MCDONOUGH MUSEUM Artworks examine merging cultures

All of the artists have moved from their birthplaces.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The world has become one giant neighborhood, but do we really know our neighbors?
An exhibition at the McDonough Museum of Art is intended to at least get us talking.
"Figures of Thinking: Convergences in Contemporary Culture" opens Friday. Vicky Clark, a writer and professor living in Pittsburgh, and Sandhini Poddar, an art historian, are the curators.
"Because of the way the world is today, this exhibition is important right now," said Clark, who was at the McDonough this week to oversee installation of the works. "All of the 14 artists in the exhibition were born in one place but moved to another place to live."
The result is a thought-provoking series of works that mix identities and images.
"[The exhibition] shows us a point of view from two places," said Clark. "It operates on an international level."
The point
The goal, according to Clark, is threefold: to reflect on how others see us; to reflect on how the media show us to other lands; and what "home" means.
To drive home her point, Clark used a piece titled "Take Me, Take Me, Take Me to the Palace of Love," by Rina Banerjee, a native of India living in the United States. The room-size installation is a stylized model of the Taj Mahal made out of pink plastic wrap.
"People think of India as colorful, noisy and dirty," said Clark. "But they have a romantic idea about the Taj Mahal. The artist ties both notions together."
The casual viewer might think of Palace of Love as a playful take on how the media images that get exported create lasting impressions, even if they are overly simplified or even false.
"Do you know what people in other countries are shown, from which they gain their impression of us? Jerry Springer," said Clark.
Done by women
Although all of the works are by women, the exhibition does not have a feminist viewpoint. Clark said that when she and co-curator Poddar were discussing artists that could encompass the theme, they came up only with women.
Perhaps women are better suited to seeing the interpersonal issues that link people, but, whatever the reason, the resulting works are not simplistic.
"It's not boring art," said Clark. "It forces you to look beyond the obvious, to the complexity of life."
The works in the exhibition also share something else: the use of unusual materials.
One piece, titled "Tac Suicide Vest With Matching Thong," by Cheryl Yun, is lingerie made out of fragile Japanese rice paper. A close examination shows images of weapons of mass destruction superimposed in the patterns.
"It speaks of intimacy and war," said Clark.
It's a good example of the conversation-starter mentality of the show.
House of Souls
Adrienne Heinrich, a native of Indiana who lives in Pittsburgh, has a large installation that embodies that approach.
Titled "House of Souls," it shows a field of wheat inside a translucent house. Newspaper clippings are superimposed on the walls of the house.
Wheat, of course, is a staple crop in America, and an icon of farm country.
"But what is unusual," said Heinrich, "is putting it inside the house, which represents home, family, love."
As for the clippings, Heinrich said, "The newspaper is a record of one day. We read it and then throw it away."

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