The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB) is a volunteer, female-led, artist-run project. TIAB 2020 launched in March in New York City at Brooklyn Museum, and continued in September through December at EFA Project Space, Greenwood Cemetery, and virtually, presenting 60+ artists. This interview series features 10 participating artists.
Georgia Lale is Greek visual artist with Anatolian heritage, based in New York City. She received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, NYC, and her BFA from the Athens School of Fine Arts, Greece. She is the recipient of several awards and fellowships. Her work has been shown internationally in Berlin, Venice, Brussels, Izmir, and Athens, among others. She has presented her work in major performance festivals, such as the Venice International Performance Art Week and Nuit Blanche Festival in Brussels. Lale’s work has been exhibited in the New York City area, including Smack Mellon, Shiva Gallery, and The Hole. She has been invited to talk about her work by Yale University, the Dedalus Foundation, and MoMA. Her public performance #OrangeVest was presented at the Greek Pavilion at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale.
Do artists have political responsibilities at this moment, if so, what are they?
Artists are historians that document humanity through visual media. We are citizens of the world and we are trying to share our understanding of the human condition and its impact on our planet and society through our art. Αrtists bear a huge responsibility because art educates; art shapes consciousness and triggers emotions and new ideas. Art talks about things that words cannot describe, such as love, compassion, our fear over death, and our astonishment over life.
Reflect on an encounter of displacement, becoming, belonging, trauma, healing, or simply comic relief from your journey of immigration.
I have witnessed on several occasions that my knowledge on a subject matter is questioned because I have an accent. It is hurtful and people do it unintentionally. As an immigrant, others will project stereotypes or false ideas about their perception of Greek people on me. A common trope is that the Greeks hate the Turks, which is discriminating and ignorant because a huge population of Greeks have Turkish origins and vice versa. Americans often do not know that Greek nationals face discrimination in Europe. We are considered lazy, dishonest, and manipulative. A thing to consider is that Greece has been under the control of different powers since the Roman Empire. The country established its independence 192 years ago.
How has the turn toward the digital and virtual affected your artistic practice?
Reflecting on our times through art is vital for me. Art has the potential to build connections and communities during this global pandemic. It is unfortunate that the creators cannot perceive the impact of their work on their audience’s faces and bodies but the work has the ability to interact with the spectator, even if it is over a screen. These uncertain times have definitely affected my artistic practice, though I do not yet know exactly how.
Tell us about the work you are exhibiting in The Immigrant Artist Biennial.
I am presenting a durational performance that narrates my family’s journey of migration and immigration during the last one hundred years. My grandfather was a refugee from Turkey to Greece in 1922. I immigrated to the United States in 2014. The performance reflects on how our last name’s spelling, pronunciation, and meaning has been transformed from its encounter with new languages and cultures.
Georgia Lale, “3”, 2020, performance, photo by Petros Lales
Work hard and dream big. Do not feel less for yourself because you are struggling with the English language or American culture. There is no shame in asking for help. There are people that want to support you, but do not know that you are in need. You can travel the world through people in New York City. Do not get stuck in the comfort of the familiarity of your own community. No one has the right to judge you for your day job, but do not forget that you are an artist. Your personal story is important, share it through your art.