Pouya Afshar: The Charm of the Unfamiliar
October 3, 2021 — January 9, 2022
What drives a person to migrate to a new land? What is it like to settle in a completely unknown place? How does a person navigate the pressures to assimilate, yet maintain their own identity?
Pouya Afshar asks these questions in this multimedia exhibition to explore displacement, migration, and resiliency. Using a variety of storytelling devices – portraiture, animation techniques, digital applications, and augmented reality – the exhibition follows the fictional narrative of a group of migrants that relocate to an abandoned city that had once been an amusement park. The displaced in this narrative are hybrid personas – human and animal, some real, some mythical – each physically transformed by their experiences of migration. These hybrid beings embody the toll of displacement and the adaptation and strength migration require. They also reflect the dehumanization and exoticizing of immigrants and refugees that continues to this day in the United States.
Adapting or assimilating the guest culture as an extension rather than an independently functional branch of the society dismantles the inherent character of the guest culture for the benefit of understandability by the host’s consumer culture. In this structure, the transition from a value-centric worldview to a user-based mentality is adopted by the displaced group that eventually uncovers a significant cultural “otherness,” less fearsome to the host.Pouya Afshar
Many images connect to Augustus Sherman’s photographs taken by Ellis Island. Sherman’s series of photographs has become an iconic representation of the romanticized American immigrant experience and American “melting pot.” In reality, the people pictured were being detained at Ellis Island, often for health or legal reasons. Since Sherman seldom included the names of his subjects, it is rarely known who among them were permitted into the U.S. or were deported back to their home countries. Afshar’s images and video pieces offer windows into his characters’ complex experiences that are largely absent from portrayals of immigrants in mainstream media and political discussions in the U.S.
Afshar works against this otherness by offering windows into the complex reasons people are forced to leave their homelands and the realities immigrants face when they do make it to the land of the so-called “American Dream.” With this exhibition, he asks us to walk with these characters and empathize with their experiences.
Curator: Holly Jerger
This exhibition was made possible in part by The Antonia and Vladimer Kulaev Cultural Heritage Fund.
Photo credit: Pouya Afshar, Ellis V, 2020. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist and ADVOCARTSY.