousness, kindness, and sense of purpose that enabled me to do justice to the roles I play. Today, in introspection, the wellspring of my being comes from Creating, Nurturing, Protecting. The 'I am....' Project came as an opportunity to revisit the concept of who I am’. (Priti Vadakkath, Kerala, India)
" We never know how high we are / Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan / Our statures touch the skies”
The "I am" exhibition opened on March 8, 2017, and ran through March 29. The Public Art Project took place on March 17. It was reviewed in several leading newspapers and periodicals, along with a substantial coverage in Art & Deal Magazine, one of India’s leading Art magazines.
Rea de Guzman gave a presentation of her artistic journey on the last day of the exhibition “TL DREAMS” at the 'Tenderloin Museum' in San Francisco. Paola Loomis reflects here on her inspiring story.
'On the Roof: the place where dreams are woven'
During an artist’s lecture, both artists and community have the opportunity to engage in rich, revitalizing and insightful conversation. No matter if there is not a crowd waiting in line outside. Young devoted artists and their art can offer something that can be better savoured calmly. That is why we write about what made this exhibition and lecture so special for us.
The “TL DREAMS” exhibition, by Rea de Guzman, had its closing reception on Feb 23rd at Tenderloin Museum in San Francisco, with the artist’s lecture open to the community. With her warm and gentle voice Rea de Guzman brought us back into her life, telling us about the challenges and experiences of a new life unfolding when she arrived here from the Philippines at age 14. She showed her artistic development and her affectionate bonds to the Tenderloin, the neighbourhood where she lived for her first five years just after her arrival to America. Her teenage years.
Now, 16 years later, Rea recalled some touching memories of the times spent with friends on the roof of her apartment building, viewing the city from above at night, when she was only a teen ager and didn't have any idea that she would become an artist.
Up on the roof. Another perspective. A detached overview - that has many analogies with what we call visual art or imagination, as a different way to see reality - from where we can deal with the confusion of life, and soothe the harsh questions about belonging and identity.
After 16 years, the view is again different, just as it was when looking to the city below. The old dreams, the new perspectives and possibilities, looking back and re-imagining the past, they were all confronting each others in the Rea's exhibition and during her lecture. A complex panorama in which people, stories, and art found a balance and nurtured each others. A third position, a liminal space, where recognition, reciprocity and respect, as well as the acknowledgment of the hard work behind the artistic and personal development, found their place, as it was among friends on the Tenderloin roofs, where the dreams began to be woven.
It is not by chance that the last series of Rea de Guzman's works are using organza, chosen by the artist as the support of image transfers. It is a fabric that perfectly perform the enticing interplay of revealing and veiling of dreams. The veil and the transfer, the layered surfaces and the ephemeral lightness of the support, make us enter in “such stuff as dreams are made of”, elusive narratives that do not spare sufferings and invite to thoughtfulness.
Behind the choice of organza, there is Rea anthropological and historical research on “Maria Clara” mestiza dresses (see 'Fabric Fragments', and also her interview here). Her lecture showed how our structure of dreams and our imaginative tools can be strengthened in re-discovering and re-appropriating ancient techniques of weaving, such as that of using pineapple leaves, after scraping them to reveal the fibers.
The story about the “mestiza” dress is itself interwoven in the complexity of the colonialist impositions on the native people. As Rea de Guzman pointed out, today a more subtle and yet similar imposition is straightway directed to the skin of young Filipino women (only them?) who “want” to look whiter.
In a perspective in which visual art is a third dimension that helps us to see and understand the varieties and complexities of human cultures, art is indeed a vital tool, as well as dreams are. In a time when the strength of our dreams is belittled, the art practices that young artists choose for their projects, such as the processes of copies, replications, transfers, mutations, the rediscovering of old traditional techniques, studying quite forgotten native languages, and rethinking religious rituals and legends (all belonging to Rea's artistic engagement) are true sources of inspiration.