This traveling exhibition, seen just before last Christmas, was a partnership of the Fondazione Imago Mundi and the Aga Khan Museum. It showcased a collection of 15 immigrant artists who crafted expressions of their art to reflect the diversity of cultures and people by celebrating the immigrant experience and their hybrid identities.
These talented artists range from the French artist eL Seed, born to Tunisian parents and specializing in Arabic calligraphy, to Sukaina Kubba, an Iraqi-born Canadian who focuses her work more on fine art, design, and architecture.
When the exhibition was shown at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, former Direct Henry Kim said that the two organizations had “…come together for this project with a shared goal of furthering understanding, respect, and tolerance among the world’s cultures.” The works do this by asking viewers to consider what it means to be asked where one is from and the larger unasked questions about immigration, nationalism, assimilation, racism, integration, and cultural diversity.
The group of dignitaries and patrons included Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Orlando Museum of Art Mark Elliot, and the Ismaili Council for Florida’s President Saima Hussain, who gathered at the Orlando Museum of Art for a VIP opening of a distinctive and pioneering art exhibition.
The context and the subtle messages suggested by the question in the title, which was evident in the artists’ works, were also noted in the various speeches at the event. Mayor Buddy Dyer remarked, “We want to make Orlando the most equitable and inclusive place it can be.”
Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani described herself as the daughter of immigrants from Iran, saying, “The question of where you are from is a question that I have navigated my entire life.” She noted that the meaning of freedom, of gender, and even the protests occurring in Iran at the present moment, touch not only cross-cultural facets but also socio-political issues across the globe.
President Saima Hussain personalized the exhibition by mentioning her twenty-year-old son’s dilemma when confronted by the question in the exhibit title. Many immigrants face questions such as this and either evade them or respond carefully. She remarked that the exhibition was about bringing people together and “…to encourage dialogue, the exchange of ideas, values, ethics, perceptions - with the hope that this will create understanding, inclusivity, openness, and space where we all can thrive.”
“Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From” presents art that transcends geographies while representing different cultures in a new environment. The works present a stand taken by immigrants and their progeny to explore where they are from - on their own terms. They also touch immigrants who can relate to them emotionally.
Fahim Hemani, a member of the Ismaili Council for Florida, reiterated what one of the patrons conveyed to him: “I’ve interacted with art that I felt speaks to me, but this is the first time I’ve felt that this art speaks for me.”
The exhibition continues at the Orlando Museum of Art until March 2023 before moving to other cities in North America and beyond.