By Judith Levine
I went to see the One House Project at BlackRock Center for the Arts last month. All the panels were the same size. Everybody’s story was as important every other one. Each participant artist was free to tell his or her story in anyway, using whatever materials the wished. The overriding idea was to teach visitors to the huge spread of reasons and ways people became immigrants to the United States.
The concept of the show was to explore the fact that, aside from Native Americans, we are all immigrants or descendants if immigrants. Some of the participants ancestors actually came on the Mayflower, some are descendants of Spanish people who had originally settled in Mexico, some are refugees escaping Europe before and after the Holocaust, pogroms and exclusion laws, some are refugees from wars and violence in Africa and South America, some are escaping war and crushing poverty in Asia. And some came involuntarily as slaves, convicts and indentured servants. Each panel told an individual story, as unique as the creators.
As I walked through I felt in some way intrusive in personal memories even as I was grateful for the sharing of them. I listened as they spoke about their panels. The descendant of a slave has been unable to trace her story further than that ancestor, she has had a huge part of her story stolen and that is very painful.
The curator, Jackie Hoysted, spoke of her own story as she is an immigrant. Prior to going into the show, some of us had been invited to create a panel to tell our own story. I chose my immigrant mother; I later took the panel to show my family who were very moved by all I’d included.
Art Watch is a DC, Maryland and Virginia based collective that seeks to join people together using visual art and communication. The group looks to use projects such as Our House to show how telling our stories can help overcome the fear of those who are not ‘like us’, whose skin, religion, culture, and customs can make us stronger if they are included in the larger story.
They open up the subject of inclusion and how discrimination-both legal and illegal- creates needless pain and loss. As someone who has experienced how devastating that can be, this exhibition hit home very powerfully.
I learned the stories of two of our own members, Jamie Downs and Jeanne Sullivan. Art Watch hopes that this project will be repeated. I personally plan to contact them about being involved and hope many of my fellow MAA members will do the same. Sound exciting?