Diane Williams Weaves Multicultural Magic in “My America”
by Genie Davis
In the latest artist residency and exhibition at Shoebox Projects located in The Brewery arts complex, Diane Williams nails the immigrant experience with an installation that actively involves viewers and turns them into participants. And participants we all are: America is a nation of immigrants, like it or not, none of us are “native stock,” unless we are indigenous Native Americans.
Without bludgeoning the topic of immigration and multi-culturalism – a truly American experience that feels ever more in peril in these political time – Williams draws viewers into a literal and figurative web of political and social art. Her subject are the different ethnicities that make up Los Angeles, her approach is one that encourages understanding and acceptance.
Immediately upon entering the exhibition, which held its closing reception this past Saturday, Williams invites viewers to write the name of an immigrant they know and post it on a wall. And we all know someone – ourselves, our parents, our friends, our grandparents. Dominating the exhibition is a beautiful weaving of different threads and yarns, a geographic representation of the tangle of heritages in society as a whole, as well as distinctly in Los Angeles. Above it hangs a banner that reads “My America,” woven in magenta thread with ends dangling. We are a weaving, we are not dangling threads. But we need to embrace our heritage, not discard it. Here, too is a moving video featuring a personal friend of Williams, talking about her experience as an immigrant. It’s intense and immersive, subtitled; a visual story-telling.
Working in paint and overlaid with Plexiglas and colored duralar, Williams also includes a visually beautiful and emotionally devastating piece on the far wall that reveals the number of active hate groups in each state of our union – 917 in all. Tracking the rise in these crimes since the current administration’s inauguration, we have vivid proof of the anger and division that is unraveling the threads that generations have woven together in America.
Using fabric strips, Williams has a variety of other works on this wall, a fascinating palette and an exciting shift into textile work for an artist whose work as a painter is also beautifully, even delicately wrought.
Speaking of paintings, on both facing walls, hauntingly lovely immigrant faces watch through squares of plexiglass covered with Duralar. Also on exhibit is a mask/headdress from the artist’s Monsters & Aliens performance art work which employed these masks as a significant illustration of being pushed to the outside and defined not as self, but as a disparate other. Crafted from strips of shredded paintings and discarded materials, here the single piece is on a pedestal, a tribute to and a warning about immigrant status. In both that performance work and in this exhibition, Williams invites viewers to consider what frightens them about people who are not “like” them, to examine their knee-jerk responses to race and gender. Viewers are asked to see beneath the mask people assign each other, to see the real person rather than a stereotype or an unknown to fear.
The exhibition was created over a month-long period, and is site-specific. Making full use of the gallery space, Williams divided it into each emotionally connected but significantly separate aspects of the exhibition. To journey through the space and Williams’ work is to journey into the heart of America itself, the immigration experience and the experience of a true artist. Here Williams paints, weaves, and defines the connections, both tenuous and grand, that make America far more American. We are not red, white and blue – we are a far more diverse and interesting color scheme.