Isabelle Garbani – on Artifacts of Place

Place and Cultural Heritage at Stand4 Gallery

Isabelle Garbani curated the group show Artifacts of Place at Stand4 gallery in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, running through December 15th. The show features work by Joyce Dallal, Dalia Baassiri, Mary Tuma, Daiffa Dessine, Arghavan Khosravi, Reem Bassous, Armita Raafat, Helen Zughaib, and Ekram Alrowmeim- all women artists who are of Middle Eastern and North African descent and who are dealing in their art with related cultural or political issues. The curator shares with Art Spiel her ideas behind this group show and some information about the participating artists.

AS: You are a prolific artist with a distinct interest in socially-engaged art. Tell me a bit about what draws you to curation?

IG: I love doing research, and I love looking at art. Curating a show is the best way to do both: developing a concept, researching ideas, looking at art, and discovering new artists.

AS: What’s the premise of this group show at Stand4 and what brought you to these specific issues?

IG: The idea of the show started last year when I participated in a festival of Feminist Art in Tunis, Tunisia. I came back to Brooklyn, wanting to show some of the wonderful artists I had met there. As the idea was percolating in my head, I started to think about immigration and culture, and how artists use symbols from their cultural background and identity. As an immigrant myself, culture is always on my mind: feeling like I do not belong in my home country, but not really belonging here either. I also spent a lot of time thinking about my own cultural background, questioning why I believed certain things: were those universal truths, or simply traditions that were passed down that I accepted as truths?

In this show, I want to both show the complexity of culture, and examine how artists use their cultural heritage in their visual language depending on where they currently live. Do they view their cultural background differently if they have left their mother land? Do they feel differently about their culture if it’s not completely their own, for example if their parents are immigrants, but they were born and raised here?

Artifacts of Place (Shown: Mary Tuma and Dalia Baassiri. Photo courtesy of Jeannine Bardo)

AS: Can you describe briefly each of the participating artists and why you chose to bring them together?

IG: I chose the participating artists based on their work first and foremost: artists who dealt with cultural issues in their work, art that spoke to me, and would work well together in the gallery. After my initial election, I tried to narrow the focus, and look at where each artist lived and where they came from, so I would have artists living in the Middle East, artists who had emigrated from their home country, and artists from Middle Eastern and North African descent, living in America or elsewhere. I also chose a local artist from Sunset Park, Brooklyn: Ekram Alrowmeim, who made a beautiful ink drawing of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen where she grew up.

Mary Tuma, like Joyce Dallal, is also second generation: her mother is Irish, and her father is Palestinian. Mary’s installation “Intifada Stones” directly looks at the conflict between Israel and Palestine, like Joyce’s Textscapes. I feel that people in the US are born with a definite legacy of free speech, and I think that those artists can be more overtly critical and political.

Joyce Dallal is the daughter of an Iraqi Jew, who moved to the US in the 1940’s. She grew up in the Midwest without any connection to her father’s culture, doesn’t speak Arabic, and started to discover her parents’ past home as an adult. So her lens is very different from someone like Dalia Baassiri, who lives and works in Lebanon, and who is very much an art formalist.

Helen Zughaib and Reem Bassous, who are both from Lebanon, now living respectively in Washington D.C. and Hawaii, have very different viewpoints though they share the same country of origin. Helen’s work in the gallery are a series of illustrations based on stories that her father told her about growing up in Syria. The work is colorful, and deliberately naive. Reem’s work, from her series Maps to Nowhere, references the civil war in Lebanon, and she juxtaposes abstract symbols of Christianity and Islam, attempting to map the conflict, and in the end, leaving the political issue unresolved.

The work of Arghavan Khosravi, who is from Iran now living in New York City, called “Great Again”, is part of the “Muslim Ban Series”, and shows her defaced Iranian passport as a reaction to the 2017 Muslim ban. Armita Raafat, also from Iran, joins Dalia as a formalist: her work takes traditional Islamic architectural motifs to make re-contextualized wall sculptures. The art of Daiffa Dessiné, originally from Southern Algeria now living in France, is steeped in feminism and issues of social inequalities. Daiffa and Arghavan do not follow my expectations about place and art concepts… which was a great discovery for me: people and artists are complex, and so are political and formal art issues.

Joyce Dallal: The Promised Land in Pieces, 60″x90″ (courtesy of the artist)PLEASE PLACE IMAGE
Helen Zughaib from her series “Stories My Father Told Me” (courtesy of the artist)
Arghavan Khosravi “Great Again!” (courtesy of the artist)
Reem Bassous “Maps to Nowhere” series (courtesy of the artist)

AS: From the scheduled events associated with the show, it seems like one of the goals is to actively involve the community, like an on-going recipe exchange and a pot luck on Dec 15th. Can you talk about that aspect a bit?

IG: Bay Ridge, like New York City, is an immigrant neighborhood, going through the cyclical changes of demographics and development. With each new wave of immigration, there are counter-reactions, cultural clashes and misunderstandings. I wanted to bring everyone together to meet one another, share a meal, look at beautiful art, and try and discover the others.

The recipe exchange is my idea to get to know one another: we can share recipes, and cook someone’s else’s favorite home food, learn new ingredients and processes, and share a few moments together. I hope we can discover that we have a lot in common, and that our cultural beliefs such as how to hold a fork or fold a napkin, are all very arbitrary ideas that we inherit from our community, and where we were born. In the end, we do not choose where we are from: we are placed in a particular place on earth completely by accident, and I would like people to stay open to one another’s cultures because it is all so accidental.

AS: Would you like to people to take away from this show?

IG: Overcoming fears is difficult, but I think if we share art, food, and a few laughs together, we might realize that we are all unique, complex, and interesting individuals. Some of the artists in the show might share a place of birth, but each has a different perspective and point of view, and each artist has their individual interpretation of the world around them. We need to keep those ideas in mind.

Opening reception of Artifacts of Place (photo courtesy Jeannine Bardo)

Artifacts of Place at Stand4 Gallery

414 78th St. Brooklyn, NY, Through Dec 15th

Featuring the works of Joyce Dallal, Dalia Baassiri, Mary TumaDaiffa Dessine, Arghavan KhosraviReem BassousArmita RaafatHelen Zughaib, and Ekram Alrowmeim.
Curated by Isabelle Garbani