Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
So you think you’re familiar with our immigration system? How many types of forms for visas there are? Think again.
UTRGV art faculty member Japheth Asiedu-Kwarteng informs us of the overwhelming complexity of it all with his new exhibition Into the Voyage of Overwhelming-Ness, where he metaphorically transforms his experience with the system into an artistic revelation. With works comprised of ceramics, wood, and kente, this show speaks of bureaucracy and the human spirit.
Overwhelming it is. The installation “One Man Thousand,” stretches across two walls of the gallery and our attempt to take it in at first glance is daunting.
A series of stoneware slabs mimicking worn pieces of paper represent the different visas required by our immigration system; each is mounted in a crate-like frame to infuse the notion of movement. The slabs display cut-out numerical identities of immigration forms with the negative spaces exposing swatches of kente, a Ghanaian textile from the artist’s country made of hand-woven strips of silk and cotton symbolizing high value. Its patterns vary in complexity, with each pattern having a name or message by the weaver and ultimately reflect the importance of those seeking to immigrate.
Asiedu-Kwarteng says he used kente cloth to represent everyone who is not an American, not only Africans, but all those who are 180 forms that exist for immigration.”
The colors of the American and the Ghanian flags are glazed on the stoneware surfaces; embossed textures reflect the physical and emotional scars of visa holders.
“Metaphors for scars,” he added, “for the things that some of us were going through in Ghana. I wanted symbols to represent the traumas that we go through, that you don’t get over your entire life — it’s indelible in our minds.”
Movement itself becomes a frame for the exhibition with used crating materials taking on an extended life, permeating every work. Freestanding sculptures symbolize time-measuring hourglasses that serve as metaphors for expiration. All incorporate ceramic vessels and box forms.
For an immigrant, Asiedu-Kwarteng added, everything that you have that allow you to work in this country, all your documents including your driver’s license, are tied to a single, expiring date. An immigrant is considered outdated and loses access after that date. To change it, another form is necessary.
The sculpture, “Scattered trauma,” underlines this story of this type of travel. Packing boxes formed from previously used materials emphasize continuing travel. They, too, are informed by the anxiety of expiration.
Vivid kente dominates in “Are you a Citizen No. 1?” Although its intense coloration maintains an undertone of anxiety, this brilliant wall piece incorporates the cloth strips woven across a wooden pallet that serves the unexpected role of a weaving warp. The warp symbolizes crossings with the cloth sections moving as individuals through immigration.
“I wanted to make this work to show how we go through these borders,” explained the artist, “how we have set boundaries for some people, and what we have to do before we can weave our way through.”
Engaging the viewer to bask in its vibe, a beautiful pattern of community and the strength of the human spirit echoes from this work.
While some art reconsiders the past or looks to a variable future, others want us to face the present and understand what’s happening now. “Into the Voyage of Overwhelming-Ness” does just that. You owe yourself a visit to this show.
Into the Voyage of Overwhelming-Ness by Japheth Asiedu-Kwarteng
WHERE: UTRGV Visual Arts Building, 2412 Business 281 (South Closner), Edinburg
WHEN: Through Feb. 21
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays
CONTACT: (956) 665-3480
COST: Free to the public
Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at [email protected].