American Arrival Moments

Columbus Day Painting (2014) by Titus Kaphar
(photo courtesy of Katonah Museum of Art)

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Katonah Museum of Art (KMA)’s current exhibition explores the many ways in which Americans have come to be American, and how artists have both shaped and challenged the myths and origin stories that have shaped American identity. 

ARRIVALS, on view through January 23, 2022, spans five centuries of art and features artists vanessa german, Titus Kaphar, Dorothea Lange, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Ben Shahn, Roger Shimomura, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Kara Walker, among others. Almost all of the artists are American, with an impressive range of ethnicities (Filipino, Cuban, Romanian and Chinese, for instance) and Indigenous populations (including Laguna-Zuni, Dine Navajo, Osage and more) all represented. 

The exhibition experience begins in KMA’s bright, airy lobby. Lining the walls is a timeline of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship, which highlights the legislative and judicial history around immigration in the United States.  Based on a timeline created by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, this one begins with the Nationality Act of 1790 and ends with the Public Charge Ruling of 2019. Political cartoons and artistic interventions interrupt the timeline, turning the lobby into its own immersive work of art. 

At the center of the lobby is Mohamad Hafez’s mixed-media sculpture, Baggage Series #4 (2016). This work is a scaled model of a war-ravaged building rising out of a suitcase. Inspired by Hafez’s brother-in-law’s flight to America from Syria, the sculpture draws attention to the experiences of modern-day refugees.

Branching off of the lobby are the two main galleries, which allow viewers to journey through a select series of “arrivals” arranged in seven categories—1492: Columbus; The Middle Passage; 1620: The Mayflower; 1891-1924: Ellis Island and Angel Island; World War II; 1965; and Today.

“2 ships passing in the night, or i take my soul with me everywhere i go, thank you (2014)” by vanessa german (photos courtesy of Katonah Museum of Art)

The oldest piece on display is a copperplate engraving, C”Columbus landing on Hispaniola, greeted by Arawak Indians, Dec. 6, 1492; (1594), drawn by German artist Theodore de Bry, who never traveled outside of Europe. The most recent piece is a director’s cut video, STTLMNT (2020-21), directed by Razelle Benally with concept artist Cannupa Hanska Luger. The project was originally conceived as an immersive indigenous-led performance as part of Plymouth, England’s observations for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower. Due to the pandemic, it was reimagined for a digital space. 

Aside from its galleries, the Museum provides other ways to continue the ARRIVALS experience.  In the Community Gallery, visitors are invited to share their own stories related to family history, immigration and national identity, and to read about the experiences of other community members. The family-friendly Learning Center provides prompts for hands-on art activities as well as Picture Our Journey, a display that shares personal yet universal stories of immigration through original children’s picture book art. 

Several upcoming events accompany and enhance the exhibition for visitors: Family Day (November 6), led by exhibition artists Sara Rahbar and Thuan Vu; an Artist Talk (November 9) with contemporary artist vanessa german and Dr. Christina Knight; A Night of Poetry with Jenny Xie (December 10); and “Stories of Arrival” (January 9), which features the personal narratives of storytellers who have appeared on the Moth Radio Hour, hosted by Esmeralda Santiago. 

A version of this article first appeared in the November issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at​​​

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