refugee and immigrant stories from cincinnati

Passage: an exhibit about home, place and migration

Passage by Do Ho Suh

Passage is an exhibit by Korean-American artist Do Ho Suh currently at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati. Every house Suh has lived in throughout his life serves as inspiration for remarkable meditations on the legacy of home, place and migration. These themes and their resonance with the refugee and immigrant experience compelled artist Calcagno “Cal” Cullen, founder of Wave Pool: A Contemporary Art Fulfillment Center, to partner with Heartfelt Tidbits in bringing the Passage experience to a group of refugees, immigrants, and new Americans in Cincinnati. 

As a CAC docent, Cal was an excellent host through the journey of Passage, explaining that Suh’s migration to new places and homes can be likened to a snail who picks up his home and takes it with him. A simple piece of Suh’s work illustrating a bridge across two different places evoked reflection on how refugees and immigrants always carry with them a connection to the places from which they’ve come. 

Ram Rai

An artist in the group named Ram Rai was impressed by Suh’s use of thread embedded on cotton paper to create a paint-like look. Ram, who enjoys painting images and memories of his home country of Bhutan, was invigorated by Suh’s innovation.

Ram Rai is a self-taught artist who learned his skill while living in a refugee camp in Nepal. Ram’s work focused on drawing people and objects that he imagined living in far away places.  He used his talents to teach children basic drawing techniques. After arriving in the U.S., Ram began drawing and documenting his vivid memories of his life in the refugee camps.  He expanded his drawing techniques and began by experimenting with acrylic paints and canvases that were easy to acquire in his new home. 

Here is a sample of one of his camp memories that was recently featured during a Bhutanese cultural program held in Cincinnati:

Refugee camp memories by Ram Rai

“I liked everything,” said one group member named Olga. “It was my first time [to the CAC] and it was very emotional.” Another group member’s favorite part of the exhibit was Suh’s documentary that showcases the incredible construction feat that made this happen: Fallen Star in San Diego, CA. A significant amount of Suh’s artwork is fabrics, which excited one of the group members named Krishna who is a skilled fibers artist herself.

Cal facilitated an art project for the group that involved drawing a memory of home using the technique of contour drawing. See Cal demonstrate contour drawing:

The project was an exercise for the group to get in touch with the senses of home – interestingly, garlic was a common smell that the many remembered from their childhood across cultures. As Cal explained and as the exhibit captured so well, sometimes we cannot explain such important memories using language alone, and we turn to art.

More about Cal Cullen

Cal Cullen reached out to Heartfelt Tidbits after learning about their work with local refugees.  She and her husband had moved to Cincinnati and opened the Wave Pool Gallery.  Cal recently finished a collaborative project with refugees living in a camp in Southern Italy.  She did several art projects related to their hopes, dreams, and memories and I worked to turn some of their art into a wallpaper design that now benefits the UNHCR (read more here)   The tour of Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center is the beginning of more creative projects yet to come.

Click on the images below to see more from the visit: