Identity is shaped in complex ways from the moment we are born. While some pieces of us are surely innate, present even before we emerge into the light of the world, much of who we are comes from where and how we are raised, what influences we encounter along the way, and even how others see us. Identity is perhaps more fluid than we give it credit for. We do not exist as static creatures, exhibiting the same behavior across all social groups. Who we are in front of our parents invariably differs from who we are among friends or with a lover. Identity can be easily misconstrued by others who may form opinions based on superficial features alone. It is these sort of shallow guessing games that often lead people to cast aspersions on others based solely on how they appear. In today’s climate, this is becoming a dangerous problem for many who wish for nothing more than the ability to live a peaceful existence.
Amir H. Fallah has recently completed an exhibition at Shulamit Nazarian Gallery in Los Angeles titled A Stranger in Your Home. Fallah conceived the show during the most recent election in the context of immigration and his own place as an American who emigrated to the U.S. from Iran at age six. During a recent return trip to the U.S. Fallah was singled out by TSA because of his Iranian birth. From there he was brought to the basement of the airport where he and about 50 other people who fit the description of non-caucasian were held without reason. Upon his release after more than two hours, Fallah had missed his transfer flight and was offered no explanation for his detention. When he finally landed back in L.A. he discovered that it was the first day of Trump’s initial travel ban. The experience made Fallah feel like a stranger in his own home. Fallah’s work has always integrated portraiture and representation of the history and narrative of objects we surround ourselves with. Concerning personal identity versus perception of identity by others Fallah says, “what I look like doesn’t tell you anything about what I’m like as a person or even what my ethnicity is, it’s very misleading.” For Stranger in Your Home, Fallah painted individuals of various ethnicities and cultural background pairing the portraits with audio of immigrants speaking about their life experiences. Viewers were left to attempt connecting the voices they hear with the paintings they see but are never able to fully connect the dots. The exhibit also examined Fallah’s own identity as well as those of his immediate family including his young son. Fallah incorporated an interview with his parents in which he asks whether the hardship they experienced while immigrating to the U.S. are worth the life they and the family have now. Fallah works as a full-time artist.
Martine Fougeron is at the end of a six-year project about trade in the South Bronx. For the project, she began researching trades around her immediate vicinity. Eventually, she began knocking on doors asking if she could photograph people at work doing their trades. Fougeron photographed people at work as well as the products they make revealing the craftsmanship of the work. Through her research, Fougeron tracked the evolving landscape of trade in the area. Once a hub for piano manufacturing, Fougeron explains that this trade has gone by the wayside as time and technology have advanced. Gaining access to these places sometimes proved very difficult. Ultimately it was Fougeron’s community engagement that facilitated her access in many cases. Reactions to the portraits by those portrayed in the images was complex. Sensitivity was mixed with a sense of pride at the recognition of their work. Fougeron encountered a strong sense of camaraderie among the workers she encountered during her six-year project. She now has 21 trades documented and is looking for a publisher. Previous to the trades project, Fougeron created a body of work titled Teen Tribes. Before changing careers to become an artist, Fougeron worked in the perfume industry. After 9/11 with her career becoming too corporate for her comfort level and with two sons to raise, Fougeron went back to school. During this time her sons were adolescents and Fougeron wished to better understand them and their peers. It was from this that Teen Tribes was created. The work examined socialization among teens during what is a tumultuous time of life. For the project, Fougeron even accompanied a group of teens on a party bus post-prom. Throughout the time she worked on this body of work, Fougeron constantly sought the intimacy of the teen mind. “Teen Tribe explores these kinds of heightened states of mind…the whole brain is being reconfigured in a way,” says Fougeron. Teen Tribe is in the process of being published along with a companion film. Fougeron teaches at International Center of Photography and also independently leads master class retreats during the summer. The retreat is a one-week intensive during which artists examine their body of work and figure out how to take things to the next level.
A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:
Our sense of identity changes shape as we move through the world, but it is not for us to attempt to shape the identities of others to suit our own assumptions.
Books to Read
What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Martine Fougeron is currently reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda which she notes was Steve Jobs’ favorite book. Jennifer Epperson enjoyed the light-hearted book The Ravenous Raven by Midji Stephenson.
Opportunities / Open Calls
Artist Grant believes that artists deserve to be financially supported just like those in every other field. To this end, grants of $500 are awarded every quarter. For more information and application details, keep an eye on their websites.
Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.