Migrating Identities

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, United States
28 Jun 2013 - 29 Sep 2013

Migrating Identities features the work of eight artists  – Ala Ebtekar, Michelle Dizon, Naeem Mohaiemen, Meleko Mokgosi, Wangechi Mutu, Yamini Nayar, Ishmael Randall Weeks, and Saya Woolfalk –  who actively negotiate their relationships with two or more different cultures and the influence on their individual lives.

Collectively, they have connections to such diverse countries as Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Peru, and the Philippines. Though all are currently based in the United States, they represent a variety of emigrant experiences—those who emigrated to the U.S. as children and those who emigrated as adults; those who are first generation citizens and those who both live and work in the U.S. and elsewhere. The work of these artists, all of whom are in their 30s and early 40s, forms a sampling of a generation’s response to the role of cultural diversity in the U.S. Guided by their ability to move fluidly between cultures, and drawing from the uniqueness of their individual journeys, these artists reveal the ways in which their identities have been transformed by the confluence of mobility, cultural retention, and personal history.

Inherent in their shared condition of straddling multiple identities is the artists’ ability to translate culture as it relates to time and space, as well as to illustrate the ever-present influence of history. Crafting entirely new identities from the confluence of mobility, cultural retention, and investigations into their pasts, they adapt their internal and social resources to the uniqueness of their individual journeys and use their fluidity of movement from one culture to another as the basis for their art-making. Their art expresses their personal identities by embracing cultural transition, material relocation, or the transmigration of things.



Meleko Mokgosi, born in 1981 in Gaborone, Botswana, currently lives and works in New York City. He uses painting to interrogate the very concerns that inform its death drive: the limits of representation, the politics of abstraction, and the mode of viewing enabled by rectangular canvases on a gallery wall. The artist’s technical acuity asks viewers to draw out affinities between experiencing and interpreting and he works within an interdisciplinary framework to create large-scale, project-based installations. By working across figurative painting, cinematic tropes, psychoanalysis, and post-colonial theory, his practice interrogates the specificity of regionalism in order to address questions of nationhood, colonial and anti-colonial sentiments, and the perception of historicized events. He is especially interested in how Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and semiotics can be used to comprehend national identification and occurrences. His artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including the Botswana National Gallery (2008), The Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art Museum (2011), The Studio Museum in Harlem (2012), and the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center (2012). He received his BA from Williams College (2007) and his MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of California, Los Angles (2011). melekomokgosi.com


Wangechi Mutu, born in 1972 in Nairobi, Kenya, has trained as both a sculptor and anthropologist. Her work explores the contradictions of female and cultural identity and makes reference to colonial history, contemporary African politics and the international fashion industry. Drawing from the aesthetics of traditional crafts, science fiction and funkadelia, Mutu’s works documents contemporary myth-making of endangered cultural heritage. Piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces and found materials, Mutu’s elaborate collages mimic amputation, transplant operations and bionic prosthetics. Her figures become satirical mutilations. Their forms are grotesquely marred through perverse modification, echoing the atrocities of war or self-inflicted improvements of plastic surgery. Her work embodies a notion of identity crisis, where origin and ownership of cultural signifiers becomes an unsettling and dubious terrain. Mutu’s collages are simultaneously ancient and futuristic and her figures aspire to a super-race, by-products of an imposed evolution. Mutu has exhibited at Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada (2012), Capricorno, Venice, Italy (2011), and Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA (2009). She received her BFA from Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Sciences (1996) and her MFA from Yale University (2000). http://www.wangechimutu.com/





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