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Forever Was Never Till Now

Kala Gallery is excited to present the exhibition Forever Was Never Till Now featuring new works by 2021-2022 Kala Fellowship and Media Residency artists: Jamal Ademola, Esy Casey, Ting Ying Han, Ai Iwane, Alisa Ochoa, Mariana Ramos Ortiz, Ron Moultrie Saunders, Cherrie Yu, and Lena Wolff.

In our lives we draw lines – unconsciously and consciously, sometimes with intentios and other times by force. Lines may be solid, dotted, straight, parallel, curved, smudged, etc. They get intertwined organically or structured systematically, and create webs and networks. Lines connect us and separate us. Sometimes we go beyond these lines freely. Often we struggle to get out of these frameworks.

Artists in Forever Was Never Till Now expand the idea of lines in many different ways – communication, connections,  separation, displacement, linkanage, thresholds, interconnectedness, exchange, and ambiguity and fragility of something concrete. In this exhibition artists explore the power of ritual, craft, repetition, and  translation that help us connect, support, and remember our heritage. There are songs, voices and memories from home where it’s difficult to return.  We feel the power and energy from the universe and also within our bodies. There are remnants from the past questioning the present. These projects are like constellations in the universe. Individually they explore  unique subjects and methodologies. Collectively, they enforce one another to bring forward powerful questions and explore ways to break through  structures that separate us.

The title Forever Was Never Till Now is borrowed from a line in a poem by E.E. Cummings. Eternity is the accumulation of a moment. Without the present there is no  past and future. We are fortunate to be here at this moment to experience these works together. E.E. Cummings’ playful freedom not bound by English grammatical structures also resonates with these artists’ creative shape-shifting approaches and question making processes.

Jamal Ademola is a  Nigerian American filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist. For the exhibition he presents The Shimmer of Midnight, a five channel video installation. His project explores sleeping and dreaming states where humans are connected to the cosmic power that affects everyday activities on the ground.

Esy Casey presents a two channel video installation A Movement Against the Transparency of the Stars of the Seas about the dual invisibility of a Filipina domestic worker abroad, and in the home she left behind. Her extended film depicts these challenging labor conditions with grace and care. In her video the ambient sound of the two countries is split between right and left speakers, allowing viewers to shift between two worlds and languages, or feel positioned between both. This project was made possible by the invaluable perspectives and performances of several individuals in the Oakland-based organization Filipino Advocates for Justice with the support of The Creative Work Foundation, The Princess Grace Foundation USA, The New York State Council on the Arts, and UnionDocs.

Ting Ying Han’s work investigates cultural identities in evolving communities. With the  gentrification and a sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses in SF Chinatown were forced to close down. Using the  bilingual street signs from the area, Ting screen printed these signs with Chinese cooking sauces to commemorate the neighborhood’s cultural identity. Her work also reflects on her own experiences. Flowing Spaces retraces the floorplan of her childhood home in Taiwan. The gestural mark-making between each space of the floorplan represents her desire to connect, fear of conflict,  and hopes of a reunion with her family.

Ai Iwane presents Kipuka, a photography and video series. Kipuka is a Hawaiian term referring to an oasis of vegetation surrounded by lava flow, a place where the seeds of new life spread. Her work focuses on the Bon Dance song from Fukushima brought by Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, exploring a history of uprootedness and persistent links. Her photographs bring stories together through images of the evacuation zones in Fukushima or of the Issei cemeteries for first-generation immigrants now abandoned. Her B&W panoramic photographs were taken with a Kodak Cirkut, a large-format rotating camera often used by Japanese immigrants to capture family occasions and funerals in the 1930’s.  Ai received a travel grant from TRAVEL / kanzan.

Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember. (Joan Didion, Blue Night)  Over the course of the year Alisa Ochoa has meditated on the color blue and her emotional journey as a caregiver to her mother with Lewy Body Dementia. For her, making this body of work has been an extension of the ritual of care, a way to reflect not only her mother’s impending death, but a life of collecting: handwritten lists, favorite photographs, pop culture tchotchkes, and lucky amulets. Ochoa attempts to find meaning in these small, mysterious gifts.

Mariana Ramos Ortiz is an interdisciplinary artist. Their work addresses sand as a material of resistance and protection against the United States ongoing occupation of Puerto Rico. Their recent work articulates relationships between legibility as a remnant of colonialism, play as a tactic for resistance, and how these strategies construct the experience and perceptions of the colonial subject and landscape. La arena fabrica ficciones como actos de resistencia, one of the pieces in the exhibition,  contemplates on how malleability becomes an act of survival, resistance, and self-determination. The ruin becomes an opportunity to transit a space through what it was, what it is, and what it could be.

Ron Moultrie Saunders  is a public artist, community activist, urban designer, landscape architect and educator based in San Francisco. For this exhibition Ron presents  Beneath My Skin is The History of My Beauty, an ongoing series that explores story and mythology as a gateway to talk about cultural history, family mythology, personal identity, and the spiritual nature of the human form. The Secret Life of Plants is another important series and an exploration of life which reveals details hidden within plants. He creates all images as photograms. During his residency at Kala,  Ron experimented with new methods to create photograms adding color, texture and depth to his prints.

Cherrie Yu presents an experimental video installation. In 2020,  she embarked on a project translating the American choreographer Yvonne Rainer’s 1965 dance Trio A. The journey of the translation involved a range of people with varying histories and professions. The individuals each had a loved person transcribe the original dance into a written score, which they worked with to devise new movements. The project takes the form of a film essay.  In 2021 she continued the project with Tony Rodriguez, a former fireman, Melinda Wilson, a former dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet, and her mother, a homemaker from Wuxi, China.

Lena Wolff’s pieces on view include screen prints, a concrete quilt, and selections of her 2022 VOTE poster series made in collaboration with designer Hope Meng. The concrete quilt is a new material adaptation of a monumental collage that Wolff completed over the course of a year during the pandemic. The collage was composed of 143 singular and unrepeated squares of hand-cut paper set in relief, and was itself loosely based on a celebrated quilt made by Jane Sickle in 1863 during the Civil War. The concrete adaptation further connects that historic period with our own and is another example of Wolff’s shape-shifting process, upending associations of masculinity and femininity, craft and art, the interior and exterior.

Kala Fellowships and Media Residencies are awarded annually to a group of innovative artists working in printmaking, photography, painting/drawing, installation, video, sound, performance, and mixed media. This cohort of artists was selected by Kala’s Artistic Director Mayumi Hamanaka, Print Public alumni artist Imin Ye and Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson, Chief Curator and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland.

(Images) Top: (left) Lena Wolff (middle) Ron Moultrie Saunders (right) Cherrie Yu, Left: Mariana Ramos Ortiz, Exhibition photos by James Ken Butler