October 9 – November 21, 2020
“The world has never had a good definition of liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in need of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.
With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.”
– Abraham Lincoln, 1864
Although President Lincoln was speaking specifically of diverging definitions by those who were for and against slavery, the critique of our national discord is still apt, perhaps more so now than at any time since the Civil War. Ours is a time in which opposing political factions disagree not only about policy and the purpose and function of government but also something as basic as facts. How can our nation endure and remain unified in an environment rife with such rancor, overt gaslighting and threats of a new civil war, particularly when certain actors seemingly welcome, even stoke, the fires of division? Through a process of an open call and invitations, Quappi Projects has brought together a diverse group of artists whose thoughtful, complex works aim to elucidate the state of our national politics and its future, as well as the future of American citizenship – what defines it, who it belongs to, and what it requires of us.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Vian Sora spent her childhood and youth living under the cruel regime of Saddam Hussein. Her family suffered immeasurably and in ways irreversible under his terror. War and terror continued to dominate Sora’s young adulthood when the U.S. invaded Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11; car bombs, kidnappings, and killing machines were a part of daily life. Sora will tell you that she is tired of telling this story but that its shadow is inescapable. It is the story of her life. Having married an American, Sora emigrated to the U.S. in 2009 and became a citizen in 2013, a process that took seven years. Over the last several years, her elderly parents, who were essentially stateless living elsewhere in the Middle East, emigrated here as well. After an arduous process, they finally received their Green Cards. Sora’s lone sister has also come to join her family in Kentucky but has been denied refugee status. An appeal is ongoing. It is partially her sister’s distressing experience with U.S. immigration officials that Sora depicts in Babylon to Babel. An abstracted and splintered American flag is recognizable as it envelops figures involved in some exchange. A Babylonian lion – a symbol of ancient Iraq – represents Sora’s sister but also Sora herself, her family, and others like her who have come to this country in search of a better life only to be met with hardships, prejudices, and hatred. It is not that life in the U.S. is all bad – there are many wonderful things about her chosen country – but Sora’s home country was left in absolute disarray after the U.S. invaded and life here has been much more difficult over the last few years as first candidate Trump and now President Trump and others engaged in open xenophobia. As in most of Sora’s recent work, the imagery functions on various planes: the figures give way to what appear to be aerial maps, as if seen from bombers, under which are buried organs and body parts of victims of war. Featuring close ups of two figures, Denizens is a companion piece to the painting.
Vian Sora appears courtesy of Moremen Gallery.