Program Type: 
Migrating Identities
June 28, 2013 - September 29, 2013
Downstairs Galleries


Also on view: Kota Ezawa's Boardwalk
More info »
Artworks shown on this page:

Wangechi Mutu, Kibaba Original (detail), 2012, mixed media

Naeem Mohaiemen, The Young Man Was (Part 1: United Red Army), Film, 70 min., 2011-2012, video still

Michelle Dizon, Perpetual Peace, 2012, Video 6’40, video still

Ishmael Randall Weeks, Ibeam (detail), 2012, Cut and carved books, wood shelf, metal, 103 x 7 x 6.5 in.

Migrating Identities
Jun 28 – Sep 29, 2013
Downstairs Galleries

Migrating Identities features the work of eight artists—Michelle Dizon, Ala Ebtekar, Naeem Mohaiemen, Meleko Mokgosi, Wangechi Mutu, Yamini Nayar, Ishmael Randall Weeks, and Saya Woolfalk. Currently based in the United States, they collectively have connections to such diverse countries as Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Peru, and the Philippines. Born between 1969 and 1981, their work is profoundly informed by their deep relationships with multiple cultures, which were forged by their shared experience of travelling frequently between disparate home sites. Guided by their ability to move fluidly between cultures, and drawing from the uniqueness of their individual journeys, these artists reveal the ways in which their identities have been transformed by the confluence of mobility, cultural retention, and personal history. Their art is evidence of the ever-changing experience of immigration, which eschews conventional narratives focused on socio-economic status, cultural negotiation, and assimilation.

These eight artists share an urgency to reveal the ways in which culture is created by the confluence of historical events and individuals that are significant to a specific time and place. They also share a desire to create an imaginary place where new social orders and alternative histories can be realized. The value of a specific place and its particular history is the basis for these artists to embrace, alter, or interve with the conventions of contemporary art practice to address larger global issues such as colonialism, war, daily life, the vernacular, and history.

Three of the artists in Migrating Identities focus on actual events that have had larger implications for a particular region. Naeem Mohaiemen’s videos reconstruct the complex, contradictory, infectious enthusiasm of international and local ultra-left activism from a Bangladeshi perspective. Michelle Dizon’s poetic video essay weaves a family story into layers of local history on Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippines, touching on issues of civil strife, multinational industry, and the presence of the United States military. Meleko Mokgosi’s figurative paintings combine news media and film imagery from countries in southern Africa into sequenced, collaged scenes.

For Wangechi Mutu and Ala Ebtekar, the body—its gestures, poses, and costumes—pays homage to traditional cultural practices, from fashion to storytelling. Mutu’s Kibaba (2012) group of female figures, replete with Kiswahili-inspired masks and Kenyan hairstyles, appear to have gathered in the gallery to carry out a mysterious ritual. Ebtekar finds commonalities between the physical posturings of wrestlers from Tehran and b-boys from the Bay Area.

Ishmael Randall Weeks adapts working techniques used by craftsmen in the Peruvian rubber and construction industries to reference the “unfinished modernity” of Latin American culture. Yamini Nayar’s photographs transform handmade 3D installations into distorted, fractured, confusingly illusionistic spaces; they are corruptions of Modernist architecture’s colonialist insertions into the built environments of countries such as India. Saya Woolfalk responds to her multiracial identity and feelings of discomfort in the world by creating a hyper-hybrid imaginary utopian colony called No Place; inspired by both scientific research and science fiction, it is populated by beings that are part human, part plant.

Collectively, the works in Migrating Identities function as a provisional bridge to the future, brimming with utopian desire and a belief that art can lead us out of the traps of history toward a more imaginative present. If the migration of artists is any sign of where we may be going, these artists remind us that local identity is one viable way to resist encroaching globalism.

Migrating Identities is curated by YBCA’s Director of Visual Arts, Betti-Sue Hertz.

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  • Migrating Identities
    June 27, 2013 – September 28, 2013

    In this exhibition, eight artists—Ala Ebtekar, Michelle Dizon, Naeem Mohaiemen, Meleko Mokgosi, Wangechi Mutu, Yamini Nayar, Ishmael Randall Weeks, and Saya Woolfalk—actively negotiate their relationships with two or more different cultures and the influence on their individual lives.

    The work of these artists, all of whom are in their 30s and early 40s, forms a sampling of a generation’s response to the role of cultural diversity in the U.S. Guided by their ability to move fluidly between cultures, and drawing from the uniqueness of their individual journeys, these artists reveal the ways in which their identities have been transformed by the confluence of mobility, cultural retention, and personal history.

  • Migrating Identities Opening Night Party
    Jun 28, 2013 7:00pm – 9:00pm
    Grand Lobby
    $12 Advance; $15 at the Door; FREE for YBCA Members and YBCA:You

    Celebrate the opening of Migrating Identities with a night of exhilarating music and performance that embodies the exhibition’s themes of global mobility and cultural convergence. Sound artist Miya Masaoka will perform her signature synthesis of traditional stringed koto and electronic music; Ata Ebtekar—whose nephew Ala’s work appears in the exhibition—offers experimental electronic music with an Iranian influence; and the LA-based band Very Be Careful brings the accordion-inflected sounds of coastal Colombian cumbia. The evening caps off with the obscure, strange, and mind-bending global dance music of the DJ collective International Freakout A Gogo! And be sure to step out into the cool night air of the YBCA Third Street Courtyard in order to get a first look at Kota Ezawa's new public art work, Boardwalk.

  • Artists in Conversation
    Jun 29, 2013 1:00pm – 3:00pm
    Youth Arts Lounge
    FREE with gallery admission

    A panel discussion, led by exhibiting artists Michelle Dizon, Ala Ebtekar, Naeem Mohaiemen, Meleko Mokgosi, and Saya Woolfalk will explore the exhibition topic of immigration in the U.S. through the artists' personal stories and works.

  • Michelle Dizon: pop-up performance of Perpetual Peace
    September 3, 2013
    Downstairs Galleries
    FREE with Gallery Admission

    Join Migrating Identities artist Michelle Dizon for a live reading of her video essay, Perpetual Peace, which is featured in the exhibition. The film — the narration of which she will be performing live — addresses an array of complicated social and political issues relating to her ancestral homeland of The Philippines, including colonialism, diaspora, the extraction of resources from the third world, the politics of migrant labor, and the American remilitarization of the region.

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Related Programs

August 2, 2013 - August 16, 2013
Screening Room

A two-part series of readings that reflect and enhance the themes of the transcultural experience that are at the core of Migrating Identities.

February 13, 2014 - February 15, 2014
YBCA Forum

Renowned choreographer and dancer Nora Chipaumire, a former member of the acclaimed dance troupe Urban Bush Women, creates her first character-driven work, Miriam.

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Artist Bio

Ala Ebtekar
Ala Ebtekar was born to Iranian parents in 1978 in Berkeley and was raised in both the United States with frequent visits to Teheran. As a young teenager he joined the K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), working with artist Tim Rollins on collaborative artworks involving groups of urban youth. Forging multi-faceted projects, which meld Persian mythology, science, philosophy and pop culture together, his work returns viewers to the past as a way of envisioning the future. Currently a visiting professor at Stanford University, Ebtekar encourages his students to explore the potential in the relationship between art and science fiction. Ebtekar received his BA from the San Francisco Art Institute (2002) and his MFA from Stanford University (2006). He was a 2005 recipient of the San Francisco Foundation’s Murphy & Cadogan Fellowships in the Arts Award. His work has been exhibited internationally, including One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now, a touring exhibition originating at the Asia Society, NYC (2006), and the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art (2006). His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco (2007 and 2012) and The Third Line Galley, Dubai (2012). Ebtekar was featured in Bay Area Now 5 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2008).

Michelle Dizon
Artist, filmmaker, and writer Michelle Dizon was born in 1977 in Los Angeles. Her video installations, films, and writing focus on subjectivity as it intersects with the histories of colonialism and its legacies in immigration, diaspora, and globalization. For this exhibition, Dizon has been working on a large-scale installation entitled Perpetual Peace, which addresses US imperialism, militarization, globalization, and war in the Philippines. This piece will eventually be expanded to a full-length feature film. She has exhibited and lectured internationally at venues such as the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival in Copenhagen (Nov. 2011); Para/Site Art Space in Hong Kong, China(July-Sept. 2010); Galleryloop in Seoul (April-June 2010); Tate Modern in London (May 2010); Human Rights Center in Berkeley (Nov. 2010); CUE Art Foundation in New York (March-May 2010); and Redcat Gallery in Los Angeles (April-June 2010). The recipient of numerous awards, Dizon has received fellowships from the Human Rights Center (2010), the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (2009), the University of California Initiative for Research in the Arts (2009), and the Fulbright Association (2010-2011). She is the co-chair of the Visual Art Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and Visiting Faculty in the Photography and Media Program at the California Institute of the Arts. She earned an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley. She lives and works between Los Angeles and Davao City, Mindanao.

Naeem Mohaiemen
Naeem Mohaiemen, born in 1969 in London, works in New York and Dhaka. He uses essays, photography, film, and archives to explore borders, wars, and belonging in post-partition South Asia. Since 2006, he has worked on a history of the 1970s ultra-left (The Young Man Was…), chapters of which have shown at Kiran Nadar Museum, Delhi (2013); Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka (2012); Sharjah Biennial, UAE (2011); New Museum, New York (2011); and Frieze, London (2010). Other work includes Rankin Street 1953, a recreation of fragments of his family house in Pakistan-era Dhaka city, which was shown at Art Basel. His work is represented in South Asia by the gallery Experimenter Kolkata, and is in the collection of the British Museum and the Samdani Art Foundation (Bangladesh). Working between two countries, Naeem's organizing work explores the contradictions of Bangladeshis inhabiting liminal migrant lives in Northern nations, and majoritarian (and authoritarian) roles in their own country. This work includes the anthology Chittagong Hill Tracts in the blind spot of Bangladesh nationalism, exploring militarization and Bengali settler-led ethnic displacement of Jumma indigenous peoples in southeast Bangladesh. Naeem is co-editor of the Bangladeshi blog Alal O Dulal, and a member of Gulf Labor, an artist coalition campaigning for workers' rights during construction of cultural projects in the Middle East. He received his BA from Oberlin College (1993) and is currently a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at Columbia University.

Meleko Mokgosi
Meleko Mokgosi, born in 1981 in Gaborone, Botswana, currently lives and works in New York City. He uses painting to interrogate the very concerns that inform its death drive: the limits of representation, the politics of abstraction, and the mode of viewing enabled by rectangular canvases on a gallery wall. The artist’s technical acuity asks viewers to draw out affinities between experiencing and interpreting and he works within an interdisciplinary framework to create large-scale, project-based installations. By working across figurative painting, cinematic tropes, psychoanalysis, and post-colonial theory, his practice interrogates the specificity of regionalism in order to address questions of nationhood, colonial and anti-colonial sentiments, and the perception of historicized events. He is especially interested in how Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and semiotics can be used to comprehend national identification and occurrences. His artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including the Botswana National Gallery (2008), The Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art Museum (2011), The Studio Museum in Harlem (2012), and the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center (2012). He received his BA from Williams College (2007) and his MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of California, Los Angles (2011).

Wangechi Mutu
Wangechi Mutu, born in 1972 in Nairobi, Kenya, has trained as both a sculptor and anthropologist. Her work explores the contradictions of female and cultural identity and makes reference to colonial history, contemporary African politics and the international fashion industry. Drawing from the aesthetics of traditional crafts, science fiction and funkadelia, Mutu’s works documents contemporary myth-making of endangered cultural heritage. Piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces and found materials, Mutu’s elaborate collages mimic amputation, transplant operations and bionic prosthetics. Her figures become satirical mutilations. Their forms are grotesquely marred through perverse modification, echoing the atrocities of war or self-inflicted improvements of plastic surgery. Her work embodies a notion of identity crisis, where origin and ownership of cultural signifiers becomes an unsettling and dubious terrain. Mutu’s collages are simultaneously ancient and futuristic and her figures aspire to a super-race, by-products of an imposed evolution. Mutu has exhibited at Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada (2012), Capricorno, Venice, Italy (2011), and Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA (2009). She received her BFA from Cooper Union for the Advancement of the Arts and Sciences (1996) and her MFA from Yale University (2000).

Yamini Nayar
Yamini Nayar was born in Rochester, NY in 1975 before moving to Detroit, MI at a young age, is the daughter of Indian immigrants and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. Nayar's imagined interiors explore architecture and memory via the representation of constructed (and deconstructed) space. Her work draws from the visual language of architecture, with the architectural model and its photographic representation as anchor points in a process based on temporary structures and an accumulation of narrative, traces and idealism. Nayar's photographs are documents of sculptural installations that are built from a myriad of sources - architectural history, cinema, literature, personal narrative—and exist solely for the lens. Once the sculpture is recorded, the physical installation is discarded and only the image remains, as a document, entry point and object held together for the 'photographic' moment. Her work has been placed within the Indian postcolonial diasporic discourse, especially in consideration of the relationship between photography, scenarios, architecture and the liminality of the divine in her work. Nayar has exhibited internationally, including solo shows at Amrita Jhaveri Gallery, Mumbai, India (2012) and the Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2011) and group exhibitions at the School of Visual Arts, New York (2011) and the Cincinnati Art Museum (2010). She was recently awarded residencies at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace, New York (2011-12) and the CPW Photography Residency, New York (2010). She received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (1999) and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York (2005).

Ishmael Randall Weeks
Ishmael Randall Weeks, born in 1976 in Cuzco, Peru, lives and works in New York City and Cuzco. His parents, both born in America, met in San Francisco when his father founded the SF Jazz Review and hired his mother to design a magazine he was producing for the Review. His practice is based in the alteration of found and recycled materials, and environmental debris (including books and printed matter, empty tins, old tires, bicycles, boat parts and building construction fragments) that are often altered to create architectural spaces or conveyances—carts, cranes, carriages—that potentially could have a use and/or movement but where the possibility of that utility is refused (in an economically productive sense) in favor of an allegorical narrative within a personal and shared cultural vocabulary. Randall Weeks has exhibited at the Drawing Center, New York (2013), Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (2012), Arróniz Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City, Mexico (2010) and has recently been awarded fellowships at the MACRO Residency, Rome (2012) and ART OMI Residency, New York (2010). He received his BA from Bard College (2000) and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2007).

Saya Woolfalk
Saya Woolfalk, born in 1979 in Gifu, Japan, was raised and currently lives and works in New York City. Her work is influenced by her belief that the “personal is political’; she has mined her own family history (her mother is Japanese, her father is mix-race African American and white) to consider larger issues surrounding race, power, gender and the environment. Woolfalk’s work draws on material from pop culture, ritual, and street spectacle to catalogue and critique our socio-visual landscape. She combines performance, sculpture, painting, and video in her fantastical installations to playfully re-imagine the representational systems that shape our lives. Woolfalk’s experiences with the Brazilian Carnival inspired her to explore ways to bring the fantasy of toys into the adult world. Plush, multi-colored costumes and toy-like forms have since come to characterize her work. She also travelled to Japan for the study of performance and craft traditions under an Art Matters grant in 2007. Both the United States and Japan have had an enormous influence on her artistic practice; the forms blended into her costumes, and the way in which she constructed her own identity. She received her B.A. from Brown University in Visual Art and Economics (2001) and her M.F.A. in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago (2004). She is also the recipient of a Fulbright IIE Grant for the study of performance and craft traditions in Brazil (2005) and the NEA Access to Artistic Excellence Award (2010). Woolfalk has been featured in exhibitions at the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ (2012), Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2010), The Warhol Museum, Pittsburg, PA (2010) and the Koppelman Gallery, Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, MA (2007).

Migrating Identities is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Samira Rahmatullah and Munir Alam, Ronald Garrity, and the Betlatch Family Foundation

Media Sponsor:

YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
Koret Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is grateful to the City of San Francisco for its ongoing support.

YBCA Exhibitions 13-14 is made possible in part by:
Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan, Meridee Moore and Kevin King, the Creative Ventures Council and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

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