The Immigrant Artist Biennial: Renana Neuman

Renana Neuman, Temporarily Removed, Part 1, Daydreaming, installation view, 2019, photo courtesy the artist

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.

Renana Neuman is a Brooklyn-based artist, producer, and curator born in Israel. In her artistic practice, Renana makes media-installations that mash together eras, continents, and modes of consciousness. She combines video, animation, and text to describe the emotion-driven political ambiguities of our contemporary moment. Renana’s works invoke the ghosts of our cultures and invite them to haunt us, to tell us their stories, to play.

Do artists have political responsibilities at this moment, if so, what are they? 

This issue is actually at the core of my current project – “Mouth Full of Water.” The work revolves around conversations I had with fellow immigrants since the beginning of the pandemic regarding protests, visibility, limits of expression, and the desire to take action. A reoccurring topic was that we have the opportunity (and misfortune?) to have both an outsider and insider understanding and experience of two political systems, and the experience from one place, can inform the potential for action in the other.

Reflect on an encounter of displacement, becoming, belonging, trauma, healing, or simply comic relief from your journey of immigration. 

When I was starting to work on my visa, some immigration professionals found it confusing that I am not just an artist but also collaborating, editing, teaching, producing, and sometimes curating shows. For me, the different ways of making art, collaborating and supporting others are some of the things I cherish most about being an artist and being part of the art community. As I progressed in the immigration process, this situation actually revealed itself to be my greatest asset – finding support and kindness from past and current collaborators.

Renana Neuman, Temporarily Removed, Part 2, Weaponizing Vulnerability, video still, 2020

How has the turn toward the digital and virtual affected your artistic practice?

Though I work mainly with video, my practice is usually based on documenting a location over a period of time, and then combining the architecture of the places I document with the locations my works inhabit. Now, the studio has become where I construct locations for the stories I collect. I create them as hybrids from sculptural elements and digital manipulations, relying on audio as the main documentary component. Currently, these new works are shown as single-channel video works, but I know that it’s not their final form and that, when possible, they will evolve into installations.

Tell us about the work you are exhibiting in The Immigrant Artist Biennial.

In the exhibition, I’m showing the first two parts of an ongoing media installation project titled Temporarily Removed. The project addresses what is missing (or purposefully removed) from historical and cultural narratives when museums and collections are created and systematized. In it, I focus on different aspects of memory-making and who has authority over it, using historical and ethnographic displays as materials to examine. In “Daydreaming”, a statue is contemplating its life choices and possible futures by daydreaming of other places. The video was shot at the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem (formerly the Palestinian Archeology Museum) as well as at the Met Cloisters. “Weaponizing Vulnerability” was shot at The Prehistoric Man Museum in Kibbutz Maayan Baruch, Israel, and the Museum of Natural History, NYC. Artifacts from the two museums come together to contemplate the meaning of freedom and the possibility of escape.

Renana Neuman, Mouth Full of Water, video still, 2020 (WIP)

Please share a piece of advice or a resource that may be useful to an immigrant artist. 

The immigration process brings constant uncertainty with it and many conflicting stories about “the right way to do it.” Your network is likely full of people who went through this process and can offer advice, and people who’d love to support you in any way they can. Don’t hesitate to reach out – your community appreciates you and will go a long way to help you.

The Immigrant Artist Biennial’s virtual exhibitions are open through December 18th 2020, visit them here and a list of their ongoing events here.

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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is a New York-based Swedish/Guyanese independent curator and the founding editor-in-chief of Cultbytes, an online art publication focusing on interdisciplinary and non-hierarchical art criticism. Alongside an all-female volunteer team, she currently serves as an advisor and co-curator for the inaugural “The Immigrant Artist Biennial.”