This exhibition brings together three L.A. artists from different continents whose life and works have been informed by their diasporic identities. Mining from personal and observed experiences, the art of Nguyen Ly, Peter Liashkov and Marianne Sadowski explore diverse types of displacements in poetic and deeply poignant visual memoires.
The artworks featured in DIS–PLACED are experimental, both in technique and materiality. Their approach is one that is rooted in printmaking and yet Ly, Liashkov, and Sadowski push this medium to new frontiers, as if crafting a new visual language. Their art is layered and textured, utilizing mixed media, and ranging from two and three dimensional forms to installation. The handmade and conceptual acuity is the strong and unifying element among these artists. Through the process of reworking, layering and reconstituting archival materials and photographic images through various print methods, these artists are also producing knowledge, allowing these artworks to communicate epistemological meaning born of personal memory and testimony. This approach endows their work with a patina of nostalgia while being in conversation with today’s sociopolitical dialogues and neocolonialism.
Indeed, Ly, Liashkov, and Sadowski correlate transnational politics and the effects of capitalism with the personal in a creative practice that is immersed in reflection and memory. In the case of Nguyen Ly, his work weaves together printmaking, sculpture / installations and stitching. His art investigates his trajectory from post-Vietnam war, where his family fled as refugees when he was a child, to eventually getting sponsored and coming to the U.S. The origins of these lithographs were based on old family photos – which triggered Ly’s blocked childhood memories. NL6. Pants, 2012 and NL5. Shirt, 2006 are beautifully crafted clothing, perhaps a nod to his father who was a tailor, made out of paper lithography, old family photos and recycled tea bags ⎯ all threaded together to resemble the traditional clothing of his grandmother. Every element here signals towards his process-based approach to artmaking and harkens back to inquiries about his family’s journey and cultural traditions.
As in Ly’s work, Peter Liashkov’s practice is also infused by memory and movement across continents due to war and the subsequent cultural and linguistic negotiations. Born in France to Russian refugee parents (his father fought in WWI), his family fled to Argentina when he was a boy as a way to evade the communist threat. At age 15, Liashkov and his family relocated once again, this time ending up in the U.S. His work thus reflects these childhood transitions, mapping geographic borders, displacement and subsequent adaptations to new languages and cultures. Utilizing a variety of media, Liashkov uses images of his childhood superimposed with archival documents, and rendered in a way as to look like old relics. Foot Hold 1, 2014, is a collage print comprised of Xeroxed photographs of his father, immigration papers and letters on a Pellon cloth made to look like crumpled paper, giving this work the look and feel of age. Superimposed on these archival materials is the artist’s foot, as if inserting himself and his life’s trajectory and movement into his family’s past, connecting him to the history that has always left him feeling like he had one foot here and one foot there. This feeling is one shared by many with similar pasts never quite feeling like he fully belonged to one place or the other; A well-known feeling among “subjects formed in-between”, to quote Homi Bhabha.
In a different but congruent experience of displacement, the art of Marianne Sadowski brings focus to the current unhinged homeless situation in Los Angeles. Born in Mexico City, Sadowski hails from a Mexican mother and a German father who left East Germany for West Germany and thereafter moved to Venezuela, eventually settling in Mexico. This led Sadowski to explore the concept of home, one’s constant search for a home and the desire to create that home space. Her work explores the question what is ‘home’ in a city that has been plagued with displacement in the hands of gentrification.
As with the work of Ly and Liashkov, Sadowski’s work is multi-faceted, utilizing photographic images and drawings to create multimedia prints and remarkable codex-like artist books, as in Street Blues, 2020. However, in contradistinction to Ly and Liashkov, she utilizes her own photographs taken over many years to document the reality of the streets of L.A. and its homeless situation. In Home-less LA-Sideview, 2021, Sadowski transforms her photos of homeless encampments into vintage-looking cyanotypes. Using the postcard format, she visually dispels the notions of L.A. as a glamourous and desirable city. Instead, she depicts the ground level reality and the ubiquitous nature of the unhoused in the city.
In Life on the street III, 2021, an image of an unhoused man and his belongings is superimposed on various maps of Los Angeles, including an old map of the Mexican and Spanish land grants. By juxtaposing these images, Sadowski makes connections across time and space and demonstrates two types of displacements within this geographic terrain. She aligns historic displacements with the current unhoused phenomena, both of which, for Sadowski, are a result of systemic and institutionalized corporate/government greed.
Whether it is due to migration resulting from wars of the past, or current socio-economic factors that produce displacement and injustice, this exhibition brings into dialogue both their subsequent and continued legacies. In these deeply personal works, Nguyen Ly, Peter Liashkov and Marianne Sadowski open us up to consider how the political affects the personal and how from personal testimony, new ways of knowing and understanding emerge.
—Dianna Marisol Santillano
Peter Liashkov and Marianne Sadowski
(click to enlarge)