Since July 18, The Corvallis Arts Center, located in Central Park, has displayed the exhibition “I Came From Far Away but I Am Here Now,” a collection of multimedia pieces made by immigrants in Oregon.
Eighteen artists came together to display work from across the globe, from Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East, and South Africa. The show takes up all of the main gallery, the walls covered in art ranging from paintings to pencil drawings to one collection of framed miscellaneous family objects titled “Before me… During us… After them,” constructed by Artist and Croatian immigrant, Elly Love.
The Arts Center curator, Hester Coucke, is responsible for making sure art is on the walls, and has been working with the Exhibition Committee for almost a year to put this show together. Given that the Trump Administration has made immigration such a major focal point in current political action and discussion, Coucke and the rest of the Committee found the idea to be relevant and valuable.
“At the Art Center, we feel it’s really important to show artwork that stands with two feet in society. In the bigger picture, it’s that we’re not…this isolated art-for-art’s-sake ivory tower but that we really make connections between what is happening in the world and how you can respond to that with art,” said Coucke.
“The goal of The Arts Center,” she said, “is not to tell you what to think, but that you should think, and immigration is a part of that.”
The Arts Center put out a call to artists, giving them ample time to respond or create art if need be. Half of the artists on display were invited, while the other half responded to the call.
Among selected applicants was Valeria Dávila, who submitted photos from her “Winter Series,” depicting a snow-cloaked Corvallis. Born and raised in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Dávila immigrated to the United States in 2016.
“The southernmost city in the world,” said Dávila, snow copiously occupies winter months in Ushuaia.
“The locals warned me that snow here is very unusual,” she said, before recalling, “One wintry morning, I woke up and opened the window [and] I couldn’t believe my eyes—the garden was covered with snow. It was a moment of pure joy—magical—like suddenly being in Ushuaia again or inside of one of my memories.”
An immigrant herself from the Netherlands, Coucke wanted to be sure that different stories were represented. “There’s different races, different genders, different levels of education, different dreams and hopes, and these are all individuals. That’s another statement we felt was important to stress—that if you are an “alien”, you don’t look all the same…You’re people.”
The People’s Choice Award was given to Artist and Photographer Greg Bal. Bal moved to Oregon four years ago from Iowa and migrated from India at the age of nine.
“A lot of what I think the immigrant population of the century is going through, regardless of where they’re from, is the same thing that I experienced: discrimination.” Bal went on to explain the “fog” that is living in a new country without being able to speak the language.
Bal and Coucke both commented on the stress faced by the immigrant population due to the Trump Administration—and this reaches to local terrain. Measure 105 will be voted on this November, determining whether or not Oregon will remain a sanctuary state. If passed, the measure would allow law enforcement agencies to use funds, equipment, and personnel to find and punish those in violation of federal immigration law.
The intention and desire of the art exhibit, said Coucke, is to provide a basis for connection and give immigrant artists a voice. “We feel that the more connected a people is, the better a society you can have, and art is an excellent way of making those connections.”
Speaking to that same connection, Dávila said, “All around the world immigrants face the image that they represent for others…a fantasized image that can be strongly rooted, and I think that getting to know the stories of those who come from afar generates empathy, bonding, and helps deconstruct that image.”
She continued, “There is also a plenitude we humans can achieve by sharing, by bonding with others, and for the immigrant, this is crucial when it comes to relating to the new habitat.”
Coucke and The Arts Center encourage guests to “come and see the story behind people that all have something different to say about their experience, as being initially a stranger, an outsider, in a country.”
“I Came From Far Away but I Am Here Now” displays through August 31. The Arts Center is located in Central Park, Corvallis and open 12-5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.
By Josephine Wallace