Simmons “Sundown (Number Twelve)” 2018, Jeanne L. Wasserman Art
Acquisition Fund and Anonymous Acquisition Fund. © Xaviera Simmons
“When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art” is the poetic title of a powerful new show at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.
The exhibition borrows its title from a line in the poem “Home,” by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, which states, “You only leave home/When home won’t let you stay.”
On view through Jan. 26 are more than 40 works made since 2000 by 20 artists from 12 countries. In sculpture, installation, painting, video and other media, the exhibition explores immigration both as a universal human experience and a global crisis of unprecedented size, as, according to the United Nations, 1 in 7 people throughout the world is a migrant either by choice or by force.
Organized by ICA staff members Eva Respini, chief curator, and Ruth Erickson, curator, with Ellen Tani, assistant curator, and Anni Pullagura, curatorial research fellow, the exhibition will begin to travel nationwide next year, appearing first at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and then moving to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.
In Boston, the ICA’s seaport site becomes part of the story, and the exhibition includes a strong local dimension.
In a glassed-in walkway overlooking Boston Harbor, the exhibition concludes with a wall-size placard by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz, who quotes a woman being held at an ICE detention center, who told her, “We are human beings, risking our lives for our families & our future.” The placard faces the shipyard in East Boston that was from the 1920s to the ’50s a major processing and detention center for immigrants. East Boston is home to more foreign-born residents than any other Boston neighborhood, and the shipyard is the location of the ICA’s new Watershed site.
“When Home Won’t Let You Stay” begins in the ICA’s lobby, where Boston artist and educator Anthony Romero has installed a replica of a street vendor’s pushcart. The ICA has also enlisted
Romero to coordinate a series of community events that will engage East Boston residents. Other ICA programs related to the show include gallery talks, tours, and workshops in collaboration with Mass Poetry and the International Institute of New England.
Edited by Respini and Erickson, the exhibition’s catalog offers an absorbing companion experience to
the show, extending its reflections on home, boundaries, borders and
belonging with rich illustrations and thoughtful essays by scholars and
the elevator as it rises to the fourth-floor galleries that house the
show is a large blue banner by Havana-born New Yorker Tania Bruguera
entitled “Dignity Has No Nationality” (2017). Founder of Queensbased
Immigrant Movement International, an artist-run service center for
newcomers, Bruguera has crafted a stitched map of Pangaea, the
prehistoric supercontinent that existed before formation of the earth’s
seven continents and here, an image of unity transcending political and
overlooked in the first gallery is a small but compelling object by
Adrian Piper, a major American artist and philosopher who lives and
teaches in Berlin, who has long explored racism and its fictions. She
has emblazoned an oval mirror with a statement in gold leaf, “Everything
will be taken away,” adapted from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel “In
the First Circle,” in which a prisoner tells his torturer, “The man from
whom you’ve taken everything is no longer in your power; he is free
opposite wall is “Woven Chronicle” (2011-16) by New Delhi-born Reena
Saini Kallat, a world map that with electric cord twisted to resemble
barbed wire outlines current trade and migration routes. Both an aural
and visual experience, the installation emits a low drone suggesting
ceaseless movement and an endless flux of exchange that connects and
Do Ho Suh
has crafted a series of walk-through replicas of his childhood home in
Seoul in translucent yellow and pink polyester. Their blend of ephemeral
fabric and precisely wrought dimensions evoke the chimera-like nature
assortment of blue clothing arranged on the floor, Kader Attia’s “La Mer
Morte (The Dead Sea)” (2015) suggests rippling waves and memorializes
those lost at sea while attempting to escape war-torn homelands in
fragile, overcrowded boats.
U.S.-Mexico border is the focus of Guillermo Galindo and Richard
Misrach’s multi-year collaboration, “Border Cantos” (2004-16), which
includes Misrach’s haunting photograph of the wall meandering
ribbon-like between a brooding sky and rolling hills. Nearby are raw
sculptures that Galindo forged from discarded segments of the wall as
well as left-behind gear and animal skeletons.
to a new home is a creative act rivaling any artistic endeavor, and
Aliza Nisenbaum’s large oil paintings celebrate an immigrant family she
has befriended by rendering their daily life in the joyful palette of
Mexican majolica tiles.
artist Yinka Shonibare CBE has created an eloquent tribute to America
as a nation of immigrants. Occupying an entire gallery is his “The
American Library” (2018), a floor-to-ceiling installation of more than
6,000 books, each bound in Dutch wax cloth and imprinted in gold leaf
with the name of a notable contributor to American history who is a
firstor second-generation immigrant or descendant of participants in the
Middle Passage or Great Migration. These individuals are as varied as
W.E.B. DuBois, Toni Morrison, Steve Jobs and Donald Trump. Shonibare
underscores his theme of multicultural hybridism with the fabrics
covering the volumes—West-African batiks printed on Indonesian cottons
imported through Dutch and English trade.
enable visitors to access the installation’s website to learn more
about the people whose names appear on the bindings and add their own
family migration stories. After all, with the exception of the country’s
surviving indigenous peoples, every American is an immigrant.
The Boston Community Access & Programming Foundation, Inc. (BCAPF) will hold its Annual Meeting on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 at 7:00 PM at BNN Charles J. Beard II Media Center, 3025 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02119
All members are welcomed! For more information, please feel free to contact (617) 708-3200.
ON THE WEB
For more information on the exhibition and related programs, see: www.icaboston.org