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VOYAGER: Migrational Narratives



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VOYAGER: Migrational Narratives

Curated by Ann Bartges and Olivia Donaldson

January 30 – March 6, 2020

Opening Reception: Thursday, January 30th from 4:00pm – 7:00pm

As the title implies, VOYAGER honors the narratives of people moving places, and invites visitors to engage in a nuanced and meaningful dialogue about the diversity, complexity and humanity of migration. Interweaving photography, painting, video, sculpture, textiles, performance and poetry, this exhibition explores themes of home, distance, craving, belonging, dreaming, and more. The exhibition will be on view in Flex Space Gallery from January 30th – March 6, 2020. An interactive opening reception on Thursday, January 30th will feature the performance, THE NATIONAL BIRD, by Arturo Herrera. THE NATIONAL BIRD explores ideas of freedom of travel, individual relocation patterns, and a narrative of citizenship through the relationships performed by a bald eagle, coyote, goose, and a macaw. Additionally, documentary filmmaker Daniel Quintanilla and collaborators Shuab Mahat and Hilowle Aden will present their pop-up virtual reality experience, A SHARED SPACE LEWISTON. Books by contributors Mohja Kahf and The Telling Room will also be available for purchase, thanks to the UMF Bookstore.
Artists: Nayda A. Cuevas, Parisa Ghaderi & Ebrahim Soltani, Leila Hernandez, Arturo Herrera, Mohja Kahf, TeaYoun Kim-Kassor, Josephine Lee, Eireann Lorsung, Firoz Mahmud
Also Featuring: The Telling Room, Maine Historical Society, Immigration History Research Center, Migration Matters
January 30, 4:00-7:00pm:
The National Bird 
A performance by Arturo Herrera
The National Bird explores ideas of freedom of travel, individual relocation patterns, and a narrative of citizenship through the relationships performed by a bald eagle, coyote, goose, and a macaw.

El Coyote "in the den," from the series The National Bird, work in progress. Bosco dell'Osellino, Venice, Italy. Still video by Furio Ganz, Valeria Segna. Coyote by Juri Bizzotto

Full Exhibition Statement:

As the title implies, VOYAGER: Migrational Narratives honors the stories of people moving places. It invites visitors to engage in nuanced and meaningful dialogue about the diversity, complexity and humanity of migration. The exhibition features the works of ten artists–all of whom have experienced migration first hand. Interweaving photography, painting, video, sculpture, textiles, performance and poetry, this exhibition explores themes of home, distance, craving, belonging, dreaming, and more.

In the gallery, the ethereal audio-recording of Mohja Kahf’s poem, “Voyager Dust,” welcomes visitors as it plays from overhead speakers at regular intervals. The poem beckons our senses with the scent of Syria in a mother’s scarves and the softness of a sweater stitched in China. Similar to the exhibition, these clothes contain the “dust” of departures and arrivals–the ongoing journeys of various voyagers.

Like Kahf’s poem, many of the works in VOYAGER convey sentiments of loss, longing, hope and possibility, alluding to complex patterns, histories and causes of migration. In Nayda A. Cuevas’s mixed-media collage, Adios: Puerto Ricans Always in Migration, the image of an embrace foregrounds a map connecting the island and mainland. Cuevas’s collage visualizes the cyclic longing of those who leave, remain, and return only to leave again. In the series Soaked Dream, Firoz Mahmud creates photographic portraits of families who work in factories. Parents and children peer out of fantastical green glasses crafted from their tools. Recently selected as a finalist for the COAL prize in France, Mahmud’s family portraits share the dreams and determination of communities of aspiring emigrants and displaced persons in the artist’s homeland, Bangladesh.

Other works on view approach immigration through everyday objects to interrogate questions of finding home and feelings of dis/belonging. Leila Hernandez’s textile series La Visa Negra pieces together fragments of black inner tubes, chip packages, and other recycled materials to portray the journeys and daily lives of migrant laborers and refugees who have crossed the Rio Grande. In her collage, Completely out of Water, Éireann Lorsung plays with the symbolic material significance of discarded papers found in the streets of Brussels and second-hand items from thrift stores. While Lorsung’s work considers estrangement and othering in the EU, Parisa Ghaderi and Ebrahim Soltani’s series, Go Home!, stages photographs in a US IKEA store to explore how a body, one’s first home, assimilates and interacts with a new space.

Several sculptural pieces reflect on tensions within and across languages, cultures, and borders. The three paraffin door knobs from TeaYoun Kim-Kassor’s Paradox series present the image of doorknobs without doors, creating a feeling of distance and disorientation. On the gallery floor, the clear tiles of Josephine Lee’s A Stone’s Throw from the Old Country turn the childhood game of hopscotch into a playful allegory of the ways that distance from home exposes the structures of space and language. The animal masks from Arturo Herrera’s experimental performance series The National Bird explore ideas of freedom of travel, individual relocation patterns, and a narrative of citizenship through the relationships performed by a bald eagle, coyote, goose, and a macaw.

VOYAGER will be on view at the UMF Emery Community Arts Center’s Flex Space Gallery from January 30 to March 6, 2020. Co-curators Ann Bartges and Olivia Donaldson are excited to expand the conversations and narratives of migration present in the art exhibition by also including documentary works and stories from several organizations. In the downstairs lobby, visitors will find literature, oral histories, digital stories and informational videos from The Telling Room in Portland, Maine Historical Society, Immigration History Research Center, and Migration Matters. These local, national and international entities provide important historical, political, and socio-cultural contextualization for the art encountered in the gallery space. Project statements proposed by the artists offer additional support and language for interpreting and discussing their creative works.

The interactive opening reception on Thursday, January 30th from 4:00-7:00pm features the performance THE NATIONAL BIRD by Arturo Herrera. Additionally, documentary filmmaker Daniel Quintanilla and collaborators Shuab Mahat and Hilowle Aden present their pop-up virtual reality experience, A SHARED SPACE LEWISTON. Viewers have the opportunity to put on an Oculus Rift and experience the stories of two Somali-American fathers raising their families in Lewiston, Maine. The exhibition and opening reception are free and open to the public. Faculty, student clubs, local schools and community groups may contact Ann Bartges [] about holding class sessions, workshops, and other events in the exhibition space.

More about the Artists:

Nayda A. Cuevas Ramos was born in Puerto Rico. Her family migrated to Florida in 1990. As a means of negotiating alienation and the absence of familiar people and places she turned to the arts to explore her identity. She obtained a BFA in Fine Art (2002) from Stetson University in Deland, FL, and her MFA in Visual Arts (2015) at Lesley College of Art (Former Art Institute of Boston) in Cambridge, MA. Ms. Cuevas has exhibited internationally: Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg MA; Museo de Arte de Caguas, Caguas PR; Palazzo Ca’Zanardi, Venice, Italy; Mattatuck Museum, CT; The Clemente Center Abrazo Interino Gallery, New York, NY; Holy Family University, Philadelphia, PA; Queens University of Charlotte, Charlotte, NC. She has been an Artist in Residence at The Nobles and Greenough School in Dedham MA, MASS MoCA/Assetts for Artist in North Adams, MA and Room 83 Spring in Watertown, MA. She is a grantee of the Create Well Fund, Boston, MA and MASS MoCA/ Assetts for Artists grant, MA 2016, and her work was published in The Boston Globe in October, 2018 and Artscope in May, 2019.

Parisa Ghaderi (b.1983, Tehran, Iran), is a visual artist, curator, and filmmaker who earned her BA in Visual Communications from Art & Architecture University (Tehran, Iran) in 2006, and her MFA in Art and Design from the University of Michigan (USA) in 2014. She moved to the U.S. in 2009. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including South Asian Women Collective (Shirin Gallery, NY), the 6th International Media Arts Award (Queensland, Australia), ExperimentoBio, (Spain), A Woman House or a Roaming House? (A.I.R. Gallery, NY), Fadjr International Visual Arts Festival (Tehran, Iran), and the Red Bull House of Art (Detroit, MI). Her work is featured in The Huffington Post, The Brooklyn Rail, Video Focus (France), Nineteen Sixty Nine (University of California, Berkeley), the Michigan Daily, Unite Women (online), and the Visual ARTBEAT Magazine (Austria). She is currently an assistant professor of Graphic Design at Michigan State University.

Ebrahim Soltani is an assistant professor of Political Science at Eastern Michigan University. He earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University. He is also an MD, having graduated from the Iran University of Medical Sciences. He was Editor-in-Chief of Kiyan, a Persian journal of religion and politics, from 1998 to 2000. He is a photographer and his artwork has been exhibited in Ann Arbor, MI, Touchstone gallery in Washington D.C., ArtPrize 9 in Grand Rapids, MI, and the Light Journal. Soltani and Ghaderi were 2018-2019 Applebaum photography fellows in Detroit. Their work won the Best in Show among 102 artworks at the UMHS art exhibition.

Leila Hernandez, native to El Salvador and based in Texas, explores the mixtures of cultures, ideas and opinions in the border area between South Texas and Northern Mexico. She holds an MFA from the University of Florida, and she studied printmaking, drawing, painting and art history in Florence, Italy and Paris, France. Hernandez exhibits her work nationally and recently exhibited in the Philippines at an international exhibition titled Nothing to Declare. La Visa Negra is a continuation of that exhibition.

Arturo Herrera is an interdisciplinary artist based in Detroit, Michigan. Herrera explores issues across national boundaries, including the politics of race and language, borders, and self-disclosure of sexual orientation. Herrera received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art in Canada, at the University of Windsor, with concentrations in sculpture, photography, and performance art. Most recently, Herrera’s work has been presented at the Detroit Historical Museum, as part of the show Looking For America, an event organized by the New American Economy, American University School of Public Affairs, and Previously, the artist’s work has been presented at the University of Michigan as part of Border Control, The New Media Caucus, Symposium, and at the Venice International Performance Art Week in Italy.

Mohja Kahf is a Syrian-American poet, novelist, scholar, and professor. Her books include Hagar Poems (University of Arkansas Press, 2016), the novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (Perseus, 2006), the poetry collection E-mails from Scheherazad (U of Florida, 2003), and the monograph Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: from Termagant to Odalisque (U Texas 1999). She received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Rutgers University and is a professor of English and Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas.

TeaYoun Kim-Kassor is originally from South Korea, where she received her B.F.A. in Fiber Arts at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul. She continued her research in Art Education as the Japanese equivalent of a Fulbright Scholar at Saitama University in Japan, where she earned a Master of Arts in Art Education. In the United States, Kim-Kassor continued her exploration of fine arts in the M.F.A. program at the University of Tennessee with a focus on installation. Currently, she is teaching as an associate professor of Art at Georgia College in GA.

Josephine Lee is influenced by her movement between the United States, Canada, and South Korea. In her work, Lee explores the impact of cultural assimilation and naturalization through migration. Framing her research on social histories and the diasporic constructions of home and belonging, as linked to memory and contested history, Lee seeks to incite a recognition of material, object, and gesture, as inherently imbibed with a politics, a social structure, and a force of relations. The objects and sites that she examines are deeply rooted in document, ritual, and cultural symbol. Within this context, Lee’s work focuses on nationalism and home as an antecedent to a deeper examination of the inadequacy of representation, the complications of overlapping histories, and the complexity of unfolding spaces of belonging.

Éireann Lorsung spent twelve years living as an immigrant in the EU, mostly in Belgium. Recently returned to the US, she is in the third year of a three-year contract teaching writing at UMF. Her forthcoming collection, The Century (Milkweed Editions, fall 2020), deals with US and EU history, empire, white dominance, and her own migration (

Firoz Mahmud is a Bangladeshi visual artist who works on large scale installation, painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and various forms of art. Mahmud’s work has been exhibited at biennales including Sharjah Biennale, 1st Bangkok Art Biennale, Dhaka Art Summit, Setouchi Triennale (BDP), 1st Aichi Triennial, Congo Biennale, 1st Lahore Biennale, Cairo Biennale, Echigo-Tsumari Triennial, Asian Biennale. He has received awards from Asian Cultural Council(ACC) in New York, Guggenheim Museum‘s UBS Global Art Initiative and Asia Society invited him for symposium ‘Continuous Horizons: Contemporary Art for Asia, No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia Programs. In 2019, Firoz Mahmud was nominated for France-based COAL prize which was hosted and artworks screened at Centre Pompidou in Paris.


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