Seeking the threads that tie us together in a world of separation

Image: ‘DeFence: The Installation’ by Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Saleme, a work intended to highlight the differences of class among laborers and the wealthy.
Courtesy of Lehman College Art Gallery

Posted March 23, 2017

Whether you came to the United States from another country or you’re a lifelong resident, have you ever experienced feelings of isolation, alienation or anxiety?

The Lehman College Art Gallery’s new exhibit “Alien Nations” explores this, using mediums such as paintings and writings — as well as everyday items such as shoelaces and silverware — as 18 artists convey the sense of alienation in modern society.

“You don’t have to be an immigrant to understand alienation. You can be a Joe Schmo walking down the street and still experience alienation,” said Laura De Riggi, Lehman Gallery’s assistant curator. “We want that to be a unifying thought … it transcends generations. It’s not just for millennials who understand alienation by electronics and technology and Facebook and Twitter. It will be for the older generation who immigrated here when they were children and only had the clothes on their back.”

Conversation starters

The pieces are designed to spark conversations that cross gender, geographical, political, racial and religious lines on what it means to be alienated from mainstream society and what many people have in common.

Nari Ward’s “Angelic Troublemakers” used hand-dyed shoelaces sewn through the wall that resembles embroidery. The title references the suffragette movement where women were dubbed angelic troublemakers for seeking the right to vote. The words also touch on the importance of social protest, De Riggi said, which is relevant to what “is now (with) the Women’s March and all the different things politically and what is going on.”

“DeFence” is the combination of an elaborate table setting and a mural painted on wood slats demonstrating the economic and social contrasts between the workers who grew the food used on the table, and the wealthy who dine at it.

Using charcoal pencil, ink, permanent markers, and liquid silver leaf and acrylic painted on wood, artists Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Saleme showed migrant laborers toiling in the fields, hinting the workers would not be invited to eat at the luxurious dining table to, literally, enjoy, the fruits of their labor. The barrier of the window hints at the division between the economic classes.

The silverware, plate and cutlery have an unreadable script handwriting that appears to be taken from a letter or a diary.

Cecilia Mandrile’s “Silence Between Hands” is a soft sculpture of a doll with no facial features to identify a gender, nationality or race placed inside an open vintage suitcase. Pressing lightly on the doll’s chest activates an apparatus placed inside, creating the appearance it’s breathing.

What do you carry with you?

“It’s this whole thought of what you carry with you when you travel,” De Riggi said. “What’s important to you? Is your infancy and where you grew up what’s important to you? And what you are going to carry with you? Or are you going to leave this and grab something new from your new country?”

Artist Meg Hitchcock cut words from a number of religious resources like the Bible and Quran to create framed images on paper resembling Jewish prayer cloths. Using the words as artwork shows the common theme among religions. She calls it “Prayer Cloth No. 3: Prayer for the State of Israel” and “Prayer Cloth No. 2: A Prayer to Yamantaka.”

“They want us to be good people in the end, and they want to be nice to one another,” De Riggi said. “It’s kind of the same thoughts in each book. They’re just written differently and spoken differently. She tries to eliminate the differences, makes them unified.”

Financial support for the show was provided through grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Jarvis, the Constance Doctorow Family Foundation, and the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund.

For more information on the exhibit, which runs through May 6, visit LehmanGallery.org.

Alien Nations

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