In Bay Ridge, Artists Explore the Immigrant Experience

“Maps to Nowhere” by Reem Bassous at Stand4. Photo by the author for Hey Ridge

Artifacts of Place, on view at the Stand4 Gallery (414 78th Street) until December 15, is an ambitious and multifaceted exhibition that asks us to consider that where we come from is only as real as how it exists in our minds. The show features work by women artists from around the world that focuses on locations, landscapes and cartographies even as it reveals the instability of migration and the ephemeral nature of the things migrants carry with them—and the things they leave behind. It’s a powerful and striking collection of 21st-century immigrant women’s art.

Reem Bassous’s triptych “Maps to Nowhere” is one of many works on display, each of which has its own story and its own way of rendering place. Other artists included are Joyce Dallal, Dalia, Baassiri, Mary Tuma, Daiffa Dessine, Arghavan Khosravi, Armita Raafat, Helen Zughaib and Ekram Alrowmeim.

As the title of the exhibit indicates, place permeates all of the artworks, but place is as often a ghostly imprint as it is a set of coordinates on a map. The idea of organizing an exhibition around place grew out of curator and Bay Ridge resident Isabelle Garbani‘s longstanding interest in the experiences and artistry of immigrants and of women, an experience that she shares as someone who moved to the U.S. from France and who still has ties with her home country.

“Coming to a new place, you realize everything is very arbitrary,” Garbani says, thinking about her own experience as an immigrant. “You don’t choose where you’re born.” This realization led her to organize the exhibit around place and also around two questions that have preoccupied her over the years: Why does where we are born shape so strongly what we believe? And what happens to these beliefs when in transit, forced or otherwise? These questions animate Garbani’s own art, and she created the exhibit as a stage for various women to offer their own responses—and for viewers to ponder their own.

Garbani also wanted to show that culture is complex and that a challenge for immigrants is to preserve the complexity of their own cultures without losing them to the melting pot of stereotypes or clichés.

The “arbitrariness” of place as well as its complexity is reflected in the range of materials the artists use—rocks sheathed in elaborately crocheted skins (“Intifada Stones” by Mary Tuma), metallic sculptures that seem to crawl out of the wall (“Untitled” by Armita Raafat ), an artist’s actual passport, defaced by line and color (Arghavan Khosravi’s “Great Again!,” from The Muslim Ban Series), and a wall-sized installation in which text is used to mimic brush strokes that recreate shifting dunes and receding landscapes (“Textscape” by Joyce Dallal). The latter is hard to miss when you walk in, as it dominates the main room, while the crocheted rocks are tucked away in awkward corners of the gallery, doubly sheathed in shadow. It is an exhibit you need to spend time with, because it’s so meticulously arranged and carefully installed.

“Textscape” by Joyce Dallal. Photo by the author for Hey Ridge

In fact, the exhibit itself is a work of art, a triumph of aesthetic choices and overcoming logistical challenges. Much of the artwork was shipped from around the world, from as far away as Lebanon and France, Hawaii and California. Many of the pieces needed to be framed or assembled. Dallal’s wall-sized installation, for instance, came with precise guidelines for putting it together. Stand4 covered all the shipping costs for the artists. All of the pieces are for sale, as you can see in the catalogue (except for the passport, which is the artist’s own actual document).

One of the places that is most conspicuous in the show (even if it’s not actually in any of the individual pieces) is Bay Ridge. Garbani wanted to capture the diversity of the neighborhood and to contribute to the growing art scene here. Growth and vibrancy are present not just in the static artworks but also in the series of events and activities that surround the exhibit. Stand4 sponsored three showings of the documentary short Father K (two at the gallery itself and one at the An-Noor Social center), about Father Khader El-Yateem’s 2017 run for city council, a campaign that electrified the Arab–American population in Bay Ridge and whose effects are still being felt. You can also stop by at certain times and play The Game of Life, a board game designed by Garbani whose play is meant to re-create the immigrant experience.

As part of the exhibit, there is also a recipe exchange, where you can post recipes drawn from your own culture and download recipes from others’. The goal is to encourage people to cook foods they may not have tried before and even share them at a potluck dinner at Stand4 on December 15, the final day of the exhibit.

This Thursday, December 5, Lebanese artist Reem Bassous will give a talk at the gallery called “Maps to Nowhere: Navigating the Middle East.” Bassous will discuss the contemporary Lebanese art scene and how the work of artists there is informed by the politics, culture and geography of Lebanon in the 90s and early 2000s—in other words, the years following the drawn out Lebanese Civil War, which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and tens of thousands of people displaced or exiled.

Bassous’s talk will start at 7pm (doors open at 6:30pm) and will last approximately 45 minutes, followed by a Q&A.

Stand4 gallery is typically open Saturdays and Sundays, 12–6pm, or by appointment during the week.

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