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Art: Tradition is 'interrupted' at SAM

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In popular music, DJs often turn to the “remix” or the “mash-up” to spice up their sets. The “mash-up” is a combination of two unlikely songs of often disparate genres that are merged into a new, unique whole. In the “remix,” elements of the original song are altered, with elements alternatingly added, dropped or extended; creating a parallel version that forms a new vision of the original, often surpassing it.

The visual equivalent of the mash-up and the remix has come to the Susquehanna Art Museum with “Tradition Interrupted.” This exhibition explores the methods used by artists to unite contemporary ideas with traditional art and craft in a range of media, from rugs and quilts to metal and ceramics.

“Tradition Interrupted” explores how these artists weave modern art theory and practice with traditional techniques to create thought-provoking hybrid objects and images. The 12 artists in this exhibition—and their traditions—hail from every corner of the globe. These artists mash up age-old customs with innovative techniques that interrupt tradition while still collaborating with the past.

Exhibition Curator Carrie Lederer explains, “After generations of crafting and creating, many traditional practices continue to hold center stage and visually define a culture. Today, artists are unraveling certain traits and facets of these ancient customs to redefine or reclaim them for our contemporary world.”

For many of the artists in “Tradition Interrupted,” everyday objects are sources of powerful influences. From recalling memories at risk of being forgotten, or calling into question revisionist histories, these artists examine the comfortable and uncomfortable histories of their heritages. In doing so, they connect the past to their current understandings in order to explore the future.

Ana Gómez has used recognizable forms and shapes of our convenience food culture in her “Disposable” series. Creating in fine ceramics, she has recreated fast-food containers in “Talavera Kit,” which is a Spanish and Mexican pottery tradition of colorful glazed and decorated earthenware. The familiar containers resemble the boxes that contain your burger and fries, takeout boxes, and even the “happy meal” you hand your child.

In “Maruchan,” creations of stoneware ceramic, glaze, and gold varnish pay homage to the Japanese American brand of instant ramen noodle cups. Gomez has taken today’s throw-away culture by elevating our “trash” into beautiful heirloom treasures and questioning how we value the nourishment of our bodies.

Another artist whose creation fools the eye of the viewer is Faig Ahmed, whose “Hal,” a striking, handmade woolen carpet, appears to be melting into a pool of color as is it suspended on the wall. A traditional carpet begins with fringe into Persian design but about halfway down the wall, the colors fall into distinct lines of color that swirl to the floor into a twirling puddle. But upon closer look, the rug is not disintegrating but instead is an amazing, completely solid woven carpet.

Islamic prayer rugs are used in Mounir Fatmi’s, “Maximum Sensation,” which is an installation comprised of skateboards covered in prayer rugs. The beautiful designs of the rugs cover the decks of the boards in a combination of modern youth culture and deeply held religious tradition. Special kudos are due to installation technicians who have expertly suspended the 14 boards magically from the gallery ceiling, creating spacing and symmetry of the layout for the installation that is simply jaw-dropping.

“Teardrop (After Robert Irwin)” by Anila Quayyum Agha, is another installation sure to turn heads from across the spacious gallery. The polished stainless steel with mirror finish is expertly illuminated with halogen lighting on an intricate plate that resembles a mandala, which casts a similarly haunting trio of shadows on the wall behind it. Incorporating elements of Islamic architecture, the title refers also to Robert Irwin, an American artist known for transforming spaces using light, which Agha has successfully channeled through this stunning installation, effortlessly combining traditions of East and West

A powerful message of healing the human spirit is told by Ramekon O’Arwisters in the “Mending” series of sculptures made up of fabric and ceramic shards. The broken ceramics represents the human body, which is also a vessel and when that vessel is broken it also needs to be mended, not neglected. O’Arwisters mends the broken ceramic sculptures with fabric, representing healing and the urge to help one another. This is a gentle nod to his grandmother, a quilter, who provided care and comfort to him during his childhood.

“Tradition Interrupted” explores the ageless customs tied to the artists’ histories and heritages, with both positive and negative implications. The works implore us to slow our pace and consider what might be gleaned, absorbed or discovered when we investigate ancient rituals and practices and how they need to be incorporated into our future. Moreover, the remix of artistic cultures in the exhibit point to a new potent, innovative global hybrid that expands, yet respects tradition.

“Tradition Interrupted” is on view in the Lehr Gallery through Jan. 23, 2022. The Susquehanna Art Museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Susquehanna Art Museum is located at 1401 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. Free parking is available to museum visitors in the lot behind the Museum at Calder and James streets.

For more information on visiting the museum, visit susquehannaartmuseum.org.

Joseph George holds a degree in history and art history from Dickinson College. He and his wife, Barrie Ann have spent over 30 years together traveling and visiting art galleries locally and throughout the world. They have been writing about the art scene, both locally and internationally, for nine years. Their tastes range from fine art to street art.

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The exhibition and the programs through which it was developed were sponsored and designed jointly by CALC, the Cumberland County Historical Society and The Trout Gallery, the art museum of Dickinson College.

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