by Valerie Valentine
Minnesota’s population is constantly changing, and as we become a more diverse community, residents adjust their worldviews accordingly. Some people become more inclusive and tolerant, reaching out to help their fellow citizens acclimate to a new culture. Others lash out, squawking about lost jobs and language barriers; some even act out violently, spurred by their xenophobia. In such a contentious environment, many people want to stick their heads in the sand. One local organization, however, has stepped up to lead a creative, constructive discussion about diversity and immigrant issues.
In its second installment of Immigrant Status, Intermedia Arts bravely
surveys the landscape. In Home, Land, Security, visual artists explore
new and existing immigrant communities, and look at indigenous cultures in society
By placing their work in a common space, artists blend inspiration and interpretation.
Sounds of the ocean intermingle with voices of Native Americans discussing displacement
and feelings of alienation in a land once solely theirs. The use of organic
materials adds rawness and purity to the exhibit. Native-American, Mexican-
American, African-American and Hmong-American artists provide a collage of experiences
that, although distinct, resonate with similarities.
Whiteman and his daughter Missy offer insight into the immigrant experience.
Cutout silhouettes on the wall evoke figures from past and present, marginalized
into the shadows of mainstream consciousness. Circles on the ground made of
stones and plant material celebrate Native American spiritual roots, while reflecting
the cyclical nature of subjugation through many generations. Individual images
projected into the center of a circle relate stories of domination over their
native ancestors, completing the cycle.
Artist Lourdes Cué has created a striking beach scene that is representative
of the show as a whole: diversity merged with thought-provoking construction.
A paper boat made from book pages rests on a mound of sand, surrounded by numerous
burlap feet that were molded from the artist’s body. The feet can be seen
as products or imported goods, much like immigrant labor is viewed in the United
States. Cué’s concept of imported human labor as a commodity echoes
the African-American immigrant experience, in which people were imported to
work as slaves.
One chilling piece is a 9’ x 9’ fabric cube, built by African-American
artist Seitu Ken Jones. In this wood-framed construction, two hallways are carpeted
with a copy of the United States’ Constitution. Participants walk over
the Constitution to peek into the central room. The sight is startling, even
frightening—five figures lay squished together like sardines, covered
head-to-toe with white sheets. The installation is particularly significant
in light of the show’s title: Home, Land, Security—a twist on the
moniker bandied about in relation to the so-called “War on Terror.”
By literally trampling on the Constitution, Seitu’s work exemplifies the
erosion of civil liberties and the dissolution of reverence for these rights
by the current administration. The work evokes feelings of isolation and trepidation.
Despite attempts to assimilate into American culture, immigrants are often kept
at bay by discrimination and hostility directed at foreigners.
In the café gallery’s Loss and Separation series, artist Kou Vang
displays pillowcases with narratives and photos of Hmong women to create a heart-rending
testimonial of female trials and resilience. Pillowcases as surface medium are
an apt tribute to wistful dreams of freedom and the anxious tears shed in the
night. The portraits are sensitively depicted, with a delicate transparency
that embodies humankind’s inherent fragility. The brutal tales of violence
and betrayal are countered by the courageousness of the enduring women who survived
to tell their stories.
By blending authentic and diverse voices, Home, Land, Secuity enables
distinct groups to create a unified portrait of the immigrant experience and
provokes discussion of identity. Through this dialogue, Intermedia Art’s
Immigrant Status series fulfills a critical requisite for a healthy society.
Home, Land, Security runs through Jan. 8 at Intermedia
Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls. 612-871-4444. Open Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–5