This presentation of “Transplant Eyes” is happening at a time when questions such as “what does it mean to be an American?” are at the center of new governmental policies and heated public discourse.

While it is important to acknowledge this new context, the concept for the exhibition has not changed. Transplant Eyes presents U.S. based artists from around the world who’ve made art about becoming who they are. As the act of becoming is ongoing, both past and present inform their artwork in this show.

In the words of Minoo Moallem: “These crises (of identity) have generated a series of questions concerning group identification and individual selves, globalism and nativism, and center and periphery–questions such as: Who are we? What is our relationship to others? How do we relate to our own selves? What is particular about us? Who has the authority to control us? In the name of what and for whom?”

All artists use their work as a form of communication, a language, and a way of reckoning with the world around them. Transplant Eyes features a group of diaspora artists currently living in the United States who use the expression of identity as a means of engagement. Through a range of mediums and styles, these transnational artists explore what it means to be both an individual and an artist in a cross-cultural space. Their collective work is a contemplation of identity in various forms as it is formed, gained, lost, and reformed. With a sophisticated and multilayered approach, these artists participate in a critical exploration of controversial social issues.

Drawing inspiration from a personal ‘melting pot,’ the artists in this exhibit firmly occupy liminal spaces where notions of here and there, self and other, past and present are in constant flux. They interweave representations of local culture with symbols from their past to create psychologically intricate works of art that have aesthetic agency, yet thematically comment on their social surroundings.

Yet at this moment of dizzying globalization and worldwide turmoil, the experience of culture shock and disorientation from a continual shifting of values is no longer uniquely reserved for immigrants or artists. This now universal struggle to grapple with our expanding identities as global citizens under a new world order is reflected in the constantly evolving work of diaspora artists.

Transplant Eyes foregrounds new perspectives for this unfamiliar landscape in order to break stereotypes or perceptions for all audiences. Bringing together artists from around the world, this exhibit seeks to provoke an intercultural dialogue through a presentation of artistic stories of adaptation forging a new consciousness that responds to the expansion of global culture.

The title, Transplant Eyes, speaks to the newness—fresh eyes, new perspectives, an opportunity to grow as an individual It speaks to the daily resistances like language barriers, and the potential for non-acceptance by the host culture, such as racism and denial of citizenship.

Transplant Eyes @ Walker’s Point Center for the Arts
June 2 through July 8, 2017
Gallery hours: Tuesday to Saturday, Noon to 5:00 pm

Opening reception: Friday, June 2, 5:00 to 9:00 pm

© Photo

Wing Young Huie

Rina Yoon
Rina Yoon moved alone to the United States when she was seventeen years old.  She worked, studied art, and developed her significant talents for printmaking.  In the early years she moved around a lot –eleven states in seventeen years. The question of ‘home’ was a primary topic of her artistic inquiry. Now, thirty-four years after her arrival in the U.S. the question feels ‘answered’ in that it feels like there is no answer, home is just a concept, and a fluid one at that. With this Buddhist acceptance, she now finds herself paradoxically arranging for her mother to move to Milwaukee, virtually next door to where she’s lived for fifteen years.  Featured in this exhibit are prints and an installation from her Mulgil: Waterway series, a mystical and beautiful meditation about the earth and our bodies yielding for the water to flow, water and the earth coexisting, honoring each other.  Mulgil is Korean for waterway.

Nirmal Raja
Nirmal Raja crossed the ocean some twenty-five years ago and is an active artist and mentor in Milwaukee where she lives.  Topics of multiculturalism, place, home, memory, and identity are common themes in her artwork which reaches for the higher ground of shared-understanding with the audience. This exhibit will include her Protective Footwear series. She says, “my grandmother used to apply turmeric to our feet when my mother and I said goodbye after a visit. I still remember the feeling of cool turmeric paste on hot summer feet and the golden stain on my skin for days to come. Two protective materials, turmeric and wax come together in this work inspired by this childhood memory. Notions of travel and what the body remembers over long periods of time and immense change are expressed in this work.”

Wing Young Huie
Wing Young Huie is a Minneapolis based photographer, public speaker/educator, and the founder of Third Place Gallery.  His photographic projects are documentary in nature but often include simple props or activities that help tell the story of the people he is working with.  He tries to remain apolitical and remove judgement (good or bad) from his engagement with people in order to bring out their story and the nuanced complexities of the choices and conditions of people’s lives.  Wing Young Huie was born in Duluth, MN to Chinese parents.  His inclusion in this exhibit is an important reversal of the premise for this show, in fact, its antithesis.  His series, Chineseness documents the strangeness of his experience as an American of Chinese descent visiting a China whose culture feels foreign. The project also includes research and documentation of the families of ‘Paper Sons’, a term used to describe Chinese immigrants that came to the U.S. under a false name to get around the Chinese Exclusion Act that was in effect from the late 1800’s through 1943.

Katayoun Amjadi
Katayoun Amjadi knew at a very early age that she wanted to be an artist (and was an artist) but familial pressures put her on another career track (detour) for a decade or so. Upon moving to the U.S. seven years ago she decided to switch careers and pursue her art education through the U of M.  Now her artwork is multi-media installations that express what she feels/thinks/experiences in her shifting identity, global politics and in her daily interactions with people that read, ‘not from here’ in her looks.  This exhibit includes a series of pieces that appropriate the Persian symbol of the rose and the nightingale to send it on a very different trajectory.  In the original story the rose symbolizes beauty and perfection (at times cruelty) and the nightingale, a lover and devotion. In the new works of art, the bird is a headless, featherless chicken –a simple commodity, while the Rose is left relatively intact. New meanings abound, but include associations with commoditization, the corruption of love, and the strain of Transplant Eyes.

Nina Ghanbarzadeh
Nina Ghanbarzadeh came to the United Stated fifteen years ago and she lives and works in Milwaukee. Her artwork is a mixture of influences from her heritage, design practices and the modernist art forms of abstraction and minimalism.  She likes crowds, iteration and repetition and uses her Persian language as the basic marks to create abstract forms that please the senses and let the mind wander -and not feel any immediate need to understand what the words say.  It is simultaneously not necessary to understand, and the point of it. This work is now evolving such that the text (language) is being replaced by simple abstract forms, symbolizing her continued assimilation.

Xavier Tavera
Xavier Tavera is a photographer and film-maker known for his striking portrait photographs that highlight his subject’s culture, celebrations and icons. In this exhibit he has turned his lens toward the landscapes of the Mexican-American border. Arid and rugged, the landscape is divided by a man made scar that snakes through the topography in fragmented sections from east to west along the continent. The absurdity of this open wound is highly politicized. The political character of this open wound materializes in a wall with sentiments of nationalism, protectionism and absurdity.  He has added imaginary alternatives to the wall, such as a long table where people might come together to share a meal.

Mika Negishi Laidlaw
Mika Negishi Laidlaw came to the U.S. 20+ years ago and is a ceramicist and professor of sculpture at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  In her artwork she delves into deeply personal experiences to search for the spiritual; those experiences available to humans as a species, such as love, nostalgia, and reminiscence.  Her History Repeats sculpture was originally inspired by an earthquake/tsunami, but shows the waves of time, human foibles (such as discrimination) and human activism as much as the physical tsunami waves.

Yevgeniya Kaganovich
Yevgeniya Kaganovich is a sculptor, jewelry maker, metalsmith and professor of Art at the University of WI, Milwaukee.  She has developed her strange jewelry, sculptural body extensions, wearable art, and performative sculptures over the past 25 years.  For this exhibit we present her mouthpiece series. They are designed to physically connect two people from face to face, they share the same breath, look one another in the eyes, from a position of sameness.

Essma Imady
Essma Imady is an installation and film artist currently based in the Twin Cities. She grew up in Damascus, Syria, and was dislocated to Minnesota in 2011 where she simultaneously had a daughter and received her MFA from MCAD. Interested in both the political aspects of the personal and the positioning of identities, she is currently working on a series of objects made for her daughter. Objects that revolve around what it means to be Syrian, what happened to Syria and the complexities of being Syrian American today, with the heavy realization that America may not be the safe haven she had hoped.

John Schuerman
John Schuerman is an independent curator and a self-taught artist and until 2017 was the Gallery Director for Instinct Art Gallery in Minneapolis. Instinct was awarded Best New Gallery by the Star Tribune in 2015, and was a contemporary gallery with an emphasis on art that honors the natural world. Schuerman’s deep interest in nature and human nature are reflected in both his art, and his curatorial work, primarily group exhibitions focused on sociological themes. His aesthetic style and social consciousness formed as he grew up on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin, coming of age during the cultural revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s.