TRADITION INTERRUPTED • The Applied Re-Invention of Fine Art Forms

Contemporary Ideas & Traditional Art Merge in New Exhibition at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, ,   From Issue 926   By: Robert E Martin

24th February, 2022     0

With the brilliant new traveling exhibition Tradition Interrupted, the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum at Saginaw Valley State University presents a stunning display of artistry distinguished by the manner each of the showcased artists merges deeply personal statements with traditional fine art forms, creating through the process pieces that are equally challenging and disquieting as they are visually and aesthetically stunning and poignant.

Organized by Bedford Gallery at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, CA, each of the works displayed in this exhibition explores how artists weave contemporary ideas with traditional art and craft to create thought-provoking hybrid images and objects that have caught the world’s attention.

The twelve artists featured in this show and the traditions they use to translate their work  hail from every corner of the globe: Faig Ahmed (Azerbaijan), Dinh Q. Lê (Vietnam), Serge Attukwei Clottey (Ghana), Jaydan Moore (Virginia), Camille Eskell (New York), Ronna Neuenschwander (Oregon), Mounir Fatmi (France & Morocco), Ramekon O’Arwisters (California), Ana Gómez (Mexico), Anila Quayyum Agha (Pakistan), Shirin Hosseinvand (Iran), Jason Seife (Florida), Suzanne Husky (France & California), and Steven Young Lee (Montana).

From intricately woven rugs and detailed mosaic to illuminated metalwork and fine porcelain ceramics, each of these featured artists merge age-old art and craft customs with innovative techniques that interrupt tradition while still collaborating with the past.

“The artists featured in Tradition Interrupted show how they use memories and past experiences, especially family and cultural traditions, to create works of art that speak of them in a personal way,” explains Andrea Ondish, Curator of Education at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Gallery. “These artists are not only influenced by arts and crafts of their cultural past,  but they merge it with innovative techniques of today to create a whole new visual culture. This becomes a new art history — it is powerful and enlightening."

“These artists have shared with us the trepidation they felt when they conceptualized and created their art, but in the process of unraveling tradition, these artists are also embracing it and bringing it forward. Ancestral memories and political history—at risk of being forgotten in our fast-paced, digital world—take center stage here. It’s harder to lose sight of something that is staring right at you.”

“There is always a fine line in art,” continues Ondish. “People create art in many different forms, but for me fine art is not about being pretty, it’s about creating something personal that reveals something specific about the person creating it.   This could be a stereotype the artist is trying to exploit in a way that will cause people to see it in a different way, or it can be some personal experienced learned in life; but Fine Art has to make some sort of statement, which can be blatant and in your face, or subtle and ambiguous.”

Many of us think of painters like Rembrandt or Monet who adhered to a strict aesthetic process in their work when the topic of Fine Art comes up; but if Fine Art is defined by the impact of their individual statement, does it reject these specific aesthetic standards or embrace them?

“All art forms have a rebellious element,” responds Andrea. “An artist gets to a point where they want to try something different, so it’s both the content and the context at the time these artists do things that when they first appear can be trashed or made fun of or rejected. Impressionism was like that. Initially people rejected it, so to me that’s what real fine art possesses.  When you to school to become a fine artist, it isn’t about creating something pretty that people respond to so much as what you have to say as a person.”

“It’s funny in a way, because I once did a whole series in pen & ink of women portrayed as tools and published it, reflects Andrea. “It was published as a mail order catalog and at the time I didn’t realize what I was really saying because you had to look close into the imagery. Only after I got away from the work after three years did I see and understand more about it than when I was actually doing it.”

Looking at a few of these artists’ techniques are helpful at illustrating this point.

Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha, for example, integrates elaborate Islamic patterns with textile processes such as embroidery and silk-screen printing to create architectural light installations. Her large-scale sculptures mimic Moorish mosques, which are spaces women are often prohibited from entering; yet the materials she uses often reference a practice of art making historically dominated by women. Through this irony, Agha works through both the beauty and suffering tied to her own cultural traditions.

“Anila is a weaver who’s grandmother taught her how to quilt,” explains Andrea in order to amplify how this process works. “Here you have a traditional art form from an artist with a strong background in fiber, however, she then takes these different broken vessels that still have stickers on them and might have been obtained from a thrift shop, and uses her knowledge of textiles to weave these materials inside of them.”

Artist Mounir Fatmi uses discarded tech and media objects such as typewriters and VHS tapes as materials in his work to interrogate religion, collective memory and the dichotomy of East versus West. His installation “Maximum Sensation” is comprised of fourteen skateboards, each covered with a fragment of a Muslim prayer rug. This mashup of Western popular culture and Eastern religion implores viewers to rethink potential commonalities between the two, as well as emphasizes how globalization makes this cross-pollination possible.

Dinh Q. Lê also works with textiles and is a Vietnamese artist who learned how to create woven grass matts from his ancestors. “With one of his pieces that we have on display, after fleeing Vietnam with his family and going to Southern California, he avoided watching any Hollywood movies about Vietnam that were made in the 1970s and ‘80s,” explains Andrea. “After he finally broke down and decided to view these films,  he found Hollywood’s depictions of the Vietnamese people unsettling, so with this piece he used a traditional process to make a statement about how we weave and construct a narrative to create something else in our lives to represent the truth.”

Ana Gómez  is a Mexican artist born in 1973 who’s ‘Disposal Series’ uses ceramics, glaze, and gold varnish along with other ancient materials in order to make a statement about today’s ‘Quick Fix’ Takeout Culture. With her piece Maruchan, she uses bone china and shows how takeout containers have replaced traditional fine dinner ware.

Iranian artist Shirin Hosseinvand is almost Warhol-esque with her work, which utilizes mosaic and mirrors. She visited an ancient place in Iran where the walls and ceilings were embellished with a mosaic of reflective mirrors and then adds the logos of contemporary products such as Coca-Cola as a statement about how the present world may lose this traditional technique insofar as Iranian kids of today are not interested in learning this traditional artistic technique that hails back to the 15th Century, so it may fade away and be discontinued in 20 or 30 years. With these modern western geometric abstractions and cutting mirrors into a multitude of different shapes, each of her pieces is unique and tells its own story.

The artists of Tradition Interrupted attempt to reconsider the universal, ageless truths as well as the comfortable and uncomfortable histories of their heritage. By doing so, they unearth transmissions of the past as a means to explore the future. The final task is left to the viewer: to consider aspects of the past, embrace current and future traditions, and reflect on what these shifts and changes mean to all of us moving forward.

Tradition Interrupted will be on view at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum now through  June 18, 2022.   An online version of the exhibition will also be available on the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum website.

Special programming for this exhibition includes:

April 9, 1–4 pm, Create & Take a photograph weaving like artist Dinh Q. Lê.

May 7, 1–4 pm, Create & Take a paper mosaic collage like artist Shirin Hosseninvand

June 4, 1–4 pm, Create & Take a weaving & mixed media sculpture like artist Ramekon O’Arwisters.

The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum is located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, 7400 Bay Road, Saginaw, MI. Museum hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (989) 964-7125 or visit the Museum’s website at









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