‘Here We Land,’ right where we belong

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Pick any room inside Wave Hill’s Glyndor Gallery, and you’re in for three unique experiences.

Depending on which room you enter, you’ll either be surrounded by tree landscapes cut into silhouettes of families fleeing the U.S.-Mexico border, an open space of industrial felt and work that explores indigenous culture, or a dark room booming with sounds of nature.

It’s all part of “Here We Land,” an exhibition that explores colonialist history and what it means to claim a place from three distinct perspectives. The exhibit features artists Camille Hoffman, Maria Hupfield and Sara Jimenez, and is on display through July 14.

Hoffman, Hupfield and Jimenez are no strangers to Wave Hill as each of them participated in the garden’s Winter Workspace program — a six-week session where artists spend time on the grounds and use the gallery as their personal studio space. But they were all on-site at different times.

They came together last November thanks to Jennifer McGregor, Wave Hill’s senior arts and education director. Within a month, they were coming together to discuss their ideas and picking the rooms they wanted to exhibit in.

Emily Alesandrini, a curatorial fellow at Wave Hill, remembers how Hoffman, Hupfield and Jimenez “could harmoniously come together in visual discussion” about the directions they wanted to take with their work.

“They had this wonderful intellectual chemistry between them,” she said.

From there, each artist worked off-site to produce their respective pieces, and only had about a week to install everything before the exhibition’s opening April 14.

Hupfield, who’s part of the Anishinabek Nation within the Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario, Canada, focuses on using items like industrial felt in her work.

Most importantly, however, her pieces convey that “the Native experience is a contemporary one,” Alesandrini said.

Performance is another component of Hupfield’s work, so her room includes two photographs in front of a fountain in Canada. The pictures are placed up against the room’s windows, which McGregor thinks brings an environmental touch to Hupfield’s work.

“We’re looking out at the Hudson River, but we’re also seeing the fountain,” McGregor said. “We’re seeing this different sense of water.”

Things take a turn when entering Jimenez’s room. It’s almost entirely covered in collaged images on the floor with cardboard and wood structures that are set up as a maze.

“You get little clues about the room, so you kind of know where you are,” McGregor said. “But in other ways, you don’t see anything.”

Jimenez’s Filipina background, as well as colonial texts and photographs from her home country, inspire her portion of the exhibit. The work comes to life thanks to an audio recording Jimenez has on loop of empty and quiet spaces around the garden in order to “convey this sense of haunting as you walk through this very dense, highly-imposing immersive space,” Alesandrini said.

As visitors try to navigate through the work, McGregor sees how each structure has interactive elements that could allow visitors to do things like climb into, or put their faces inside them.

“People are quite responsive to this environment that they find it disorienting and fascinating, or anxiety-inducing,” Alesandrini said. “Regardless of the specifics of those responses, it has already prompted really interesting conversation in gallery tours, and with visitors in general.”

A memorable moment McGregor recalls from a recent gallery tour is when Jimenez’s work reminded a visitor of how his grandparents grew up in tenement buildings.

“He immediately went into his own memories of New York and he wasn’t connecting it to the Philippines or colonial history, or anything like that,” she said. “But he was connecting it to this old New York.”

Once visitors arrive inside Hoffman’s room, things suddenly feel lighter as silhouettes of families created from images of nature are placed up against the walls.

“You walk into Camille’s space and viewers are immediately relieved at the soft colors and the beautiful vibrant yellow landscapes that they see,” Alesandrini said. “People have described this room as being very serene.”

But the families aren’t as happy as one would think upon first glance.

Hoffman actually created these silhouettes from images of families fleeing the U.S.-Mexico border at the height of Donald Trump’s family separation policy. The trees in the photo are North American aspen trees, a particular species that can be derived from one ancestral root system. So when visitors learn this, their perspective automatically changes.

“All of a sudden your interpretation of the space, your interpretation of these abstracted figures you see, is very different,” Alesandrini said.

McGregor has one simple answer when it comes to why it’s important for Wave Hill to start these political issue discussions.

“This is the world we live in,” she said. “A place like Wave Hill is kind of a safe space. It’s a place where people do come to reflect. It gives a place where you can kind of think about life in a different way, and I think we would not be fulfilling our mission if we didn’t touch on those topics.”

“Here We Land” has offered a chance for artists like Hupfield, Hoffman and Jimenez to bring attention to what it means to have a place to call your own. Alesandrini has seen firsthand how much of a difference it makes for people who visit Glyndor Gallery.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see how immediately responsive the audience has been to these very heavy issues,” she said. “That people are grateful for this outlet, for this opportunity to experience an environment that is completely different from any other gallery experience they might’ve had before.”

Alesandrini hopes people leave the gallery wanting to continue their education themselves about the topics conveyed in the artists’ work. In turn, she wants to that to become conversations with friends and family, and ultimately have it change “how they see their neighbors in the world and make decisions in their lives.”

McGregor also hopes the exhibition will open minds as to what Wave Hill can offer them.

“I want to be able to open a place for people to think and talk about these issues,” she said, “and to also see Wave Hill as a place that’s part of that dialogue.”

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