Heinrich Toh (photo by Joshua Ferdinand)
We often hear of the risks of meaning getting lost in translation. Visual artists, however, are skilled at translating complex ideas into something tangible. On view at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through Aug. 20, 2023, Found in Translation: Explorations by 8 Contemporary Artists reveals the richness that can be discovered through this process of transformation.
Found in Translation is the second exhibition in the Nelson-Atkins initiative “KC Art Now,” which celebrates local artists. Coming to the Kansas City region from across Asia and drawn together for this project due to the ways their practices sparked connections and conversations, the artists in Found in Translation made work that is informed, but not defined by, experiences with immigration. Using a range of styles and media, each created a new installation or drew from existing bodies of work combined in fresh ways. Through this process, they found answers to personal questions about place, memory, home, relationships, identity and other nuanced topics. The results of their explorations, combined with their own words on every exhibition label and quoted here, reflect their perspective on the world and invite us to consider ours.
“One day I started sketching self-portraits,” Japanese-born Noriko Ebersole shared regarding her contribution to Found in Translation. That self-portrait multiplied to thousands as she engaged in a ritual of sketching herself each day. Installed together, the sheer volume creates the stunning installation, Self-Portrait Diary: One-a-day Drawings for 10 Years. Viewed up close, a decade of change over time is visible. “From distance,” she asks, “can you see my pattern?”
Singapore-born printmaker Heinrich Toh offers a vibrantly colored, monoprint and paper lithography diptych laden with layers of imagery that, in his words, “float with dreamlike nostalgia” while extending past frames across the gallery wall. From the Roots…That’s Rarely Seen probes the question, “Does the connection between origin and identity depend on where one is born? Or where one is going?”
Priya Kambli’s installation, Buttons for Eyes, foregrounds her personal narrative through family photographs and artifacts brought from India. She reveals, “The title refers to my mother’s playful yet nuanced question, ‘Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes,’” and refers to an “inability to see an object in plain sight but [also] our inability to navigate the world.”
Hong Chun Zhang combined traditional gongbi ink painting techniques mastered in China, with contemporary materials and modes of expression to create Continuity. This massive fine-style ink painting on Italian Alcantara fabric explores, in her words, “Chinese identity and family tradition that I have passed on to my daughter, like a tree with deep roots growing on adopted land in the American Midwest.”
Yoonmi Nam advances the idea of translation and transformation using disposable packaging as prototypes to create her art. Cardboard boxes became templates for layered Tyvek wall sculptures in Delivered and Discarded. For Keeping, she transformed plastic food containers into 56 cast ceramics. Nam glazed these ceramics with celadon, a traditional glaze from her home country of Korea, to “further the conversation with history, culture, time, and identity.”
Taiwanese American artist Kathy Liao’s site-specific painted and printed wall installation and life-sized sculpture contain layers of meaning embedded within layers of media. Together they visualize “the fluid between experience, memory, and place. Like well-worn film negatives, I revisit patterns, snapshots, and familiar gestures, until they begin to morph, overlap, and degrade.”
Hyeyoung Shin, born in South Korea, desires to “portray life as a fascinating yet dangerous performance.” For Found in Translation, she explores this with a pair of double-sided cast paper sculptures crafted using a traditional Korean technique, Jiho-gibeop, and embellished with precisely rendered nude figures suspended in vulnerable, precarious positions.
Indian artist Shreepad Narayan Joglekar embraces conceptual photography. For his installation Tempora Incognita, Joglekar created soundscapes and photographs of distorted three-dimensional models. “The resulting visuals are documents that record intangible or invisible subjects,” he explains. The 11 photographs in this series visualize subjects “that cannot be represented photographically, because they do not exist in physical space or the present time.”
Come experience this free exhibition in the Project Space in the Bloch Building. To learn more and for a list of programs, including panel conversations with the artists and studio visits, please visit nelson-atkins.org/exhibitions/found-translation.
Organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Generous support provided by Linda Woodsmall DeBruce and Paul DeBruce, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
–Ling-en Lu, Curator, Chinese Art, and Stephanie Fox Knappe, Samuel Sosland Senior Curator, American Art