Ancestral Landscapes: An Exhibition Statement From Curator Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis
What does it mean to come from somewhere? How do we define family and home? In what ways do we resemble and converge from those who came before us? How do memory and culture factor in? The artists in Ancestral Landscapes pose these questions and more. Embarking on a detective-like quest to investigate their roots, they pay homage to beloved family homes, neighborhoods, and land, examine generational bonds and rifts, follow the trails of cultural diaspora, and address the trauma of displacement. From exploring quotidian rituals and routines to probing centuries-old customs and roles, they present a tapestry of identity-based work centered on heritage and place.
Honed from a stellar array of submissions to NOT REAL ART’s annual grant, the work in Ancestral Landscapes includes video, mixed media, painting, works on paper, and glass. A portrait on oil cloth evokes memories of family gatherings while a photo taken on the beach reveals the pain of estrangement. A beaded mask blends traditional healing and textile techniques to protect a community from COVID while scraps of sheet music and mounds of furniture reflect the turmoil of refugees on the move. Through images of suburbia, maps drawn from memory, tours of interiors and city streets, and reenactments of family history, artists from around the globe uncover the link between their past and how they navigate the world today.
Family and Ancestry
Daniela Leal’s emotive “Self Portrait with Mom” touches on themes of alienation and belonging in her Miami community. Lois Harada uses propaganda-style typography to address her grandmother’s internment in Arizona during World War II. Britt Sankofa’s black-and-white film “Curiosity” combines found footage with intimate reflections on her mother to explore attitudes about love, gender, and sex. Sadie Smith’s photo of their parents with their backs turned on the beach conveys the tension of a fraught family reunion. Tie Li’s “Generational Transition” traces cultural shifts in China from his grandparents’ era to his own. Ibtisam Tasnim Zaman and Jendayi Glasgow peel back the layers of their cross-cultural heritage, while Ellex Swavoni’s ancestral pillar reaches for the future. Jazmin Castaneda’s color-saturated painting of a relative taking a selfie in her grandmother’s yard is a loving testimony to familial bonds.
Ritual and Routine
Lawd P’s documentary “Horns of the Borough” is a vibrant homage to the rituals and routines of his pulsating Brooklyn neighborhood. Chelsea Kaiah and Grace Gutierrez weave family and cultural traditions into their heritage-based work. Li Lin-Liang reenacts a day in the life of a suburban housewife in her series “Together / Alone-Under Suburban Sky.” Jezabeth Gonzalez’s “House Tour” juxtaposes the soundtrack of a real estate agent touring a luxury residence with a 360-view of her grandparents’ multi-generational home in Puerto Rico. Nicholas Pollack’s “Untitled from the Meadow” features a group of New Jersey truck drivers gathering near the railroad tracks for Cuban food, dominoes, and beer.
Memory and Landscape
Jamie Robertson’s images of the land her family has owned for generations trace her African American roots in rural Texas. Chantal Lesley examines her dual heritage through a subtle urban landscape from the border town of Brownsville. Kasra Goodarznezhad’s layered hand-drawn maps are based on memories of his previous life in Iran. Jenny Lam and Olga Nenazhivina explore the connections between East and West through lyrical interpretations of the land. Sabina Puppo’s “The Journey is the One Within” captures the lushness of the Uruguayan countryside. Tommy Kha’s digital layering of his mother’s face over an idealized landscape and a kitschy American interior reveals the intricate connections between heritage, family, and place. Jason Matias’s “The American Dream” offers a glimpse of a utopian field through the window of an abandoned building, contrasting despair and decay with longing, optimism, and hope.
Displacement and Belonging
“Steve’s Place” by Mary Lou Uttermohlen depicts the long-term resident of a razed shantytown whose home and personal artifacts have been destroyed without notice. Whitney Sage’s wistful scenes of suburban neighborhoods confront issues of memory, degradation, and loss. Alexandra Farber’s “This is You” examines her relatives’ chaotic survival as Jewish refugees and its lasting impact on her identity. Edison Peñafiel’s installation “Ni Aqui Ni Alla” (“Neither Here Nor There”) captures the pain of migration through videos of people hauling their belongings and piles of ponderous objects. Lola del Fresno combines sculpture and architectural drawings to investigate what home means to a stranger in a foreign land. Eunsuh Choi illustrates her shifting perspective since immigrating to the US through a dream-like structure of borosilicate glass.