Artists Without Borders 

May 12 – August 1 at MOWA | DTN Past Exhibitions
Image for David Najib Kasir, Concrete (squared)–the Fires that got us here, 2020David Najib Kasir, Concrete (squared)–the Fires that got us here, 2020Image for Rina Yoon, Little Rivers 2, 2019Rina Yoon, Little Rivers 2, 2019Image for Xiaohong Zhang, Spring Water (no. two of three), 2016-18Xiaohong Zhang, Spring Water (no. two of three), 2016-18
On View at two locations:
MOWA in West Bend on view through July 3
MOWA | DTN on view through August 1

Artists without Borders: Reflections on Art and Place features artists with deep roots abroad. Their work reflects the global perspectives and diverse influences of the multicultural artist. The exhibition is a testament to the diversity—of backgrounds, interests, and styles—that is representative of Wisconsin art today.

Borders are a recurrent theme. Neither inherently good nor bad, borders are opportunities for hospitality as well as exclusion. Borders shown on maps offer a topographic definition of place in expressive, abstract lines; understanding place and its multitude of meanings is an entirely different matter.

Some artists find a productive tension in cultural difference, including the disorientation of being immersed in a foreign language and unfamiliar practices. Other artists adapt to their life in America the techniques and textures of their native cultures, such as traditional tilework patterns and hand-rolled paper coils. Important landmarks are a perennial inspiration, from the grandeur of a legendary mountain range to the thronelike presence of a gilt barber chair.

Every work is revelatory of the artist’s identity. Self-portraits, in particular, show the artist as they wish to be seen. The use of masks to obscure identity yields a paradoxical sort of self-portraiture by both revealing and concealing the subject. It is a reminder that the face we publicly present may be deceptive—especially for code-switching, culture-straddling artists.

Seven of the artists on view at MOWA | DTN represented are first-generation immigrants born outside the US who draw artistic influence from their country of origin:

Nina Ghanbarzadeh (Iran) in her celebration of the beauty of the Persian alphabet.
Francisco X. Mora (Mexico) with a suite of self-portraits in the tradition of Mexican surrealism.
Nirmal Raja (India) in her use of domestic objects common in an Indian household.
Jason Yi (South Korea) in his sculptural interpretations of South Korean landscapes and legends.
Rina Yoon (South Korea) in her adoption of Korean printing and paper-making techniques.
Xiaohong Zhang (China), who melds traditional Chinese painting with Western digital art.

The two remaining artists were born in the heartland of America but maintain close ties to their cultural roots.

David Najib Kasir’s
paintings use Arabic motifs to depict Syrian refugees and images derived from the current war-torn state of his mother's homeland.
Gabrielle Tesfaye's
films delve into the history of Ethiopia, and her larger-than-life puppets are inspired by the folk arts of Southeast Asia.

RELATED EXHIBITION
Myself When I Am Real | A Teen Perspective on Identity
May 22 - June 13, 2021 in West Bend

In parallel with Artists Without Borders we asked twelve regional high schools to have students create art that addresses the theme of identity. The teen artists in Myself When I Am Real express their unique take on the relationship between art, place, and character. Learn More >

EXHIBITION ACTIVITIES

Virtual Artist Panel | The Art of Place
Thursday, April 29 | 7:00

Join artists Nina Ghanbarzadeh, David Najib Kasir, Francisco Mora, and Xiaohong Zhang as they discuss their artwork and life experiences through lenses of identity, geography, and viewer reception. Hosted by Director of Collections and Exhibitions Graeme Reid. Q&A to follow.

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A Virtual Talk with John Gurda | Neighbors and Strangers: The Challenges of Diversity in the Milwaukee Area
Thursday, May 13 | 7:00

Tune in live with historian John Gurda as he discusses the history of immigration in Milwaukee. Each ethnic group has played a formative role in the making of Milwaukee, but harmony has not been the dominant theme in their complex coexistence. A pecking order developed early and changed often and differences became divisions. That pattern persists to the present, as Milwaukee, with the rest of America, works to reconcile the creative power of diversity with its equally abundant challenges. Q&A to follow. This talk will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.
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Virtual Expert Panel Discussion | Immigration, Community, and Understanding
Thursday, May 27 | 7:00

Join communication and immigration experts as they discuss methods promoting intercultural communication and understanding as well as contemporary issues concerning immigration after the Trump administration. Panel members include Rachel Buff (Professor of History and Director of the Cultures and Communities Program at UW–Milwaukee), R. Timothy Muth (Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Wisconsin), and Iuscely Flores (Milwaukee-based artist and advocate). Hosted by Director of Collections, Education, and Research J Tyler Friedman. Q&A to follow. This talk will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.