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  • Eva Golinger

Women Immigrant Artists Reflect On Belonging And Home

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

“Reflections on Home,” an exhibit that just opened in Oakland, CA, features the work of 19 women immigrant artists, each expressing their reflections on home and belonging. As immigration becomes increasingly prevalent in the national conversation, especially for people of color living in the US, these visual artists are making their roots known. Their aim is to challenge the notion that immigrants and second-generation citizens are antithetical to what it means to be American.

Running throughout the month of March, the event is organized by ARTogether, OACC (Oakland Asian Cultural Center), and GAMA (Gathering All Muslim Artists), three non-profit organizations dedicated to lifting up the voices of historically underrepresented communities in the Bay Area. Local organizations who are doing important work in immigration justice, including Sheherzade Squad and No Immigrants No Spice, also are participating.

Here, six of the artists featured in the exhibit share their thoughts on immigration, life purpose, and how they hope to impact the cultural conversation through their work.

Roya Ebtehaj, Artist and Post-doctoral Fellow

“Within our current political climate, which is saturated with fake news, hate speech and polarization, I find the universal language of art quite powerful. It helps us to communicate ideas, open up cross-cultural dialogues, and allow diversity to flourish, says Roya Ebethaj, an artist who is currently pursuing a post-doc at Santa Clara University.

Ebtehaj immigrated to the US from Iran. “Home is more than just a location, it is about a feeling of belonging,” she says. “After immigrating to the US, I confronted many barriers because of my nationality. I rely on art to practice thinking outside our subjective identities and upbringing, and in order to create a space for empathic communication.”

Ebtehaj encourages every individual to share their own unique story. “Bringing that to life can be the foundation for great art as well as momentous change. Resistance, diligence, patience, and having a good eye all pave the road to making a difference.”

Kacy Jung, Artist

Kacy Jung, who immigrated to the US from Taiwan, was halfway through a PhD in biomedical science when she decided to walk out of the laboratory to pursue her lifetime dream of being an artist. Since then, she has focused on analyzing the capitalist system and the formation of socioeconomic class. Her current project, “21 Grams - The Weight of Souls,” is a photography exhibit aimed at portraying middle class life in Silicon Valley.

“With this platform, I finally have the chance to directly respond to the questions that always haunted me since I was a young girl: What makes humanity distorted? What causes us in pain? What is this capitalist system doing now? What is the American dream?” Jung says. “Using my own experience, I am examining and untangling the grace and strife of different influences that have been put upon Asian immigrants like me.”

To aspiring changemakers, Jung says, “Don’t just think it, do it. Make a game plan with steps and alternatives. Talk to people. Remember that you are not alone.”

Meriam Salem, Artist and Grad Student

Meriam Salem is an incoming Master’s student in human geography and urban studies. “In recent years, I’ve stopped believing that the world is a prison,” she says. “Whether in folklore or tradition, there’s an unchallenged belief that this planet and its forms of life were created as a form of punishment. I refuse to believe that. However, humanity in all its wonder and faults, has the imagination to create systems of imprisonment and relegate humanity as prisoners.”

In a photo essay entitled “Broken into Language,” Salem explores the social-geographical construction of home in the aftermath of displacement. The series seeks to reflect on policies, discourses, and lived experiences determining the rights to life, home and belonging for Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey as a result of the Syrian Civil War.

“Simply put, my life purpose is to be of service and I can’t find a better form of service than advocating for freedom on a planet with so much life to live for,” explains Salem. “My message is that women remain resilient and will not bow to the imagination of people who seek to harm them and their communities through physical and political acts of violence.”

To aspiring changemakers, Salem offers this advice. “Remain steadfast, listen, reflect, and remember to be curious. Without curiosity, what may be completely normal will start to feel alien; like people migrating to find a place they can call home.”

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