MADS Alumni Quizayra Gonzalez and co-curator Cass Gardiner awarded Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design’s 2017 Curatorial Fellowship

Published on: September 13th, 2016

Title: 16 Artist: Arjan Zazueta Materials: Hand-stitched cotton thread on paper towels Size: 44 x 44 inches

MADS Alumni Quizayra Gonzalez and co-curator Cass Gardiner have been awarded the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design’s 2017 Curatorial Fellowship.  Together they will design a show for Fall 2017.   We extend our congratulations to Quizayra and Cass!  Here is more detail about the show:

Crafted Strangers is a visual exploration of how craft is used as a tool for alienation and self-making. This exhibition will present artists that problematize, challenge and reinvent notions of self through their artistic practice. Our curatorial question is framed within the Native American and immigrant experience to show the connections between these perceived opposites.

Crafted Strangers will open Fall 2017 at The Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design in Asheville, North Carolina. Co-curated by Quizayra Gonzalez and Cass Gardiner.

The proposed exhibition Crafted Strangers, seeks to dismantle and call into question the parameters of fiction, while reclaiming culture through storytelling, tradition, and the body, with artists who identify as coming from the Native or immigrant culture.

From experiencing regulations on language to imposing cultural restrictions, the experiences of Native Americans and immigrants converge throughout history and present day on multiple levels. These seemingly polar opposites meet each other in the same space reserved for marginalized groups, predicated on imperialism and colonialism based on skin color. In this space, both Native Americans and immigrants are crafted strangers that seem to exist in the periphery of dominant North American society. With this exhibition we seek to create a visual dialogue that questions how notions of strange and otherness are crafted and countered. Both of us have a rich knowledge of these topics through our scholarly and artistic work, producing two MA and MFA theses combined, as well as a short documentary film made by Gardiner titled The Edible Indian, which looks at how memory and food shape identity for Native Americans in the 21st century, and Gonzales’ Bodegas: Praxis, Imagery, Concept, which looks at these iconic corner stores as tools for cultural production.

There is a large body of established writing, philosophy, film and narrative work surrounding the topics of immigrant and Native American culture and identity politics, respectively, but little to no discourse in any medium linking the two groups and their specific struggles together – despite both being outliers within  the dominant culture. In Buddha Is Hiding, Awiha Ong discusses how subtle forms of cultural policing of Cambodian refugees influenced their own identity formation in the United States. Cherokee author and storyteller Thomas King brings up the term ‘cultural ritualist’ in The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, which expands on the idea of crafting the self based on identifiers of authenticity placed externally from non­Native people, which are internalized. Authenticity now comes from the eye of the beholder.

This internalization can either be fully embraced, like King, or can be rejected, like many immigrant and Native American families who choose not to teach their children their native tongues, eat traditional foods, or perform rituals in order to limit ways they stand out from the dominant mold. What traditions get to stay and which ones are discarded? Artists like Arjan Zazueta push the question of tradition forward through mix media pieces that use craft as a way to remember childhood figures. By analyzing the practice of these artists, we engage in a vital conversation on how both traditional and nontraditional forms of craft become tools of representation and resistance.    We seek to create a visual exploration of the intersecting moments between Native people and immigrants, as they begin to craft their own notions of self making born from impositions made on their identities, and utilizing art to illustrate these complex dialogues. Native Americans and immigrants find themselves in an ambiguous space, caught between two dichotomies, literally worlds apart. Both groups must craft a representation that is acceptable to the dominant society and but connected to their community.

Our display strategy will be as layered as the topic we are exploring. In order to outline the connections between Native American and immigrant experience, we will display artwork based on the stories they tell rather than what group they emerged from. In doing so, we will let the work build bridges between narratives and give viewers space to draw their own conclusions. For example, Leighann Bogner’s intricate paintings, Net Series, is a study of fabric work that falls in conversation with Jennifer Bowen Allen’s dolls, which call attention to natural materials and modern textiles in Sewing Our Traditions. These artists are exploring a particular type of craft that engages women, and traditional cultural lifestyles and customs, while questioning the future of these practices. Another point of consideration in creating this display strategy is recognizing that the physical space of the gallery/museum has historically sometimes been a place of repression or harm for disenfranchised people. Many spiritually invaluable artworks like the totem poles in British Columbia were taken without permission and displayed for their quality of otherness. These ‘artifacts’ are contextualized within a Eurocentric viewpoint, which furthers a false narrative of Native culture in the past tense.

With these considerations in mind, we want to create an experience to inspire a moment of strangeness in the environment. By using sensorial tactics like ambient sounds and smells, we seek to evoke a small sense of otherness within the gallery visitors. As if they have stepped into an unfamiliar world. Our goal is not to alienate but to build a bridge through which feelings of otherness can be understood. Whenever the door opens there is the familiar, soft ding of a bodega. Music is a crucial element, presented in this exhibition as another element of craft with more produced music like A Tribe Called Red, or subtle ambient noises that transport.

Both of our own personal projects and research illustrates how powerful the role of food as a cultural communicator is, and how craft can be utilized as a “cultural ritual” then food is the great cultural connector. We propose food encounters as part of public programming that we provide during the opening and select times of the exhibition’s regular programming. It’s important for us to engage with the audience and community of Asheville, NC and beyond, and food is one of the best, and most enjoyable ways, to engage viewers in the work of the artists and overall exhibition. A workstation will be set up in the middle of the exhibition space, where visitors are encouraged to share their favorite recipe, and attach  a story of why it’s their favorite or why it holds special meaning to them. We will have an interactive map where people can pin where their recipe comes from, thus creating a third encounter each visitor can have with the gallery. Sharing their own personal narratives will facilitate making connections between them and the Native and immigrant traditions presented, and encourages participants and viewers to engage deeper and meaningfully with the exhibition and draw their own connections to the material and themes.

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Program Contact

Caroline Dionne, Program Director

Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.