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Museum of Wisconsin Art Exhibit Brings Together Immigrant Artists To Tackle Themes Of Borders

Art Exhibit MOWA Immigrant
Courtesy of the Museum of Wisconsin Art
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The Museum of Wisconsin Art is hosting a new exhibit called "Artists Without Borders: Reflections on Art and Place."

Borders can come in all different shapes and manners of being. Fences and rivers can be physical representations of borders, while cultural borders can exist without a wall or line on a map. Borders can be used to divide people or to make sense of a certain area.

Borders are complicated, and a new exhibit at the Museum of Wisconsin Art is exploring the idea of borders through art created by immigrants who now call Wisconsin home.

Nina Ghanbarzadeh is an immigrant from Iran and an artist featured in the "Artists Without Borders: Reflections on Art and Place" exhibit. She says over the past few years, she has felt unwelcome inside the United States despite building a family and career in the country.

“I would think, 'What am I doing here?' And then, you know, I would think that this is my country now because I’m working hard,” Ghanbarzadeh says. “For me as an artist, [the exhibit] a really good way to introduce my background and culture to other people who live here and show them what my culture is about.”

Art MOWA Nina Ghanbarzadeh
Nina Ghanbarzadeh
Nina Ghanbarzadeh's piece, "This Sentence Is Written In Two Languages," featured in the MOWA exhibit, "Artists Without Borders."

J. Tyler Friedman is the director of collections, education and research at the museum. He says the museum is constantly asking the question, “Who is a Wisconsin artist?”

Themes of belonging and identity, he says, are present in the work of the nine artists included in the exhibition. “The way in which place influences the art that comes from that place and the way in which the art that comes from a particular place reinforces people’s sense of belonging,” Friedman explains.

The exhibit features artists from Iran, Mexico, China, the United Kingdom, South Korea, India, Syria and Ethiopia. Ghanbarzadeh says part of the project is to break down the idea that borders should be used to separate people and instead, help bring them together.

When it comes to Iran and her own culture, Ghanbarzadeh says the country is often viewed negatively by Americans and she wants to show people the positive that comes from the Middle Eastern country.

“I want them to really become curious and do their own research to find out about the places, about the structures that I depict in some of my works, about the language, about the literature,” she says.

Friedman says he hopes people use this exhibit to appreciate the diversity in Wisconsin art and that it can start conversation among people about what makes the diversity in the state’s art possible.

“The art serves as sort of an engine of empathy and people are able to broach difficult, contentious topics in a new way,” he says.

The exhibit opened at the museum's West Bend location on April 24 and opens at the downtown Milwaukee location on May 12.

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