The Studio Channel Islands Art Center in Camarillo, California, held an art exhibition called Dis Connection from April 1 until May 27, 2023. Elana Kundell, “a longtime Artist-In-Residence at Studio Channel Islands,” curated the exhibition that features eight contemporary migrant female artists: Fatemeh Burnes, Alicia Piller, Maria Adela Diaz, Janet Neuwalder, Nurit Avesar, Arezoo Bharthania, Marthe Aponte, and Sigrid Orlet. All of these women share their personal experiences on “the topic of forced displacement.” While on vacation in Camarillo, California, for the first time, I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition and immerse myself in the women’s stories of displacement through their artwork.
The theme of Dis Connection was fulfilling the need for connection and home while being displaced and forced to assimilate somewhere. Kundell’s inspiration for this exhibition about displacement comes from having a grandparent who was a Holocaust survivor. The featured artists created their own stories of home, giving insight into who they are, where they’re from, and their family history. Through this, the women were able to analyze “the multi-generational trauma of being torn from home and community.”
Maria Adela Diaz
Maria Adela Diaz is a multidisciplinary Latinx artist born in Guatemala. Based on her Latin heritage and background, she explores the Latin American diaspora. The exhibit held her three-part series of photography Foreign Bodies. In 2020, when the photography was done, it was considered a live performance for the public. Diaz used a live model, but she had the photographs focusing on the model’s faceless body among the moss, sand, and rocks. Diaz claims, “We are the bodies that society wants to make invisible - bodies that occupy a space that by origin does not seem….to us.” Her artwork explains how minorities are washed up on shore unnoticed.
Alicia Piller created unique abstract sculptures using vinyl, recycled screen printing ink on marking tape, laser prints, and gel medium. The exhibit featured three of them: “Lost generations. Shaping time,” “Wrought-iron fences. Cultivating divides,” and “Warming Earth Plagued. Party. Decay.” Piller focuses on the history of politics and the environment. She’s “specifically looking back at the past to understand the present and the future.” By looking at the past, present, and future it helps unravel the many levels of displacement: colonial, racial, political, and environmental in the world.
As a Japanese-American artist, Janet Neuwalder’s 3D dimensional wall piece, Shikata Ga Nai: It cannot be helped, reflects her family’s history. Neuwalder made the piece out of porcelain clay, wire, and seashells. The seashells are the most important element in her art because they are from Topaz, a desert that held a World War II Japanese-American internment camp. Newuwalder had collected the seashells, each one representing a person who was imprisoned in Topaz between 1942 and 1945. Hence, she created a “memorial-like installation” acknowledging the Japanese-American immigrants in Topaz.
Arezoo Bharthaniacreated a transferred image made of printed fabric, spray paint, yarns, threads, vellum, and mylar titled LAX/IKA - IKA/LAX, which was completed in 2020. She says, “My work reflects the experience of creating a home while existing in a state of in-between.” She tells a personal narrative through the many layers of her experiences in Iran and Los Angeles as an immigrant. Through her artistic style of mixed-media, Bharthania’s able to “communicate, mutate, and abstract layers of memory along with elements of home.”
Sigrid Orlet, a second-generation Ukraine refugee, had two pieces, ROOTS & WINGS III A LIFETIME, and BURNING IN EVERY MOMENT, at the exhibition. Both are archival pigment prints completed in 2021. Orlet’s art was inspired by her background and grandparents, who were refugees in Denmark during World War II. The imagery and theme of a person’s roots are crucial in her work. At the exhibit, Orlet shared that when she went home to Ukraine in April 2022 she felt she was among the dead roots and seeds of history. So, she viewed the roots and seeds as a form of listening, giving her the inspiration she needed to create the work in the exhibit.
Marthe Aponte is a self-taught French artist who’s lived in France, California, and Venezuela, and her work reflects on her time in those places and her family’s survival from Auschwitz. Her works Unidentified object and Shield1 were displayed at the exhibit. Unidentified Object revealed a doorway made of Picote, stitching, beads, and fabric sitting on a hilltop that opened. Shield 1 is “influenced by African and Australian aboriginal people’s artistic traditions.”
Fatemeh Burnes had one featured painting titled Wonderland, which showed an image of a lush green and brown forest. Her title comes from the story Alice in Wonderland. She tosses her viewers down a rabbit hole of a wooded environment. As an Iranian artist and curator from Los Angeles, Burnes is known for focusing on nature and human nature, using her art to demonstrate how impactful ecological and social events and tragedies have on the environment.
As a mixed-media artist from Israel who has two paintings, Places We Carry and Changing Grounds, Avesar’s works are “process-based images.” The images are layered with the blending of paper, paint, rope, rust, and window screens. The materials and the multi-layering come from Avesar “growing up in a community of Holocaust survivors on a kibbutz in Israel.” She reflects on the impact of such a historical atrocity.
After indulging the women’s background stories, and viewing their artwork on display, I realized the feeling and place of home is a human experience we all encounter throughout our lives. In fact, being away from my home in Florida, I started asking myself how I can connect with my home. The women, along with Kundell, had reflected on their family’s history fulfilling their need for a connection and a home, inviting others to do the same.
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