Narratives of Elsewhere: Artists Illuminating Distant Conflicts

12 january, 2024

By Emireth Herrera Valdes and Kaitlin Anne Vervoort

Conflictual Distance features eleven artists whose works offer insights into sociopolitical events across diverse countries and their subsequent processing. Despite variations and geographical distances, the depicted activism, resistance, and resilience collectively empower these societies, transcending differences. Curators Bianca Abdi-Boragi, Katherine Adams, and Anna Mikaela Ekstrand designed an exhibition space that fosters an appreciation for the diverse perspectives and viewpoints of each artist, thoughtfully considering the cultural nuances tied to their ethnicity.

Installation view of Pritika Chowdhry's Memory Leaks: Drips and Traces (2014). Photo: Julia Gillard. Courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial, EFA Project Space, and the artist.
Pritika Chowdhry's Memory Leaks: Drips and Traces (2014) challenges the dominant narratives surrounding communal violence in India. The artist employs ritual copper vessels commonly used in Hindu temples to illuminate the atrocities faced by the Muslim community. Drawing inspiration from anti-memorials, Chowdhry connects elements of Hindu rituals and Islamic symbolism to construct a metaphoric installation. Each vessel is meticulously etched with tally marks and details of significant Hindu-Muslim riots, along with the corresponding year and location.

Made of etched copper pots, burnt newspapers and books, and water, the installation alludes to time and movement through banners hanging from the ceiling, connecting with the five plates placed on the floor and a central container accompanied by two glasses. The chains provide verticality, while the pentagon's shape evokes proportions and harmony in nature. By observing the balance and the ability to contain and suspend the flowing liquid that seeks to fall, we can understand that just as it is impossible to suppress society, every event is impermanent, and the moment comes when transformation is necessary. Although history cannot be changed, we can learn from it and its mistakes. The need to mark, document, and remember allows this to be possible.

Marcelo Brodsky, presents a compelling collection of six photographic works from the series 1968: El Fuego de las ideas, (2015-present) transcending into broader social, political, and historical narratives. As an activist, Brodsky’s work raises awareness about pivotal moments such as his personal journey, marked by persecution during the Argentine military dictatorship. The dictatorship, responsible for the torture and death of thousands, including Brodsky's younger brother, Fernando, compelled the artist into exile until its demise in 1983.
Installation view of Marcelo Brodsky’s 1968: El Fuego de las ideas, (2015-present) Photo: Julia Gillard. Courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial, EFA Project Space, and the artist.
By portraying student mobilizations and global activists standing in unity against military regimes and oppressive governmental structures, Brodsky incorporates excerpts from speeches by influential figures like Martin Luther King and Che Guevara into his works. For instance, in Montevideo, (1968), he employs overwritten annotations such as “¡Los jóvenes adelante!” to accentuate the courage of youth protesting in Uruguay, shedding light on local struggles and the lasting impact of state violence in diverse regions. This combined use of photography and text underscores the intellectual and emotional fervor that fueled these protesters, creating a compelling narrative with resonance that transcends borders.
Installation view of the watercolor series “my beautiful. Wife?” (2014), “Saga about pregnant me and my pregnant husband” (2021), and “888” (2019). Photo: Julia Gillard. Courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial, EFA Project Space, and the artist.
Born in Kerch, Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine, Maria Kulikovska explores the violence and uncertainty of exile in her works on paper. In 1914, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation, whose forces occupied the territory. At that time, Kulikovska fled the Crimean Peninsula and relocated to Kyiv, effectively in exile. The distance from her home in Kerch to her new home in Kyiv, exactly 888 km, informs and titles this series of watercolors. “888” was executed in 2019 in three parts: “Part I. August 2019”; “Part II. November 3, 2019”; “Part III. November 11, 2019.”
Installation view of the watercolor series “888,” 2019. Seven watercolors on Soviet-era architectural paper, 11.4” x 8.2.” Photo: Julia Gillard. Courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial, EFA Project Space, and the artist.
The works are all uniform in size, painted on architectural paper from the Soviet era whose boundaries Kulikovska defies, transgresses, and rewrites both in the watercolors and in the life of the artist herself who lives and works in a world dominated by men where women’s bodies remain a commodity and a site of violence. Each watercolor breaks free from the rigidity and structure of the architectural sketch paper, as the confines of the paper are breached, and every image spills off the page. Kulikovska uses the colors of the body, battered and bruised as a way of calling attention to the violence inflicted upon women’s bodies in times of crisis, war, and uncertainty. The effect is both corporeal and visceral, eliciting closer inspection by the viewer.
Rafael Yaluff, Latin American Ghosts, 2022. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72” x 48”. Courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial and the artist.
Rafael Yaluff, a Chilean Artist from Santiago, has long lived a peripatetic lifestyle spanning Europe and North and South America. The present work, Latin American Ghosts (2022), brings the artist’s attention closer to home, Santiago, Chile. The depiction of a torn calendar revealing the month of November, all days marking the 19th, is surrounded and covered by the remnants of posters and graffiti that papered the streets of Santiago during the protests of 2019–2020. Paint is layered, as were the posters and graffiti, to reveal the cyclical patterns of revolution followed by counter-revolution in Chile, leaving many dreams of a better life unfulfilled.

Conflictual Distance brings together artists from across the globe to speak (through their work) about the feelings of displacement, uncertainty, and otherness from histories of immigration and exile. With the show’s imbued internationality, each work is a testimony of global movement, whether it be from war, climate crises, or persecution.

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