Artists without Borders at the Museum of Wisconsin Art

The Museum of Wisconsin Art presents Artists without Borders : Reflections on Art and Place” featuring nine Wisconsin artists with ties abroad. The multidisciplinary works address the allure and challenges of immigration including issues of identity and the meaning of home and place.

The exhibition opens April 24 at the museum’s main venue in West Bend and May 12 at its downtown Milwaukee gallery, MOWA | DTN, located inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel.

Seven of the Artists without Borders exhibiting artists are first-generation immigrants who draw artistic influence from their home countries. The two remaining artists were born in the Midwest, but their work represents attempts to understand the worlds from which their families originate.

Exhibiting artists include: Faisal Abdu’Allah, Nina Ghanbarzadeh, David Najib Kasir, Francisco X. Mora, Nirmal Raja, Gabrielle Tesfaye, Jason Yi, Rina Yoon, and Xiaohong Zhang.

“Time and time again, art has proven to be an effective means for opening minds and generating new perspectives,” said Director of Exhibitions Graeme Reid. “In our current climate, exhibitions that explore difficult subjects such as immigration help drive conversations, foster new understandings, and diminish differences. That’s what we want viewers to take away from this exhibition.”

Artists without Borders participating artists

Faisal Abdu’Allah—British-born Abdu’Allah began his career focusing his attention on issues of race, diversity, and cultural representation that were surfacing in art in London during the 1980s. He brought this same focus to his life in the United States: his subjects remain his Muslim identity, working-class life, and now the émigré experience.

Nina Ghanbarzadeh—Ghanbarzadeh finds inspiration by navigating between her native Farsi language and English. She emigrated from Iran to the United States in 2001. Ghanbarzadeh is keenly aware of both the limitations of language as well as the inherent power and universality of letters as symbols. She finds repetitive mark-making to be a meditative process, and she invites the viewer to experience the marks as a bridge to shared human experience.

David Najib Kasir—Kasir was born in Chicago, but his work is deeply rooted in his Arab ancestry: his mother is Syrian and his father Iraqi. He experienced his family’s aesthetic and cultural roots during a trip to Syria in 1999, then subsequently was horrified by that nation’s ensuing civil war and its many victims of chaos and destruction. Using a traditional Arab mosaic design, Kasir poignantly balances the human tragedy with the subtle beauty of tradition.

Francisco X. Mora—Mora was an artist from childhood. His years in his native Mexico studying textiles, printmaking, and painting translated well to his life and career in the United States after he arrived in 1980. In his current paintings and drawings, which draw upon Mexican surrealist tradition, he seeks to reconcile past and current events related to his personal experience.

Nirmal Raja— An interdisciplinary artist with a global perspective, Indian-born Raja lived in South Korea and Hong Kong before immigrating to the United States in 1991. In her work, she addresses historical narratives of colonialism and migration and the orientalist representation of cultures in the media and in art and culture. To assert that adaptability and mutability are key to an immigrant’s survival, Raja uses mutable materials like fabric, wax, and plaster.

Gabrielle Tesfaye, The Water Will Carry Us Home (video still), 2018. Hybrid Film & Animation. Courtesy of the artist

Gabrielle Tesfaye—A first-generation American of Ethiopian and Jamaican heritage, Tesfaye works in painting, animation, film, puppetry, and interactive installation. She blends these media to explore issues rooted in the African diaspora, Afro-futurism, ancient art practices, and cultural storytelling.

Jason Yi—Born and raised in Seoul until the age of eleven, Yi has a bi-cultural orientation that finds expression in conceptually driven sculpture and site-specific installation. Using unorthodox utilitarian materials such as foam insulation, Styrofoam, and PVC tubing, Yi transforms traditional notions of landscape while underscoring the precarious co-existence of human beings and the natural world.

Rina Yoon—When Yoon left Korea at seventeen for the United States, she also left behind a collective mindset and discovered instead the freedom to flourish as an individual. Yoon’s practice melds twenty years of experience as a printmaker with traditional Korean handmade paper techniques and Buddhist teachings. Through a subtle manipulation of shaped paper coils and sculptural forms, Yoon explores Buddhist ideas of universal connectedness and transformation.

Xiaohong Zhang—Chinese-born artist Zhang explores social and political issues that would likely be discouraged in her native country. After completing graduate studies in 2002, Zhang remained in the United States. She applies Western digital techniques to traditional Chinese art forms, motifs, and symbols. Subjects include the contrast between the rich and poor in China, pollution and environmental issues, and the tense political relationship between China and America.

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