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Immigration and artistry

Featured artists of "Here Now" exhibition talk about impact of immigration experience on their work.

March 1, 2018

Art critic David Rubin, left, with “Here Now” exhibition artists Marianne Sadowski, Peter Liashkov, Phung Huynh and Kyung Sun Cho. (Photo by Ellen Giamportone)
Art critic David Rubin, left, with “Here Now” exhibition artists Marianne Sadowski, Peter Liashkov, Phung Huynh and Kyung Sun Cho. (Photo by Ellen Giamportone)

On Feb. 14, Mount Saint Mary’s Art & Graphic Design Department hosted a public round table with art critic David Rubin and the four featured artists of the recent “Here Now: Four Los Angeles artists” exhibition at the José Drudis-Biada Gallery on the University's Chalon Campus. The discussion centered around the artists’ experience of immigration to Los Angeles and its impact on their work.

For Kyung Sun Cho, her immigration experience shows up in her work as the exploration of internal landscapes and autobiographical objects. She was born in Korea and left for opportunities in Brazil with her family when she was four. They moved later to Akron, Ohio, and then to the Bay Area. She was always drawing and was encouraged by her parents to pursue an artistic path. While she navigated new languages, art provided comfort and communication in strange lands. Since college, Cho's visual language has evolved from representational through conceptual, abstract and now to more symbolic work. The curtain that appears in several of her works can be read as the portal to another space.

For Cambodian refugee Phung Huynh, art offered her a way to be visible and have power. Huynh’s family left a Thai refugee camp among the boat people. They went to Michigan first. Aware of her parents' sacrifice to give her a better life, she began college in a pre-med program, but she felt she had to make her own life and she knew was an artist. Her earlier work deliberately explored traditional Chinese auspicious imagery, and the ways it is consumed and distorted in American popular culture. Huynh's art today reflects her concerns about how immigration affects Asian women's body image and how they distort their bodies to achieve a westernized ideal.

While artist Peter Liashkov identifies himself as a Californian, he was born in Rouen, France, to Russian parents who fled the Communist Revolution. He emigrated with them to Argentina, where he spent five years before arriving in Los Angeles as a teenager. His mother and several other teachers were influential in fostering his artistic talent, through which he overcame the sensation of imbalance that resulted from his involuntary migrations. His work relating to the immigration experience began after both his parents were dead when he started a series of memory paintings and prints. Since becoming professor emeritus at Art Center College of Design, Liashkov has been excavating many aspects of the past. Historical events such as the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and the internment of Japanese Americans in Manzanar during World War II have all informed his work.

Marianne Sadowski came to the United States from Mexico with her husband on a work assignment and they decided to stay in Los Angeles. Her family had gone from Germany to Mexico in the early 1900s in search of a better future. In Los Angeles, she was integrated into the Chicano community and although she arrived easily, she works with people who have experienced great difficulty. She said, “We are all witnesses.” In Mexico, Sadowski worked on behalf of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. In Los Angeles, she has been involved with Self-Help Graphics and the Syrian refugee crisis. The Wall between Israelis and Palestinians figures in her work, as does the actual and metaphorical annual migration of the Monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico and back. Social engagement defines her work.

The artists concluded with the shared conviction that art brings people together because it is a universal experience. They believe that art is an effective agent of social justice. They also noted that as a result of moving through several cultures they have a broader perspective and are less conservative in their views. Finally, the four, all teachers, agreed that their immigrant experiences and their art help them address students’ creative, political and social concerns.

 “Here Now: Four Los Angeles artists” was curated by Nina Berson, adjunct assistant professor, and Jody Baral, chair of the Art and Graphic Design Department.