Immigration and Integration
A portfolio of work reflecting the experiences
of immigrants and their descendents
With each passing century, people become more mobile.
Today, in much of the world, it's commonplace to move from
your small town to the big city, from your big city out into
the countryside, from one side of a country to another, from
one side of the world to another.
With globalization, airplanes, telephones, and email,
a long-distance move may seem less momentous. But still today,
with a move one severs ties, leaves the familiar, has to forge
new relationships and learn new terrain. Some welcome these
changes with a sense of adventure, others grieve; perhaps
most feel a combination of emotions. All must rethink their
place in the world.
We noticed several recent exhibitions and artists were
addressing themes related to emigration (leaving one's homeland)
and immigration (making a new country one's home). We share
a sampling here.
|Andrea Kalinowski, Anna's Quilt, 2000; 94
by 77 inches. Kalinowski digitally manipulated text, photographs,
and scans of fabrics; had the completed image printed
on canvas; then added cotton fabric sections with the
help of community quilters. Photo courtesy of the Museum
of New Mexico.
"Who were these Jewish women pioneering the dusty trails of
the West? Brave and willing to stray from their familiar lives
in order to endure adventure, hardship, and illness?" These
were questions New Mexico artist Andrea Wexler Kalinowski
asked as she embarked on a project to tell the stories of
Jewish immigrant pioneer women. The project resulted in nine
large-scale mixed-media textiles, which make up "Stories Untold:
Jewish Pioneer Women 1850-1910," a traveling exhibition organized
by the Museum of New Mexico.
In each textile, Kalinowski focuses on one pioneer, combining
photographs and text from diaries and memoirs with classic
quilt patterns from the era. For example, one piece depicts
Anna Fruedenthal Solomon, who was born in Poland in 1857 and
emigrated with her husband to Arizona; the text describes
Solomon's arduous journey across the United States and her
challenges in setting up housekeeping with "no furniture,
no cooking stove and not anything else that belongs to the
comfort of the human race."
"Stories Untold" will be at its seventh venue, the Sylvia
Plotkin Judaica Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, January 1-March
31. It will then travel to Boston, Miami, and St. Louis. For
more information, visit http://www.storiesuntold.org/.
Hope and Courage
Australia, like North America, has been a destination of many
immigrants. The Australian Quilters Association gathered many
voices on this theme in a juried exhibition in 2001. Exhibited
at the Museum of Craft & Folk Art in San Francisco last
year,"Quilted Journeys: Immigration Stories by Australian
Artists" included 25 works.
"My father was full of hope for a better future for us all,"
writes Olga Walters. In See the Light Down Under, she
depicts the 500-year-old house that her mother was born in
in Amsterdam and images of her family in 1957 when they sailed
for a new country "where they would be free from the threat
of war, having suffered hardship during the German occupation
|Olga Walters, See the Light Down Under; cotton,
wool batting; photo-emulsion screen printed, machine pieced,
free-motion machine quilted, embroidered, trapunto, hand-quilted,
appliquéd; 75 by 56 inches. From the 2003 exhibition "Quilted
Journeys: Immigration Stories by Australian Artists,"
at the Museum of Craft & Folk Art, San Francisco.
Sue Dennis focuses on the suitcase her father packed in 1949
in What Would You Take?. "I am an Australian because
my father packed this small suitcase, escaped from his homeland
in Europe after World War II, and came to Australia," she
writes. "How many others have been faced with an open suitcase,
waiting to be packed for a fateful journey - a journey to
a new land, a new lifestyle, leaving all you know and love
behind. ... If it were your suitcase, what would you take?"
|Sue Dennis, What Would You Take?; cotton,
cotton thread; photo transfer, free-motion writing, machine
pieced and quilted; 47 by 45.5 inches. From "Quilted Journeys"
at the Museum of Craft & Folk Art.
Jane Whiteley portrayed her thoughts more abstractly in Red
Tape. In the 19th century, her great-grandmother eloped
and left her family and Basel, Switzerland, behind, settling
in England. Two generations later, Whiteley moved from England
to Australia. In her quilt, which involves hand-stitched lines
on an old tablecloth, she used the plain-sewing skills of
her great grandmother's time. She writes: "She doesn't know
where she is going, whose path she will cross. She knows what
she takes with her and what she leaves behind. She hopes her
stitching will connect her to herself, her past that is severed,
and beyond. ..."
All 25 quilts with artist statements were presented in the
Museum of Craft & Folk Art's publication, A Report
(vol. 19, no. 1); see Resources on page 78 for ordering information.
|Vita Plume, Alien's Passport, 1999; cotton;
digitally manipulated image, handwoven jacquard; 55 by
65 inches. Photo: Karen Ruet.
What Does Culture Mean To You?
Vita Plume's textile art reflects her Latvian heritage and
her quest to understand the meaning of cultural identity.
Her parents emigrated to Canada from Latvia in 1954; Plume
was born soon after in Montreal.
Plume's heritage has worked its way into her work in several
ways. The traditional Latvian blouse and Latvian text formed
the basis for a series she did a dozen years ago. In her more
recent work, created on a jacquard loom, she's interested
in woven structures as cultural identifiers; Latvian weaves
are layered with images, such as the "alien passport" her
father was issued when, as a displaced person, he entered
Sweden from Latvia. Behind the brief data given on the passport
is the Latvian identity through which he interacts with the
Plume herself recently became an "alien" herself when she
moved from Canada to the United States, where she's an assistant
professor in the Department of Art & Design at North Carolina
State University in Raleigh. She will be exhibiting work at
Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, January 9-February
|Top: Julianne Ahn, Mother #1, 2003; fabric
silk screened and embroidered with textured yarn on striped
cotton; 28 by 28 inches. Bottom: Father #1, 2003;
fabric silk screened and embroidered with textured yarn
on synthetic linear fabric; 30 by 30 inches.
The Second Generation
Julianne Ahn, a 2003 B.F.A. graduate of the Rhode Island School
of Design, wrote to us about her senior degree project, titled
1949;1981 (the years of her father's and her own birth).
Composed of 15 pieces that incorporate silk-screening, embroidery,
and weaving, the project draws on portraits of Ahn's parents.
"An American-born citizen with parents from South Korea,
I attempt to identify myself through my mother and father
in a different country," she writes. The combination of photographs
with a geometric background "provokes a memory of the past
while anticipating the future. Because the language I share
with my mother and father is broken, I am drawn to the visual
aspect of the identity I was born from and currently live
Since graduating, Ahn has moved to Boston, where she is exploring
graduate school and career options.
|Vesna Todorovic´ Miksic´, VESTED INTEREST: tailored,
1997; U.S. currency, thread, matchsticks, wire; 20 by
16 by 12 inches. Photo by the artist. From the "Home/
Land" exhibition, organized by the Society for Contemporary
Craft in Pittsburgh and showing at the Houston Center
for Contemporary Craft January 16-March 28.
A Nation of Immigrants
Encouraging dialogue about cultural differences in the United
States was the goal of "Home/Land: Artists, Immigration and
Identity," an exhibition organized by the Society for Contemporary
Craft in Pittsburgh and showing at the Houston Center for
Contemporary Craft January 16-March 28. Writes Janet L. McCall,
executive director of the Society, "'Home/Land' celebrates
the rich historical origins of immigrant art while also recognizing
that culture is never static but dynamic, responding to present
conditions, environment, and times."
Included in the show is work by 19 contemporary craft artists,
a number of whom use fiber media. Some objects speak of journeys
and practical needs; for example, Vesna Todorovic´ Miksic´'s
vest of U.S. currency, created as part of a "trousseau for
immigrants, refugees, and nomads" (Miksic´ came to the U.S.
from Serbia in 1990). Other objects relate stories: Dinh Q.
Lę's "photo-tapestry" combined photographs of military scenes
with a technique traditionally used for making grass mats
in his native Vietnam (Lę came to the U.S. in 1979). Others,
such as the tufted wool pieces by Martha Donovan Opdahl, address
cultural identity. She writes, "I am the product of a Latina
parent and upbringing and of a gringo parent and Midwestern
education. I may look gringa but I feel Latina: there's always
been a disconnect. ... I use the tension created by countervailing
forces as a metaphor for the oppositions inherent in my dual
|Dinh Q. Lę, Persistence of Memory #16, 2001;
C-print (photographic print), linen tape; 45 by 65 inches.
Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of PPOW, New York City. From
"The United States is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants,"
writes historian Nicholas P. Ciotola in the exhibition catalogue.
[For ordering information, see page 78.] He concludes about
these artists' work: "Taken collectively, their work heightens
our appreciation of the trials and tribulations faced by these
particular immigrant artists themselves, as well as the millions
of nameless, faceless immigrants who preceded them."
|Martha Donovan Opdahl, Arroyo Seco #1, 2002;
tufted wood pile; woven; 80 by 55 by 1 inch. Photo: Dan
Morse. From "Home/Land."