Tara Coughlin ’19
Identity is a concept we all struggle with. Whether shaped by family and friends or our own personal experiences, the yearning for our individuality is a seemingly universal pursuit that spans across race and culture. This yearning and concept of identity is explored this year in the Smith College Museum of Art’s (SCMA) photography exhibition “Dislocation | Negotiating Identity,” as well as in the upcoming event “Night at Your Museum.”
Opening as the second part of the Asian photography exhibition on Feb. 12, “Dislocation” is a compilation of photographs arranged by Aprile Gallant, the curator of prints, drawings and photographs, and guest consultant Sandra Matthews. The photographs are from nine emerging and established artists from Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam. Taken in various parts of South and Southeast Asia, these photographs revolve around the theme of cultural identity and how that changes amidst social class, the immigrant experience and tensions among other cultures and nations.
Rotating among joyful, somber and contemplative, the photos provide a unique way of seeing into life in the countries that they were taken in. Pete Pin, a Cambodian-born into a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border during the Killing Fields era, juxtaposes contemporary photographs of Cambodian-Americans with older family photographs. This shows the difficulty in accepting and reconciling one’s identity between two countries and cultures.
Nge Lay’s haunting “The Relevancy of Restricted Things” shows Lay in her father’s coat and spectral mask, sitting with families who have lost fathers due to economic migration. The photographs clearly show the socioeconomic changes taking place in these countries and how that can affect and change one’s identity.
The exhibition is also inspiration for this year’s “Night at Your Museum,” a free, student party happening Feb. 19 at the SCMA. This celebrated event is a chance for students to explore the art museum, eat South Asian inspired food and enjoy performances from the Smiffenpoofs and SC Masti.
Emma Cantrell, Brown post-baccalaureate fellow in museum education, said that “students should hopefully be able to see themselves through this collection of artwork.” She believes this will be achieved through the “incorporat[ion of] identity and contemporary art.”
In a college that hosts such a culturally and ethnically varied student body, this theme and these photographs will be important not only in connecting the diverse student body to the artwork but also to each other.