Thursday, May 11, 2017
Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collective

Archives play an integral role in daily life, yet they often remain obscured or overlooked. They allow viewers to receive glimpses of the past, of a life that they never experienced, and help reconstruct history; They become a foundation of knowledge and information for the academics and curious; They contribute to the formation and continuous evolution of identity. The form archives take are not restricted by documents, literature, or visual mediums: in fact, they are all around us. The clothes we wear, the objects we possess, and the things we carry on a daily basis: these are only a handful of examples of archives, items that can be used to reconstruct history and transform identities. The contributions archives make are, again, often disregarded or obscured because there are not many people who can identify the numerous forms they can take on. Thankfully, at the Abrons Arts Center, the true extent of archives was exposed.

Archival Alchemy
Photo by Bob Lee
Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collective was an exhibition, curated by Saisha Grayson, that used an assortment of archives in order to explore issues relating to assimilation,  marginalization, representation, and identity. Thirteen female South Asian artists contributed pieces that examined the history and present stance of South Asian women. Here is an official statement from South Asian Women's Creative Collective:

"At a moment when South Asian communities, women, and immigrant neighborhoods like the Lower East Side are being targeted by an evidence-averse administration, ​this exhibition will also offer an opportunity for nuanced reflection on the complex global and personal histories that shape conflicting views of our contemporary moment. Several works explore the role that archives play in creating official histories, papering over dissent and managing the disappearance of non-citizens, while others present or produce counter archives that resist such erasure and offer strategies for empowerment."

At the exhibition, an assortment of aesthetically-pleasing and personal pieces were displayed, all which provided political and social commentary on the lives of South Asian women. Here are a few examples of the pieces featured in the exhibition:

I Never "Ask for It" by Blank Noise:
Gathering together thousands of garments worn by those experiencing sexual harassment or violence, the ongoing project "counters the lie that women 'ask for it' through calmative, collectively-built testimonials reporting the truth of widespread, unchecked, unprovoked sexual aggression." The individuals who submitted clothes are labeled as "Action Heroes" -- ordinary citizen-participants taking action to tackle sexual assault. The diversity in styles -- children's cartoon t-shirts, modest cardigans, beach dresses, sweatshirts, and pajamas -- proves that "there is no outfit that women can wear that will stop what is ultimately a societal problem -- an entrenched rape culture that extends from excusing 'locker room talk,' ignoring street harassment, shame sexual assault victims, and failing to punish rapists, abusive spouses, and murderous partners to the full extend of the law." The display was supported by both text and audio clips.

 Garments Worn by Women Experiencing Sexual Harassment or Violence
Photo by Baie Rogers
 Garments Worn by Women Experiencing Sexual Harassment or Violence
Photo by Baie Rogers
The Scheherazade Project by Amy Khoshbin*:
The Scheherazade Project is a multimedia project that "merges live performance and an original score with animated Persian illustrations, images from the Iranian Revolution, found and newly created film footage, and immersive video game tropes to explore the power of storytelling, past and present." To view the entire feature, please feel free to click the link provided: https://vimeo.com/198574125

A Snippet from the Video
Photo by Baie Rogers
Another Snippet from the Video
Photo by Bob Lee
*The AAAC has written an extended piece about Amy Khoshbin. Please feel free to find the post on our blog.

Past and Present by Zinnia Naqvi:
Naqvi's series "uses family albums as a dynamic archives through which intergenerational identity construction and legacies of migration can be more precisely understood." There are two sets of photographs: one is an archival image that presents an migrant parent standing in their countries of origin; the second photograph is Naqvi's attempt to restage the original photograph using the parent's children. The process "reveals resonances that derive not only from familial resemblance, but from the children's tendency to be drawn towards or to create environments that offer points of connectivity."

Zinnia Naqvi's Project Past and Present
Image From Booklet
A Close Up
Photo by Bob Lee
Troy Towers by Patience Rustomji:
In her piece, discarded objects collected from her apartment complex are placed into glass vases, of all shapes and sizes, and are submerged in "cooking oil and spices traditionally used to preserve food" that were repurposed from her mother's kitchen. Rustomji "attempts to create an 'eternal present' for this imagined by invisible community by transforming detritus redolent of urban dislocation and alienation into 'a personal archive of desire, fantasy, and longing.'"

Patience Rustomji's Troy Towers
Image From Booklet

Another Vantage Point
Photo by Bob Lee
Perfect Love and Other Stories by Marium Agha:
Constructed with embroidery, recycled imagery, and found tapestries, Agha "dissects myths of love that accumulate across cultures, obscuring real experiences that run counter to formulaic fairytales." The rabbit featured in below is flayed, exposing threads and muscles. The pieces -- not displayed below is portrait that recreates Alice's White Rabbit, only it is instead made up of yarn and rope on fabric -- "court sensuous responses that, like their subject, exceed rationality."

Marium Agha's Perfect Love and Other Stories
Photo by Bob Lee

Index of the Disappeared by Chitra Ganesh and Miriam Ghani:
Following 9/11, there was a drastic shift in views towards security, privacy, Muslims, and immigrants. The ongoing archival project "is continually expanding to reflect the proliferating bureaucratic and legal mechanisms, and to appose the shift towards secrecy surveillance, and censorship, that have accompanied an unprecedented of disseverances, deportations, renditions, and detentions since 2001." The Index also provides "documents tracing the connections between increased immigrations enforcement and chilled speech, racial profiling, media representations of people of color, prison labor, the private prison industry, abuse in detention, corruption in ICE, militarization of the US-Mexio border, and the xenophobic histories of the 96 Laws, Japanese internment, and the Asian Exclusion Act."


The Index of the Disappeared 
Photo by Bob Lee
100 Days/16 Years
Photo by Bob Lee
Archival Alchemy achieved so much within it's small space: the exhibition provided a platform for an often overlooked demographic -- South Asian women -- to present their voices; the installations helped highlight complex but relevant issues that continue to shape the lives of every individual; the artists who contributed work brilliantly reminds viewers that archives are more than items: they are our stories and our identities.

On May 7th, Many of the Artists Held a Panel to Discuss Their Work
Photo by Bob Lee 
Links:
For more information about Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collectionhttp://www.sawcc.org/archival-alchemy-sawccs-20th-anniversary-exhibition/
For more information about the Abrons Art Center: http://www.abronsartscenter.org
For more information about Blank Noise and their ongoing project I Never "Ask for It"http://www.ineveraskforit.org/blank-noise
For more information about Amy Koshbin: http://tinyscissors.com
For more information about Zinnia Naqvi: http://www.zinnianaqvi.com
For more information about Patience Rustomji: http://www.patiencerustomji.com
For more information about Marium Agha: https://www.artsy.net/artist/marium-agha
For more information about Index of the Disappearedhttp://www.mariamghani.com/work/626 
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Amy Khoshbin: Redefining Art, Politics, and Their Intersectionality

VOTE AMY KHOSHBIN: CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 39
Amy Khoshbin is running for City Council in District 39 of Brooklyn in the Fall 2017 Race. According to her website, "Khoshbin is running as an information-gathering strategy, to demystify the supposedly complex structures of government and to empower others to run for office." Reviewing her official page, she is presented as a very common politician who wants to tackle trendy issues:
  • Prioritize a culture that supports creativity -- "we all start as creative individuals when we're children"
  • Put Brooklyn citizens before politics and corporate interests
  • Empower Brooklyn citizens with skills to create their own livelihoods and not be completely dependent on a corporate system
  • Dismantle all white supremacist systems
  • Ensure Brooklyn is a safe space for immigrants
  • Value Brooklynites -- their skills, talents, and insights -- to help strengthen the economic, social, cultural, and environmental state of Brooklyn
  • "Build a future we want to see, together"
What separates Khoshbin from other traditional politicians is her extensive background in art. Khoshbin is "an Iranian-American Brooklyn-based artist merging performance, video, collage, costume and sound to examine our individual and collective compulsion to create, transform, and sometimes destroy the stories of who we are and who we think we should be. She produces media and mythologies using humor and a handmade aesthetic to throw a counterpunch at the high-definition, profit-generating codes and signals that American audiences are trained and accustomed to consuming." 

Recently, her work was featured in the exhibition Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collection, located at Abrons Art Center. Her piece, entitled Scheherazade Project (2017), is a multimedia project that "merges live performance and an original score with animated Persian illustrations, images from the Iranian Revolution, found and newly created film footage, and immersive video game tropes to explore the power of storytelling, past and present."



There has not been a politician, in recent years, that frequently engages with communities through the means of art. If Amy Khoshbin's campaign is a success, she could redefine the relationship art and politics continue to endure. She has the potential to construct innovative methods to interact with individuals within the community and within the government: as a result, the bridge between politicians and the people could be gapped. 

For more information about Amy Khoshbin: http://tinyscissors.com
To view more of her work: https://vimeo.com/semiotech
To view The Scheherazade Projecthttps://vimeo.com/198574125

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Thursday, May 4, 2017
Indira Freitas Johnson: An Artist Who Creates Hybrids Aimed to Advocate for Empathy, Community, and Peace

"I use symbols, rituals, and traditional expression as a means to discover, interpret and balance the culture and philosophy of my home country, India, with the here and now of my life in the U.S... I believe that combining the material and spiritual of in ritual expression is a way to discover and interpret the meaning of life. Ritual can transform meaning or objects and make them function physically as well as spiritually. Thus I believe that when common found objects are re-introduced into society, and presented in a ritualistic format, they acquire a renewed energy and the idea of sacredness of everyday life is confirmed" - Indira Freitas Johnson

Indira Freitas Johnson is a self-taught artist and an educator on nonviolence. Coincidentally, both of her occupations intersect beautifully, both acting as sources for inspiration and social reforms. "Much of my inspiration comes from transitory, ritualistic Indian folk art practices," she writes, "which I've used to address issues of labor, domestic violence, nonviolence and health education, adapting them to operate within contemporary experiences thus evolving a hybrid version of the original traditions. As a result, my work has always been informed by my experience of life in both, the US and India."


Indira's artwork falls under a "call and response tradition" that is frequently practiced in many cultures. Many of her pieces rely on responses from each community she visits, allowing their feedback to help finalize the results; in a way, her work is a hybrid, whose construction and completion relies on community interaction.

*Death and Rebirth (2003), linoleum black print
*Title Unknown (????), drawing 
*Virtue and Vice I (2003), hand embroidered organza
Throughout her career, Johnson's work is represented in an assortment of major private and public collections across the world including: Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Asian American Arts Centre (us!), Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Mobile Museum of Art (in Mobile Alabama), State of Illinois Building (in Chicago), Ankor Consultants (in Brussels), High Museum of Art (in Atlanta), Arkansas Arts Center and Decorative Arts Museum, University of Illinois Law School, Kohler Company (in Sheboygan, Wisconsin), High Museum of Art (in Atlanta, Georgia), SHARE, Air India Corporation, and Garden/Varelli -- the last three institutions are located in Mumbai, India.

Indira is also the founder of the Shanti Foundation for Peace, located in Illinois. The Foundation is a non-profit organization that "helps children realize their creative potential, equips teachers with new teaching tools, helps participants develop lifelong nonviolence decision-making and nonviolence skills, and enables schools and community organizations to advance their goals." In 2011, Shanti Foundation merged with Changing Worlds -- their missions is to "foster peace, acceptance, and understanding in the everyday interactions of people, by bringing visual, literary, and performing arts programs to schools and communities. Today, Shanti Foundation programs are now offered under the Changing Worlds' "umbrella." Here are examples of one of Shanti's art projects: greeting cards:

Shanti's Line Greeting Cards
Photograph Belongs to Changing Worlds
"Shanti’s line of greeting cards combine graphics designed by Johnson with distinctive quotes that challenge and inspire the reader. The quotes on all of our products are chosen to represent a variety of cultures, famous leaders, students, and unknown visionaries.  This diversity demonstrates the beauty of our differences and the similarities of our hopes and dreams" - Changing Worlds.

Recently, Johnson gave a magnificent TED Talk, at the University of Columbia College Chicago, on April 1st. There, she explains the significance a single individual can have on the entire world. To hear her talk, please feel free to visit the link: https://livestream.com/Tedx/tedxcolumbiacollegechicago
** She begins to speak at 6:12:00


Links:
For more information about Indira Freitas Johnson: http://www.indirajohnson.com
For more information about Shanti Foundation for Peacehttp://www.arts.illinois.gov/arts-education-roster/shanti-foundation-peace
For more information about Changing Worlds: https://www.changingworlds.org
To view her TEDxColumbia College Chicago talk: https://livestream.com/Tedx/tedxcolumbiacollegechicago
** She begins to speak at 6:12:00

*All Images Are Featured in the Online Data Base: artsasiamerica.org
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Lily Yeh: An Artist Who Brings Art to Impoverished Communities

“When I see brokenness, poverty and crime in inner cities, I also see the enormous potential and readiness for transformation and rebirth.  We are creating an art form that comes from the heart and reflects the pain and sorrow of people’s lives. It also expresses joy, beauty and love.  This process lays the foundation of building a genuine community in which people are reconnected with their families, sustained by meaningful work, nurtured by the care of each other and will together raise and educate their children.  Then we witness social change in action.” - Lily Yeh


Founder of The Village of Arts and Humanities, as well as Barefoot Artists, Lily Yeh has dedicated her life to bringing art to impoverished communities all across the world -- including locations within Utah, Kenya, China, Germany, Syria, Cite Soleil, and Damascus.

The Village of Arts and Humanities is an non-profit arts organization located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their mission is to "amplify the voices and aspirations of the community [of Philadelphia] by providing opportunities for artist expression and personal success that engage youth and their families, revitalize physical space and preserve black heritage." The Village allows individuals within the community to freely create art that both continues to feed the vitality of Philadelphia, while also amplifying their own narratives and interests. The artistic contributions are extremely beneficial for both the city, and the individuals who inhabit it: "For Lily," The Village's official website states, "the beautifications of physical space catalyzed positive mental and emotional shits in the way that residents viewed their own lives and the health of their neighborhood."


A Community Garden on Germantown Ave., in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A Model of Lily Yeh's Vision for the Community Garden

In 1988, the Germantown Ave. Community Garden was Completely Renovated: The Mosaics, Murals, and Sculptures Were Created by Both Yeh and Community Members


Barefoot Artists is constructed in a similar fashion as The Village of Arts and Humanities, but extends on a more international scale. The non-profit organization aims "to inspire participants to initiate new projects, bring other volunteers, find new funding sources and discover other opportunities to serve communities." Barefoot Artists aims to bring artwork to impoverished countries and encourage community members to participate in creating different pieces that will further contribute to the richness of the different countries. These projects foster community empowerment, improve the physical environment, promote economic development, and preserve and advance indigenous art and culture. Lily Yeh collaborated with Zheng Hong -- who holds a PhD in Paleontology, had just earned her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University -- in creating the Dandelion School for immigrant workers, located in Beijing. Yeh's artwork played an integral role in creating the new institution, as well as encouraging the youth to create work inspired by their own experiences. She wrote a book, about the experience, entitled Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms.


AWAKENING CREATIVITY: THE DANDELION SCHOOL BLOSSOMS
Lily Yeh's work is featured in a Netflix Documentary entitled Barefoot Artists (2013), directed Daniel Traub and Glenn Holsten. The film focuses on the origins of Yeh's innovative work, and highlights the impact it has had on various communities. Yeh also gave a TED Talk on November 17, 2013, at Cornell University. There, she explained the importance of using art as a tool for both unity and social change: "Listen to the voice in your heart. Be courageous to respond to life's calling. Take action. Creative action guided by compassion leads to transformation."

Her TEDxCornellU Talk Can be Viewed Below:



Links: 
For more information about The Village of Arts and Humanities: https://villagearts.org
For more information about Barefoot Artists: http://barefootartists.org
To watch the documentary, Barefoot Artists, please visit Netflix.com and type in the title in the search bar
*Netflix account is required
To order her book Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms: https://www.amazon.com/Awakening-Creativity-Dandelion-School-Blossoms/dp/0981559379/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493910541&sr=8-1&keywords=lily+yeh
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