|Saman Sajasi, "Glory", 2013. Courtesy Periphery Space Gallery.|
Any keys in your pockets? How about loose change? Are you wearing a belt?
You needn’t plunk your belongings in a gray plastic tray to enter “Crossing Borders” — a carefully curated exhibit showing at Periphery Space Gallery in Pawtucket through Oct. 14. But you will have to pass through a metal detector, an experience courtesy of Los Angeles-based Camilo Cruz, who’s installed one of the metallic sentries at the gallery’s entryway.
Cruz joins nine other artists in “Crossing Borders,” a group affair orchestrated by curators Judith Tolnick Champa and Jocelyn Foye. The pair began contemplating and assembling the show nearly eight months ago as an investigation of “dual identities, dual coasts, dual personalities,” according to Foye. With the Trump administration’s recent push to eliminate the DACA program, imperiling thousands of undocumented young adults, Foye sees the venture as an even more timely comment on immigration.
But the show is not a battering ram of polemic. Says Champa: “Hopefully it’s subtle. I think it is.”
The sophistication of the art seems to agree. This is a show you might expect of Providence’s academic galleries and, appropriately enough, the show will travel to Brown University this fall.
Cruz’s spatial cleverness is one instance of several. Mumbai artist Poonam Jain will likely elicit many a double-take, having outfitted a slab of the gallery’s wall with door hardware like deadbolts, locks and coat hooks. Is she keeping something out, or holding the audience captive?
Rather than a door without destination, Providence-based Saman Sajasi opens up a wormhole to a remembered landscape, its gate a swirling array of mountain ranges, maps and Islamic motifs. The Iranian native’s digitally-printed silks are huge and majestic, donning a sense of heritage and identity like royal garments.
Teruko Kushi sets up an absurd encounter with “The back of my head.” At first this disembodied mane is humorous, then intimate, or maybe awkward, and ultimately inconclusive. We stare at a cipher for a Japanese woman — long, straight, black hair — but Kushi denies us any access to her thoughts. Talk to the hair, if you will — the face is not only not listening, but absent.
That the audience can’t untangle Kushi’s braid suggests the problems of perceptibility across cultures — a theme present in most of the work. But maybe translation is not always necessary, and a simple acceptance and admiration of difference is more powerful.
Ariana Gharib Lee, of Iranian and Chinese heritage, provides an insightful essay in the exhibit brochure.
“Museum educators often restrict their explanations of works to ‘translating’ their [cultural] symbols, failing to help visitors connect emotionally,” she writes. Too often, “identity-based art is coldly observed rather than explored, reflected upon, or put more simply, felt.”
Lee’s animated short “Incompleting” is propelled by voice and time, achieving heavy emotional velocity. Lee narrates her historical trauma, the phantasmic and lingering pains of colonization, wounds that have passed from generation to generation with little loss in potency.
Yet at the end of her tale, Lee’s voice comes across radiant, resilient — not totally healed, but capable of both strength and vulnerability — suggesting that, unlike Jain’s dead-end door, there is a way out.
— Alexander Castro is a freelance writer based in Attleboro.
Via Providence Journal