The black and white etching of a Chinese boy staring blankly ahead and wearing an oversized cowboy suit, reminds Robert Lee, co-curator of “Infinite Mirror: Images of American Identity,” of himself. Lee knows the complexities of assimilation: his parents emigrated to the U.S. from China, he’s named after Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Civil War general, and as a child, his folks dressed him like a cowboy, too.
The piece, “Peach Boy” by Tomie Arai, is part of “Infinite Mirror,” a collection of more than 50 works by first-generation Americans and new immigrant artists showing at the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum through March 24th. The exhibit examines the cultural transactions between new arrivals and the mainstream, and the values, languages and experiences that are negotiated as well as who accesses the American dream.
Chief Curator Blake Bradford said the exhibit is grounded in the “bigness,” “inclusiveness” and “incomprehensibleness” of America. “If you take an impossible measurement, you need an impossible tool”; hence the title, an “Infinite Mirror.”
Bradford, director of education at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, delivers a public lecture on the exhibit at the Storer Auditorium, University of Miami School of Business, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20.
“Infinite Mirror” has traveled the U.S. since 2008, spanning two election seasons and, as Bradford puts it, their “chest-beating sense of who and what is most emblematically American.” Booked through 2014, perhaps it will see us through immigration reform, too.
As curator, Bradford provided each venue with a checklist of concepts to address, such as organizing pieces under four main themes: self-selection, pride, assimilation and protest. However, he let the institutions decide under which theme to arrange specific pieces. Thus, each installation creates new associations.
In “Drawing for American Pie,” Korean-American artist Sungho Choi converts the American flag into the shape of a bulls eye, with red and white circles on the outside, and a center full of stars. Foreign-language newspapers, plus an English New York Times, are crisply folded toward the target.
Choi’s flag draws from the cyclical nature of life and time in Asian culture. What matters is the center, the current moment, said Lee, director and curator of the Asian American Arts Center in New York City. According to Choi, the bulls eye represents a space that unites old and new Americans alike: aspirations for power and privilege and a claim to the American dream.
The show spotlights perspectives that are “becoming much more vocal in our national conversation,” said Co-curator Benito Huerta, professor of art and art history at the University of Texas at Arlington. Infinite Mirror is about amplifying the voices of under-recognized artists from often under-recognized communities: the Americans whose identities are prefaced by African, Chicano, Chinese, Korean, Native, foreign-born or first-generation.