Arts & Culture

New exhibition portrays female immigrant identity

‘Crossing Borders’ exhibit to arrive at Watson Institute, John Brown Center next month

By
senior staff writer
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Spools of thread sprawled about a table and an imposing metal detector suggestive of xenophobic persecution loom at the Periphery Space gallery in Pawtucket.  The exhibition, entitled “Crossing Borders,” speaks to the duality of the identities and perspectives of  21st-century female migrants journeying to the United States. The installation opened Sept. 9 and will be on display at Periphery Space until Oct. 14.

Jocelyn Foye, a multimedia artist and decorated activist, and Judith Tolnick Champa, an arts critic and founder of the Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art, curated the exhibit. Paying close attention to the rise of immigrant-centric art in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump, the curators aimed to collate works that extend this brand of activism to the experiences of mostly female immigrant artists. The female creatives include Venezuelan-American Esperanza Mayobre and Iranian-American Saman Sajasi. Their works are accompanied by those of male artists such as Mexican-American Camilo Cruz.

The decision to root “Crossing Borders” in feminine perspectives stems partially from Foye’s illustrious involvement with the feminist movement.

“I started a group called the Women’s Project that engages in a lot of performance art action, sort of like the Guerilla Girls,” Foye said, likening her organization’s purpose to that of the acclaimed collective of anonymous feminist artists. “It all traces heavily to the philosophy of the exhibit.”

Sajasi’s “Glory,” is a highlight of the exhibit, featuring a silk-woven mandala interlaid with digital Google Maps-like webbing. The scope of the eight-by-eight foot piece and its juxtaposition of the traditional and modern encapsulate the realities of immigrant women’s labor-intensive lives and the globalization that both drives and drains them. Sajasi is set to speak at the exhibit Oct. 5 along with RISD faculty member Maya Krinsky. 

An essay by rising Iranian-American artist Ariana Gharib Lee ’15 features in the exhibition’s illustrated brochure. The piece addresses the dichotomy between the cold observation of art in exhibits and a viewer’s personal relation to it — the former of which, Lee argues, persists heavily and problematically in identity-centric art such as those in “Crossing Borders.”

“I think there is an extra personal and emotional leg you can take that’s very easy to not do in a museum,” Lee said. “Seeing something that’s very decontextualized from its maker and its environment requires a responsibility that involves seeing how you’re implicated in the oppression an artist is pointing to.”

“It is cool to be engaged with art and politics at the same time,” Tolnick Champa said, alluding to the politically-charged nature that all the works on display share. The exhibit “is so subtle and not rhetorically in-your-face.”

The seamless subtlety achieved by “Crossing Borders” might best be epitomized by the exhibit’s own migrations. The collection is slated to move from Pawtucket’s Periphery Space to Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage Oct. 27. In its transience, the exhibit performatively emulates the migratory themes of its works.

“We are sort of forcing people to practice the migratory processes the exhibit details by literally forcing people to migrate between the two to see all of the art,” Foye said. “We are also really excited that two institutions that are not centered around art are taking on the exhibit,” Foye added. “It is really addressing what the exhibit is about by way of where it’s going.” 

“An academic setting and structure are going to be really wonderful,” Champa said. In contrast with the more creatively oriented communities involved with Periphery Space, “Brown is going to provide a sort of foil.” 

The installation will remain at the Watson Institute and John Nicholas Brown Center through January, after which it will relocate to other locations around Rhode Island in a continuation of its elegant and enlightening nomadism.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Saman Sajasi is set to speak at the exhibit on Oct. 4. In fact, Sasaji is set to speak at the exhibit Oct. 5. In addition, the article has been updated to reflect the fact that RISD faculty member Maya Krinsky will also be speaking at the exhibit. 

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