Art reflects the importance of migration stories
Each day as I drive by Mia on 24th Street, I see progress in the installation of Ai Weiwei’s art covering Mia’s massive columns. This work is unique to Mia’s exhibition of When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration, which originated at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Ai Weiwei’s installation of life jackets wrapped around exterior columns is a first for the United States. His other life jacket installations have gone to such far-reaching places as the Berlin Concert Hall and the National Archives of Chile. The exhibition at Mia opened February 23 and runs until May 24.
I was first attracted by the predominantly orange color of the life jackets, before they conjured up the current news of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, and past crossings of the Caribbean by Cubans. Ai Weiwei is a contemporary artist and dedicated activist who left China to escape the restrictions of Chinese society. He moved to the United States in 1981 where he attended the Parsons School of Design.
The January Friends lecture addressed migration with a talk by Tiffany Chung, internationally known for her multimedia work that looks at migration, conflict, and changing geographies in the wake of political and natural upheavals. Her work of maps, videos, and paintings reminded us of the importance of stories. During her talk she shared her own family story, including that of her father, who fought for the South Vietnamese military and was a prisoner of war for several years before he was released to the United States.
The importance of migration stories, as told so vividly by art, beckons us to consider the current refugee crisis as a human crisis. At a training in preparation for Mia’s exhibition, University of Minnesota professor Dr. Jack DeWaard asked staff and guides whether we looked at immigration with economic logic, or as a human rights issue. He said that both had to be considered, but that we needed to choose one as the priority and then to include the other in the balance.
Between the recent exhibition on the Vietnam War, and this current exhibition on migration, Mia has given us much to search our souls. They’ve moved us to appreciate artistic expression, and to work together for the well-being of all of Twin Cities’ communities. Don’t miss When Home Won’t Let You Stay, and be sure to make your reservation for Debbi Hegstrom’s March 17 Friends Only program “Changing Viewpoints.” For this program, Debbi will guide us to look at art through a lens of critical thinking and cultural fluency—two important perspectives in the shifting geographies and demographics of today’s world.