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work of seven transnational artists
Mitchell, Arts Editor
Resurgence of Islam" (1998-99) by Shahzia Sikander
Vegetable color, tea, gold leaf, watercolor and dry pigment
on hand-prepared "Wasli" paper
Ill. — Throughout history, various cultures have been lumped together
into the broad categories “East” and “West”
in order to distinguish an “us” from a “them,”
according to art historian David O’Brien. This habit continues
today, he says, “but at the expense of cross-cultural understanding,
and despite the fact that the lives of many people now cross the East/West
Some major contemporary artists who share a connection to both worlds
are now traversing boundaries, dismantling stereotypes and seeking to
broaden perceptions on both sides of the global divide. A traveling
exhibition organized by the Krannert
Art Museum at the University of Illinois will bring the work of
seven of these artists together for the first time.
(2002) by Mona Hatoum
Suitcases, plastic, metal and human hair
19" x 25" x 26.75"
East and West: Seven Transnational Artists” opens Jan. 23
at the museum and will be on view there through March 28, before traveling
to various venues throughout the United States through 2005. Featured
artists are Jananne Al-Ani, Ghada Amer, Mona Hatoum, Y.Z. Kami, Walid
Ra’ad, Michal Rovner and Shahzia Sikander. Each artist is represented
by a choice selection of works, ranging from large installations and
video projections to miniature paintings, prints and sculptures.
The exhibition is co-curated by O’Brien, and David Prochaska,
professors of art history and of history,
respectively, at Illinois. Additional in-house curatorial assistance
has been provided by museum curator Roxanne Stanulis.
Several events have been planned in conjunction with the exhibition’s
run at Illinois, including a conference on Feb. 6-7 in the museum auditorium. The conference is free and open
to the public; registration is not required. Participants include artists
Al-Ani, Ra’ad and Sikander, and leading scholars.
1" (2003) by Michal Rovner
32" x 32.75"
speakers will be Okwui Enwezor, a visiting professor of art history
at Illinois and professor of art history at the University of Pittsburgh,
and Salah Hassan, chair of the art history department at Cornell University.
All of the artists represented in the exhibition were born in the region
stretching from Egypt to Pakistan, and have lived and worked in the
United States or Europe. Their work reflects a familiarity with diverse
forms of artistic expression and is shaped by what O’Brien calls
“competing cultural allegiances.”
“The art in this show addresses various experiences of travel,
exile, diaspora, alienation and integration, feelings of longing and
belonging, memories of places and people, encounters with divergent
views of sexuality and gender, alternate political understandings of
the world, and cultural practices that both divide and unite us,”
O’Brien wrote in an essay that appears in the exhibition’s
companion catalog. The catalog also includes an essay by Prochaska,
excerpts from conversations with the artists and color illustrations
of their work.
“We began the organization of this show several months before
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” O’Brien said. Naturally, he
added, the attacks and subsequent military actions in Afghanistan and
Iraq have focused greater world attention on the region, and “make
the show more immediately relevant to a broader audience.”
The featured artists are linked by similar cultural forces and common
experiences – the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a
direct experience of war and American and European domination in the
region, for instance. However, O’Brien notes, “the exhibition’s
goal is not to define a culturally specific aesthetics or politics that
unifies these artists, and certainly not an artistic movement. Rather,”
he writes, “the exhibition focuses on (the) variety of cosmopolitan
interpretations of displacement and intercultural experience by artists
who have followed a specific trajectory.”
And while the artists’ cosmopolitan world-views are apparent in
their work, O’Brien said, each manages to “preserve important
particularities from their individual histories and those of their homelands.”
Sikander, for example, who was born in Pakistan, combines techniques
and media associated with traditional South Asian miniature painting
in her work. She updates the work and makes it her own, however, by
incorporating Muslim, Hindu and Western images and icons representing
both high- and low-brow cultures.
Similarly, O’Brien notes, paintings by the Egyptian-born Amer
that include imagery of autoerotic and lesbian sexual activity “engage
familiar debates about feminism and sexuality, but they also raise very
different debates when viewed in an Egyptian or Muslim context.”
Following its opening at Illinois, the show will travel to the following
venues: April 16 through Sept. 4, Louisiana State University Museum
of Art, Baton Rouge; Oct. 9 through Dec. 12, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth
College, Hanover, N.H.; and Feb. 19 through May 15, 2005, Williams College
Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass.
More information about the Krannert Art Museum – including location,
hours, exhibition and related-events listings – is on the Web.