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Enmeshed, Dreams of Water at NARS Foundation

Keren Anavy. Archipelago, 2022. Ink and colored pencils on mylar, plexiglass, shells, concrete bricks, and plywood. Dimensions variable. Photo courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial.

By CLARE GEMIMA December 3, 2023

Submerged within the enchanting exhibition of Enmeshed, Dreams of Water, which ran at the NARS Foundation from October 6 to November 1, five remarkable artists—Keren Anavy, Jamie Martinez, Magdalena Dukiewicz, Sanie Bokharie, and Jonathan Ojekunle—crafted an immersive experience where fluidity and identity converged with elemental, and imagined currents of immigration. This exhibition resonated with the themes of transformative journeys, revealing the distinctive perspectives of each artist through their poignant paintings, and bizarre, sometimes abject, sculptures. From Jamie Martinez's dive into the cultural provenance of life under the sea, to Keren Anavy's intricate spatial storytelling, Enmeshed, Dreams of Water engaged with themes of identity, mythology, and the unpredictable complexities of being an immigrant artist. 

A special thank you to Katherine Plourde of NARS Foundationfor showing me around the gallery. 

Clare Gemima: Keren, how does your floor installation explore connections between place and identity, East and West, and the interplay of artificial and natural elements?

Keren Anavy: In this work, I collected bricks from the industrial area in Brooklyn, where the exhibition was held, and assembled a floor installation from them, which looks like a missing architectural structure that functions as an island in the gallery space. The work is part of a

larger set of works that I have in my studio which include paintings of floating “islands”.  The floor installation acts as a fragment. The meaning of fragment comes from Latin: “fracture, part of a whole, sliver”, and in art and literature: a remnant of an artistic work, or a very short, autonomous unit. My paintings and the objects I collect are about nature and landscape, and in this installation they themselves become the landscape, which I see as a metaphor for a personal or social situation. The floating parts and the incompleteness of the whole structure reflects my current inner view. Also, the missing landscape and the imperfection of Archipelago has an aesthetic value in itself. I collected the found shells, seaweed, and stones during the last two years while in artist residency programs that were situated by oceans. These objects are very meaningful to me, and they tell the story of my journey in life and in art. Although I grew up near the Mediterranean sea, these specific objects do not exist there, so for me they are exotic and even magical, and symbolize a sense of longing for distant places. Having grown up in a desert region of constant conflict, I use the theme of water (a scarce resource), to explore a variety of personal and universal meanings. Water channels, such as oceans and rivers, represent wildness, movement, and freedom. Water has the power to connect between lands and cultures, while at the same time create separations between people and countries naturally. The installation’s drawings are made with ink and colored pencils on semi-transparent mylar, which are then glued to a circlular piece of plexiglas. The contradiction between plastic and traditional art materials, such as ink and found objects from nature, sharpens the discussion about the immediate environment in our rapidly changing world. The bricks are made from stone, a natural material that has undergone its own civilization, mass production process, and is shaped with certain and unique patterns. In the center of the installation, I  added small “pools” - containers that look like blue plastic bricks at first glance, but are in actual fact made with water and blue ink.

Jamie Martinez. The Spirit of the Octopus, 2023. Acrylic, oil paint, oil sticks, oil pastels on canvas, 24 x 30 in. Photo courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial.  

Clare Gemima: Jamie, I am curious in understanding how your larger interests in Mayan culture and its rich symbology relates specifically to creatures that live under the sea. What are some indigenous mythologies or folklore that your piece in this show embodies? 

Jamie Martinez: In Mexico, two distinct Octopus species are notable: Octopus maya, predominantly sourced from Yucatan and Campeche, and Octopus vulgaris in Baja California. The Mexican four-eyed octopus, scientifically identified as Octopus maya, resides in the shallows of the tropical Western Atlantic Ocean, and is often found in seagrass prairies and coral formations. The artwork exhibited at NARS is inspired by the spirit of the Octopus and its playful, childlike energy. Despite Mexico being a prominent habitat for Octopuses, Mayan culture lacks direct mythological associations with these creatures. Despite this, Octopuses exhibit a remarkable ability to adapt genetically to temperature changes. 

Personally, I employ art as a protective medium when venturing into the underworld and the afterlife. Understanding the spirit of the Octopus becomes vital, especially considering Mexico's abundant Octopus population. In case I encounter perilous waters during my journey from this world to the next, an Octopus's spirit could very well serve me as a protective tool in times of looming danger. My ultimate desire is for a secure transition to wherever my soul is destined for after departing this world, so I must prepare for all kinds of dangerous scenarios that could jeopardize my transition. This is what makes my connection to animals and their spirits so important in my work.

Magdalena Dukiewicz. Object #6, 2022. Hydrolyzed collagen, artist’s blood. 40 x 20 x 12 in. Photo courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial.  

Clare Gemima: Can you walk us through the process of your piece, Object #6, and expose how you access and use collagen and your own blood to make this large-scale, bodily bubble? 

Magdalena Dukiewicz: Object #6 is part of a larger body of work entitled body turns object in which I utilized hydrolyzed collagen and my own blood and hair as a medium. Collagen is a natural component of the body most often found as a structural protein in connective tissues. I mix it with my own blood and further play with it to obtain the desired aesthetic results. I then apply semi-dry biomaterial to the pre-prepared mold and leave it to dry for 24 - 48 hours (depending on ambient conditions). The use of organic materials incorporates biological and physical phenomena into the creative process. Decomposition of material, blood deoxidation, and objects reacting to elements leave artworks in a constant state of transformation. I play with those culturally and politically charged bodily products, and recontextualize them into works of art, exploring how their perceptions are linked to the changing contexts. Each piece provokes visceral reactions while playfully welcoming open-ended associations and ambiguities. Working with my own blood is, to me, a very empowering experience. As women, we are often objectified in private and public spaces and this experience is helping me to regain control; to decide how my body is used and presented. Oftentimes artwork becomes a starting point for a conversation or reflection about visitors' own experiences, traumas, and relations to concepts such as gender, identity, and notions of “other” and “self”. 

Sanie Bokharie. It's 11.49 pm here, 2022. 36 x 48 in. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist and The Immigrant Artist Biennial.  

Clare Gemima: Sanie, you are showing paintings in multiple places in New York right now, and I would like to congratulate you for your concurrent, and recently closed solo show Alter Ego at Kapow. How have you balanced your commitment to studio production while having to deal with the pressures of immigration? 

Sanie Bokharie: Navigating life as an immigrant while focusing on my art practice has naturally become intertwined. Fortunately, my husband, a native of the U.S. who has spent over 20 years in New York City, provides crucial support throughout my journey. Having a support system is essential when dealing with the complexities of immigration related processes.

New York City, with its diverse community of immigrants, encompasses individuals on various visa statuses, residing in a myriad of situations within the city. The city has a remarkable ability to accommodate those who are determined to make it work. Personally, I've experienced living in numerous apartments with different roommates, often fellow artists, across various neighborhoods. In these diverse settings, it seemed like almost everyone was grappling with their own challenges and figuring things out.

Jonathan Ojekunle. Shining Light, 2022. Oil on canvas. 16 x 20. Photo courtesy of The Immigrant Artist Biennial.  

Clare Gemima: Many artists tend to experience pivotal shifts in their studio practice that lead to material interventions. I found the most intriguing part of your work to be the ripped apart canvas that encases your focal composition. How did you discover this technique? 

Jonathan Ojekunle: The idea is very new and unconventional. My objective is to create the impression of a 3 dimensional painting. I believe that painting on ripped canvas and using two canvases for a painting is a way to deviate from traditional artistic conventions. As an immigrant artist, the technique also symbolizes transformation, as it’s an effective way to represent the process of change. I am challenging the notion of a perfect canvas and urging viewers to reconsider their expectations of art's form and presentation. 

Enmeshed, Dreams of Water will run from October 6 - November 1, 2023 and celebrate with an opening reception on October 13, 2023 from 6-8pm at the NARS Foundation. WM

Clare Gemima

Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.

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