Ohio-based artist Mitchell Eismont’s interest in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis developed while he was producing posters for East Coast musician Chadwick Stokes' “Forced to Flee” tour. Inspired by Stokes' dedication, Eismont began work on a series of prints supporting immigrants and refugees, featuring cultural figures like the Dalai Lama, Jesus and Albert Einstein.
“I think it’s probably the crisis of our generation,” Eismont said of the crisis, which stems from a long-running civil war. “I think it’s important to try and help with the situation.”
Eismont’s image of Einstein, a digital poster of a linoleum print with the words “Einstein was a refugee,” is part of The St. Louis Artists’ Guild’s new show “Displacement and Migration” — a departure for an organization that generally exhibits work that’s approachable for all audiences.
It’s a deliberate choice for the guild to enter the debate over one of the most pressing international political issues, which came to the forefront in the U.S. at the beginning of President Donald Trump’s time in office. The underlying political position expressed by most artists exhibiting in “Displacement and Migration,” which opened April 21, is that immigrants and refugees need the public’s support.
The juried exhibition features artists from around the country and St. Louis, those who are American-born and immigrants from countries like Iran, Columbia, and India.
Executive Director Kathryn Nahorski said it was time to highlight the issue here in St. Louis.
“It’s hard not to be in any community right at the moment and not know someone who is talking about this, working to help, or perhaps not to help, but it’s just a very alive topic and we wanted to be a part of that conversation,” she said.
She also hopes visitors are able to understand how current stories of migration and displacement might be closer to home than expected.
“I think when people start looking at their own family histories they might become aware of some of these very issues in their own histories,” Nahorski said.
Hale Ekini is an immigrant by choice, not desperation.
She came to this country on a scholarship to Connecticut College, then briefly returned to Turkey before returning to the United States to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts. Not long after graduating from Columbia College Chicago, she was given a tenure track position at North Central College.
Her piece in the show is a series of torso-like sculptures made of cloth. She said she sees Trump’s election and his administration’s shift in policy has given rise to a general increase in hostility toward immigrants.
“The overall attitude has definitely changed and the hostile voices, having the courage to voice their opinions more, more out in the open, is definitely something that I’ve noticed in recent years, not when I moved here 12 years ago,” Ekkini said.
Ekkini said her experiences as an immigrant and her place in the United States are integral to her work as an artist.
“I wouldn’t be doing the work that I do now if I wasn’t in Turkey,” said Ekkini. “Even though my work is not didactic — I try to stay away from that. I’m more interested in human stories and traditions. There is still deep down a sense that I almost have this roll to voice the immigrant story in a lot of the work that I do.”
She said she hopes the varied nature of the show helps viewers recognize the breadth and scope of immigrant experiences.
The show “Migration and Displacement” is currently on display at The St. Louis Artists Guild through May 20.
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