John and June Allcott Gallery: Honors Thesis Exhibition, Ella Kiley
As an interdisciplinary artist, I pull inspiration from international politics and social movements with the goal of offering alternative perspectives based on research and engagement with the community. My artwork examines the political influences of borders, human rights, and refugee resettlement efforts.
Central to my work are themes of displacement and absence by deconstructing border walls; objects found at these sites of violence, and other symbols of loss. Within the series of oil painting diptychs, I explore what it means to create a landscape painting whose sites are imbued with the histories of violence, trauma and diasporas enacted by politics and ideologies. By focusing on the sites where these migratory experiences occur, the question arises of why do articles of clothing remain, why an empty, capsized boat?
The text in this series is written with shadow messages carved into a sheet that sits in front of each painting. I use a laser cutter to carve into sheets of clear acrylic to bring an added layer of an “invisible” image or text over the painting. With light casting the shadows of the text onto the imagery below, there exists a physical divide between the landscape and the viewer in a parallel metaphor to the constructed borders between nations. These blind texts create a space for reflection on the power behind an absent message, the intended audience of a shadow of a word, and the meaning of recontextualized quotes. The diptych portraying imagery of a submerged boat creates a sense of ambiguity in where this boat is, why it sank, and where its passengers went?
In addition to exploring the political landscape of borders, I address my own role as an artist rendering spaces and struggles that are not my own. This series presents a critique of a corrupt system that fails to support some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, as well as working to call attention to the struggles of refugee communities.
I examine and critique the construction of borders as sites of violence and xenophobia. As seen in the painting of a mountain landscape with hints of an invisible wall, Crossing camouflages the border wall in an effort to deconstruct the structural divide between land and people. The additional fence seen beyond the shadow of the wall alludes to the many barriers that must be crossed when arriving in a new country. Whether physical, cultural, or linguistic challenges – the process of integration is an ongoing one that depends on collaboration between cultures and communities.
My purpose in creating conceptual works of art in response to my politically based research is to ultimately create a space that encourages discussions about the function of borders and subsequent transmigration of people and culture in a historical and contemporary context. The geo-political themes within my research primarily include political risk, economic development, security, human rights, conflict resolution, the media, and the environment. My experience of working and connecting with refugees coming to Charlotte with the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency in 2019 inspired me to create art that raised a critique of the institutions that determine who has the right to enter or leave a place, a critique of the cultures guilty of oppression and hypocrisy, as well as to raise questions about my role in this system. As I navigate the realm of political art, I reflect on how I can contribute to these conversations and social movements as a white, female U.S citizen without encroaching on the spaces of marginalized people and the concerned communities. When working with sensitive subject matters, I ask how I can create engaging works without taking advantage of the struggles or traumatic experiences of said communities. Furthermore, this thesis has created the space for me to reflect on what it means to be on one side of a border and the privilege of citizenship. My purpose in addressing these questions through socio-political research and open discussions, as well as with my self-reflective creative process will help me accomplish my goals as an artist and advocate.
Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 am-5 pm