Pittsburgh artists discuss favorite works from the Carnegie International
If longtime observers of the Carnegie International agree on anything about the 58th edition, it’s that it’s one of the biggest ever, sprawling over several galleries in the Carnegie Museum of Art and even spilling out into the community. There’s also a consensus that the exhibit titled “Is it morning for you yet?” is likely the most international International yet, with works from 140 artists or artist teams representing some 40 countries and territories on five continents.
Broadly, curator Sohrab Mohebbi said he conceived the show, which opened in September and runs through April 2, to explore “the geopolitical imprint of the United States since 1945.” But there are as many ways to understand the exhibit as there are patrons to take it in. WESA asked four local artists to weigh in on favorite works in the show.
A call from home
For some visitors born in other countries, the International can recall home. Maritza Mosquera is a multimedia artist and educator born in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. She’s lived in Pittsburgh for three decades, but said she felt like she “came home” the instant she viewed Guatemalan artist Edgár Calel’s “Oyonïk” (“The Calling”).
The work features 75 ceramic vessels of many sizes placed on the floor in a loose grid. Inside each pot, rose petals in red, white and blue float on water, while a twig bridges each rim. Guatemala is 1,500 miles from Ecuador, but Mosquera said the installation reminded her of her hometown. “This is what you see in almost every corner of every bit of that country,” she said.
She says the pots offer a sense of ritual. “The things with the roses, the thing with the water, the branches -- that really talked to me and called me to come and see it again,” she said.
Mosquera teaches art to children who have arrived in Pittsburgh as unaccompanied refugees. Some are from Guatemala, and share a cultural heritage with Calel, who is of Mayan descent. “I think if they would come here to see this, they would feel the same way I did,” she said.
Living through a revolution
Artist Fran Ledonio Flaherty was born in the Philippines, where she grew up partly under the repressive, U.S.-backed rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. She resonated with a work that explicitly recalled that time and place: Filipino artist Pio Abad’s “Thoughtful Gifts” series, which reproduces, on marble tablets, 1980s letters between Marcos and his wife, Imelda, President Ronald Reagan and Rudy Giuliani, then an associate attorney general in Reagan’s Justice Department. The letters all post-date the 1986 revolution that forced Marcos to flee to Hawaii.
Flaherty was just 12 at the time, but she remembers her parents – and even nuns from her Catholic school – joining the anti-Marcos protests. She said Abad’s engraved marble tablets – the medium pointedly referencing the canon of classical Western art – are a compelling way to memorialize those times.
When viewing the tablets, “You sort of have to go in and just really focus on these very barely legible texts,” she said. “When you really look into it, you understand more what the relationship is between the Philippine president and First Lady was with the United States.”
“It’s so great to feel represented as a Filippino-Chinese-American, not only in terms of heritage but at this time where I grew up,” added Flaherty, whose own work in multiple media often draws on indigenous Filpino art motifs.
Meanwhile, other visitors to the International were most engaged by artists and artworks distant from their personal experience. Ebtehal Badawi, born in Saudi Arabia, is known here for her nonprofit arts initiative Building Bridges. Her favorite work in the International is “New Generation,” a beaded tapestry by Ugandan artist Sanaa Gateja. The piece, largely in bright blue and maroon, is made of thousands of small beads, each hand-rolled from reclaimed paper.
“I see a woman, and she’s embracing her beauty and connecting to mother earth, to nature,” said Badawi. “And through that connection and embracing the beauty in her, she’s blossoming.”
The wall-mounted work is adorned with floating white and black circles that seem to rise from below, like bubbles in water. “Maybe he shows circles because it represents generations from the past, from the future. It’s the circle of life,” she said.
Sexuality and humor
Circles and many other, less predictable shapes are at play in the art of I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih, the late Balinese artist known as Murni. D.S. Kinsel, a co-founder of the art collective BOOM Concepts, was fascinated by a dozen of her acrylic paintings at the Carnegie. Fantastical, even surreal, many depict androgynous creatures with an array of genitalia, in the act of enjoying themselves.
“They’re beautiful colors, really bold, they have interesting depictions of sexual acts, intercourse, intimacies, and just the body in general,” said Kinsel. “But they are ungendered, which is interesting, so they just have, you know, the shapes that we identify with intimacy and sexuality. … They’re clean, they’re beautiful, they have this softness to them.”
“They brought both humor and pleasure,” he added. “I always say, when something is funny, then you’re probably doing the right thing. … To kind of see that the artist was able to find some humor in some of these really graphic depictions of intercourse or intimacy, really touched me as well.”
Like other artists interviewed for this story, Kinsel said he appreciated what the International as a whole had brought to Pittsburgh.
Of Murni, he said, “Never, never heard of this artist before, and that’s why I love coming to the International every four years.”