A close look at Northwest art and diversity

// 10th Northwest Biennial opens at Tacoma Art Museum

The Northwest is a diverse region in terms of ethnicity, national origin, religion and political views. How do the residents of the Northwest acknowledge their differences and adapt to the change that comes with industry, technology and efforts to restore the environment?

Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) examines those questions in the 10th Northwest Biennial. It explores what it means to focus on identity when experiences are informed by geographical, religious, ethnic and socio-economic factors that have no firm boundaries.

Curator Rock Hushka, director of curatorial administration and curator of contemporary and Northwest art at TAM, collaborated with Renato Rodrigues da Silva, a curator and art critic based in Vancouver, B.C., for this exhibition. They selected 30 artists.

Previous biennials were for artists in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. This time it was opened up to artists living in British Columbia and Alaska.

Hushka said this exhibit has the most video installation ever in a biennial.

Jin-me Yoon offers "As It Is Becoming (Seoul, Korea: Team Passages Through)." This video depicts the artists crawling along a street in her hometown of Seoul. Next to it is a photograph titled "Rest, Hornby Island (Intersection 7)." Hushka said the two creations have the artist exploring her identity as a Korean living in Canada, with the video shot in the huge city contrasting with the idyllic, natural beauty of her new home.

"Napa North" by Henry Tsang is three screens showing footage examining the booming wine industry in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley. It has interviews with winemakers and First Nations people, who are witnessing significant changes to the landscape.

"Cardboard Commandments" by Paul Kuniholm Pauper is a four-minute video played on screen in what looks like a 1980s video arcade game. It takes a quarter to operate. The images are of signs made by homeless people in Seattle. Some make familiar pitches to the charitable leanings of those passing by while others offer political commentary.

Fife resident Jeremy Mangan's painting "Trojan Horse" takes this object from an ancient war and sets it in the Northwest, with snow-covered mountains in the background. Unlike the ancient horse, Mangan's has windows so the occupants can enjoy the majestic scenery outside.

"Family Portrait" by Sean M. Johnson is an old sofa attached to a wall with industrial-strength tape. Hushka said it represents how families are dealing with this time of economic insecurity.

Matika Wilbur, a Native American of Swinomish and Tulalip lineage, submitted portraits from the series "Save the Indian, Kill the Man." It examines the balancing act of Natives, between holding on to their traditions and existing within modern society. "Qwalsius" depicts Shaun Peterson, a member of Puyallup Tribe, standing in front of the welcoming figure he carved for Tollefson Plaza.

Reza Michael Safavi was born in Victoria, B.C. He delves into his Persian heritage with "Samovar." Museum visitors can sit on a Persian carpet with pillows on the floor while they watch a short video depicting a Canadian beach scene with some amusing action.

Jeff Jahn submitted "Canopy II." Made of recycled plywood and painted green, it juts out from a wall about seven feet off the ground. Hushka said it makes a statement about the environmental consciousness of the Northwest.

A red and white tent contains "The American Society for Personally Questioning Political Questions" by Ariana Jacob. It offers a space to examine diverse political views. "We are trying to bridge deep ideological barriers," Hushka said of our modern society. "This challenges us to be more cohesive as a society."

The exhibit extends into the courtyard outside. Allison Hyde, a Tacoma native, installed "Mourning the Emphemereal." Burned chairs, desks and boxes were inspired by a fire that destroyed the home of a family Hyde knows.

The 10th Northwest Biennial is on display through May 20.


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