New Bellevue Arts Museum Exhibition Shows the Plight of Refugees

Artist Humaira Abid kicks off her first solo American art exhibit.

By Brian Miller

refugee-art-crop

September 20, 2017

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Born in Pakistan, where she studied to be an artist, Humaira Abid came to the Northwest in 2008. (She and her husband now live in Renton, but return regularly to their hometown of Lahore.) Since then, she’s mostly been a creature of group shows, often with work created from wood—a preferred material, but hardly her only medium—being the unifying conceit. Now, she’s having her first American solo museum exhibition at Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM).

Refugees are the manifest theme of Searching for Home, giving the show a somber, topical punch. (The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that there are now more than 65 million displaced persons worldwide.) In past works seen locally at BAM, the Tacoma Art Museum and ArtXchange Gallery, Abid’s art has explored feminist themes of miscarriage, fertility and domestic obligation. Searching for Home looks outward, in what BAM guest curator Jennifer-Navva Milliken calls “a site-specific installation featuring narratives, stories and portraits of refugees in the Pacific Northwest and Pakistan, and sociocultural themes of immigration, women and families.”

We see barbed wire, children’s lost shoes, dropped pacifiers and bloody, abandoned luggage—all life-size, created on human scale—in this immersive installation. Working in pine and mahogany, always splashed with her signature color of red, Abid suggests the sudden and sometimes violent dislocation of entire populations. Their scattered possessions imply the hasty decision—perhaps at gunpoint, prompted by bomb blast or under orders barked in German—about what to take and what to leave behind. Drop and flee, whether to survive or not.

In viewing the show, it’s worth remembering that much of downtown Bellevue was built on strawberry fields once owned and worked by Japanese-Americans. Abid’s quietly melancholy show reminds you of a past group demonized during wartime, right here on the home front. There’s a kinship with Roger Shimomura’s work, but drained of the ironic pop art colors. Her forlorn, ownerless luggage also recalls Ai Weiwei’s backpacks commemorating the schoolchildren who perished in China’s 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Abid’s polished objects almost seem sifted from fresh, smoldering rubble.

Searching for Home, 9/22–3/25/2018. Times and prices vary. Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, 510 Bellevue Way NE; 425.519.0770.

 

Illustration by Arthur Mount

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