October 2008

Striking Back at the Empire

A new exhibition at the Art Gallery highlights the tense connections between East and West

By Taylor McNeil

Bringing together 10 artists with ties to areas of the world that were at one time under the domination of colonial powers, the exhibition Empire and Its Discontents is a reminder of the divide between East and West. It runs through November 23 at the Tisch Gallery in the Aidekman Arts Center.

Click on the play button to hear Art Gallery curator Amy Ingrid Schlegel narrate a slide show about Empire and Its Discontents.

The exhibition, which was curated by Amy Ingrid Schlegel, director of the Art Gallery, and Rhonda Saad, draws inspiration from Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism. In it, Said criticized the ways that the East has been represented—and misrepresented—by Western scholars and artists, especially during the colonial era.

The exhibition’s art is often ironic, satiric and political—and always opinionated. Take the works of Farhad Moshiri and Shirin Alibadi, whose photographs of make-believe products are a mordant commentary on life in the developed world. In one, four colorful plastic containers of what looks like dishwashing liquid are lined up side-by-side; their brand names spell out, “We Are All Americans.”

Then there are the sly versions of Mughal miniatures by Saira Wasim, a Pakistani artist who now lives in Chicago. She trained in the traditional miniature form in Lahore, and her pieces feature motifs from southwest Asia, as well as a Ronald McDonald look-alike who often jauntily joins the fray.

A large installation by Kenneth Tin-Kim Hung is hard to miss. One side, called “Pop-up Republicans,” features, among other figures, John McCain in a cheerleader’s outfit with a Democratic Party donkey symbol on the front. The other side is called “Pop-up Democrats,” and shows Barack Obama in a skimpy outfit holding a bag of cash, among many other political icons similarly treated—or mistreated.

With this exhibition, the Art Gallery is offering audio commentary—with a twist. Instead of borrowing or renting a headset, visitors need only a cell phone. Just dial in, and you’re connected to the tour, with commentary on specifically marked pieces in the show.

For more information on the exhibition, go to http://ase.tufts.edu/gallery/shows/empire.html

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

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