Tag Archives: political art

Once Upon A Place Comes to Toledo

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The world of immigration is calling from a phone booth in Toledo.

When was the last time you found yourself in a phone booth? I don’t remember, and I bet you don’t either. These little, closet-like structures used to dot the urban landscape, providing points of tinny contact with far away people and places. The internet and cell phones have changed all that, and now the lowly phone booth is a seldom-seen and even more seldom operated relic of the analog era.  But global citizen and Afghan American artist Aman Mojadidi wants you to pick up the phone right now, and reconnect with the outside world via 3 re-furbished and re-purposed phone booths installed in downtown Toledo until October 22.

Born in 1971 to a prominent Afghani family (his uncle is a former president of Afghanistan), Mojadidi grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he learned to navigate the psychological contradictions and similarities between his family’s traditional Afghani culture and the values of the American south. From his unique cultural vantage point, Mojadidi drew satirical comparisons between the macho culture of the Afghan mujahedeen fighters and American “gangsta” culture in staged photos such as “A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After a Long Day’s Work (2010) and made pointedly humorous artworks like his fashionable suicide vest,  Conflict Chic.

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A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After A Long Day’s Work

The phone booths Mojadidi recently designed for Once Upon a Place move away from satire and toward a more journalistic approach to the subject of immigration. As part of his Times Square Arts residency, Mojadidi was drawn to the phone booth as a perfect vehicle from which to tell the immigrant story.  “I learned that phone booths were being removed from the streets… the idea immediately hit me. The fact that so many people have used these booths in the past… made them a natural way to present new stories.”

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Conflic Chic Suicide Vest

He researched the full variety of immigrant experience by studying census  records, articles and reports on immigration and then went out into the community to contact immigrants directly in community centers, mosques and temples.  There, he admits, his interest was suspect, “… there was a lot of suspicion from them, which added an extra barrier to reaching people. They wanted to know why I was collecting information on immigrants. Many people who spoke with me were illegal and stayed anonymous.” Rather than a scripted interview, Mojadidi’s methods were open-ended. He asked his subjects to tell him anything they wanted to share, such as, “why they left home… [or] why they came to NYC. Was there something unique that happened on the journey?”  In the end, he collected over 70 stories of immigrants from 26 countries.

When I visited Once Upon a Place in Promenade Park recently, Mojadidi’s skill in putting together a moving collection of stories was apparent. As I listened to the interviews in the phone booth, I often couldn’t understand the language that was being spoken (I’ll admit here that my Urdu is weak). It gave me a sense, though, of how large and interconnected the world is, and amplified the emotional impact of the interviews. Whether the speaker was a young man carried over the Mexican border by his mom when he was three years old, or a man from Yemen whose attitude about politics was completely changed by 9/11, or a Puerto Rican woman who came to New York to make a change in her life, each story was deeply personal and unique.  Or as Mojadidi said in an interview, “Picking up that phone and listening to someone’s voice is an intimate experience; it’s different from hearing someone’s story on the news or through some other medium. In a way, the project just cuts out the politics; the person just tells their story.”

Local arts organizartions sponsoring Once Upon a Place’s Toledo residency include Contemporary Art Toledo, River House Arts, the Arts Commission and the Toledo Museum of Art. Next, Mojadidi’s phone booths are headed for Miami, before returning home to New York. The artist told me that he is working on plans for a European variation of Once Upon a Place for Paris and beyond. He also plans to begin “working on a commissioned project related to notions of Home within the context of conflict, at the Imperial War Museum in London early in 2018.”

When asked about his experience as a visiting artist in Toledo, Mojadidi replied, “I was very touched by the warmth and enthusiasm of folks… both those who helped bring Once Upon a Place there, and … the engagement of students during talks I gave at different Universities.”

This post is reprinted from The Toledo City Paper.

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Emergent Effect

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One Becomes Many by Paloma Nunez-Reguerio

What happens when one becomes many? How do patterns, objects, gestures repeated and systematically arranged, reveal  thoughts and ideas that are otherwise invisible?   The artists of  Ypsi Alloy Studios think they know the answer–or answers–to that question.

They have done their homework, comparing and contrasting different definitions of multiplicity and its implications, each coming up with a satisfying working theory of how this relates to them personally. The artists of the collective share a space, and clearly also share ideas and ways of working while also displaying an intriguing diversity of approach and media. In this thoughtful collection of artworks, the artists work both individually and in collaboration, bouncing ideas and methods off each other. The result of their labors, Emergent Effect, curated by Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch, is now on view until January 28 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.

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108 by Paloma Nunez-Reguerio

Many of the artists have created meaning through cumulative action in the most direct possible way, fabricating artworks that amount to more than the sum of their parts. Two pieces by Paloma Nunez-Ruguerio exemplify this straightforward approach. One Becomes Many invites gallery visitors to include themselves in the many by writing personal details about themselves on the stickers that make up the  installation.  The resulting visual effect calls to mind the cells of a beehive. Another Nunez-Reguerio work, entitled 108, is colorful and more lushly decorative than most of the more austere works in the exhibit. Small prints in various colors are repeated and placed in a grid, making a veritable fruit salad of vegetal forms.

Some of the most idiosyncratic yet satisfying work in Emergent Effect is created by Yunhong (Katie) Chang.

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Joy by Yunhong (Katie) Chong

Her  series Zoo/Joy/Pinwheel/ Whisper/Goodbye features an installation of identical  unglazed porcelain plaques that provide grounds for  abstract hairline (literally) drawings.  Promise, with multiple tiny hanging hair rings encrusted by porcelain slip, suggest precious yet fragile personal relationships.

Elize Jekabson’s sculpture Stacked employs plywood, cut and layered in a way reminiscent of the 3-d printing process to create a kind of anthill-shaped tower. Like many of the pieces in the show, this work refers to both the repetition and addition of forms seen in nature and to industrial ways of making.  Works like Jessica Tenbusch’s antler and silver constructions Jaw and Kiss, Wade Buck’s forged steel wishbones (Best of Luck) and Riva Jewell-Vitale’s Fragments depend upon repetition of idiosyncratic natural forms for their considerable visual resonance.

Coming at the question of the one and many from an entirely different direction are the large format photographs of Alexa Borromeo. Too Pussy for Trump features a series of  women whose naked bodies provide the canvas for provocative statements on gender and race.  Here, once again, societal assumptions are projected onto women’s bodies regardless of their human individuality–a cognitive dissonance that is highlighted in this funny and disturbing collection of images.

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From Too Pussy for Trump by Alexa Borromeo

Emergent Effect is particularly intriguing for the influences that the individual artists clearly exercise on  each other.  This talented group displays an emerging sense of shared esthetic interests and some through-lines emerge. I notice in particular a growing emphasis on excellence in craftsmanship, an allegiance to the  authenticity of materials and  an apparent appetite for repetitious cumulative labor characteristic of natural forms  but  married to industrial components and processes. Ypsi Alloys Studios continues to develop as an art collective with gifted individual members and a growing sense of shared purpose in its collaborative projects. It will be interesting to see where they go next.

For more information on Ann Arbor At Center and the current exhibit Emergent Effect go here.