Lewis & Clark explores meaning
By Cari Hachmann/The Portland Observer
“Multiculturalism is dead,” a recent statement made by German Chancellor Angela Merkell, prompted a debate at Lewis and Clark College’s eighth annual Ray
Warren Multicultural Symposium, where experts from Portland and beyond considered the theme, the Miseducation of Multiculturalism.
The weekend symposium opened with an art exhibition, Multiculturalism: Defined, featuring various works by artists who reflected on what multiculturalism means and lent an understanding of culture that transcends semantics and hermeneutics.
“We realized that to understand how we have been ‘miseducated,’ we must first achieve a fundamental understanding of what multiculturalism really means,” read a statement by Lewis and Clark art curators Megan Sadler and Kyle Yoshioka.
Too often, multiculturalism is connoted exclusively with race and ethnicity, when really the concept can encompass far more, including issues of class, religion, sexual orientation, and many others, they said.
Artists challenged the notion of multiculturalism with drawings, photographs, music, creative displays, performance, and more.
Sokhun Keo expressed the melding and evolution of culture with a crate of Cambodian albums and an American record player for participants to play. According to his artist’s statement, Keo doesn’t identify himself as distinctly as Cambodian, American or even Cambodian-American.
“Cambodian-American culture does not exist. Instead a multi-culture or hybrid culture exists,” he said. “To say that I am Cambodian-American must mean that I am authentically Cambodian and American simultaneously, which is impossible.”
While some artists’ work revealed the complexities of multiple identities and ethnic origins, others expressed what it’s like to grow up solely with U.S. traditions.
In her artwork, Camille Shumann conveys a lack or weakening of American culture that has impelled her to explore and absorb other cultures.
In Self Portrait: Ramblin, Shumann etches a portrait of herself in black and white, detailing the countours of her face and hair with eye-popping patterns that reflect her travels; flowery motifs from Barcelona, little llamas from Peru, and piles of seaweed from the Oregon Coast.
“I always find myself slightly under whelmed with the culture that has surrounded me growing up, creating a deep curiosity for other cultures throughout the world,” she said in an artists’ statement.
A triangular display of blank flags hoisted on the wall was Brennan Broome and Chloe Womack’s interpretation of what it meant to belong to a place, culture, and country, and then have that identity removed, “Who does such a flag represent?” read their artist statement, “What does it stand for?”
In another project about identity, Liam O’Conner displayed a series of portraits of subjects from a wide range of backgrounds –France, Malaysia, Poland, South Korea, etc.—all wearing the same latex mask.
Disturbing to the ignorant eye, each face appeared deformed. Covered by a second-skin plastering with mouths agape, the personal and cultural identity of the individual is obscured.
“This distortion plays with the idea that identity is something that is only skin deep,” said O’Conner in his artist statement.
Unlike other displays, in Male Identified, male-performer Takahiro Yakamoto used facial and bodily gestures in a sequence of movements to deconstruct the nuances of maleness.
In 15 minutes, Yakamoto tests the unease of the sitting crowd’s perception towards artistic self expression. Silently and slowly, with only a white square mat and a white chair as props, he moves frame by frame, from fully clothed to naked three times.
Often, his work explores the dynamic communication among the work itself, the viewer, the location, the time, and the performer. Performance and sculpture allow him to explore the intricacies and simplicities of human communication in everyday life.
“This approach allows the performer to become a mirror, in a post-modern sense,” said Yakamoto. Inviting the viewers to reflect upon their own self-perception and contemplate the idea of gender and criteria for ‘normal’”.