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The exhibition Building Networks of Empathy is the second of a two-part show that asks us to consider the ways in which art empowers not only the artist, but its viewers to transform their most difficult experiences into enlightened outcomes. The first part of the show is an ongoing online-only exhibition entitled Facing Darkness, which encouraged artists in our community to reflect internally on our current moment of pandemic, isolation, and structural inequity laid bare.

For this second part, which will be physically installed in 18th Street Arts Center’s spacious Airport campus hangar galleries, artists were asked to respond to how they have changed as a result of their inner reflections on darkness, and to imagine new futures and societal structures as we see our way out of crisis. Each artist grapples as well with the role that art can play in social reflection, expression, and cultural paradigm shifts as a result of a deeper understanding of each other, and the empathy that follows. The exhibition sees empathy not only as a way to share and understand what others are going through, but also as a natural and endless resource that we can all rely on when crisis and emergency hit, with hopes that we can turn this moment of collective fear into a sublime experience. 

Visit our 360 tour of the exhibition, created by Dollhouse.

360 tour graphic

This exhibition may be viewed by appointment only. Please visit here to sign up to visit the exhibition!

Participating artists include: Alexandra Dillon, Deborah Lynn Irmas, Luigia Gio Martelloni, Rebecca Setareh, M Susan Broussard, Julia Michelle Dawson, Lionel Popkin, Ameeta Nanji, Siru Wen, Elham Sagharchi, Debra Disman, Luciana Abait, Sheila Karbassian, Daniela Schweitzer, Joan Wulf, Loren Harris-Heller, Nung-Hsin Hu, and Susie McKay Krieser.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a live Zoom panel featuring Alma Ruiz and Karen Sherman, moderated by Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, on November 12, 2020 at 12pm. For this panel discussion, curators, artists, activists, advocates, and scholars are invited to meet virtually  to reflect on the public opening of Facing Darkness, and consider how the show renders a public crisis and artists’ circumstances evident and knowable. Moderated by artist-scholar Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, with talks by curator Alma Ruiz and dancemaker Karen Sherman, (Inter)facing Darkness will frame a dialogue on how artists are operating as second responders, as thought leaders, and resource gatherers at this time. Participants will be invited to speak on their experience of the show at this moment. Register here.

Alexandra Dillon, The Secret, 2010. Oil on canvas. 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Alexandra Dillon, The Secret, 2010. Oil on canvas. 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Friendship and the act of listening are especially important during societal changes. Building trust and intimacy create the matrix for emotional support. “The Secret” depicts one of the countless ways humans interact to strengthen ties and deepen relationships.

Deborah Lynn Irmas, Send Me Your Gita, 2019. House paint, acrylic, tape, twine, plexiglass. 68 x 87 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Deborah Lynn Irmas, Send Me Your Gita, 2019. House paint, acrylic, tape, twine, plexiglass. 68 x 87 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

SEND ME YOUR GITA is inspired by the magical and mystical Van Morrison song “Vanlose Stairway.” Written in January 1982, Van Morrison wrote this song about his Danish girlfriend who was from Vanlose, Copenhagen.  She lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building with no lift. Writer Clinton Heylin remarks…”he turned this mundane set of stairs in an uninspiring block of flats into a ‘stairway that reaches up to the moon…and it comes right back…to you’.

The Gita, short for Bhagavad-Gita is a 700 verse Hindu scripture.  It is the eternal message of spiritual wisdom from ancient India.  The word Gita means “song” and the word Bhagavad means “God”…”Song of God”.

SEND ME YOUR GITA is full of symbolism regarding the Hindu scripture.  The central diamond is a global and eternal symbol representing the inner focus that needs to be done during this lifetime.  The task is to remain balanced within self…between the “yin” and “yang” energy.  The diamond shape (rhombus) consists of two triangles, one downward (yin) and one upward (yang) joined together. The color blue in Hinduism is a symbol of power and bravery. Violet represents a oneness with God and wisdom. Lavender represents peace. “Vanlose Stairway” is a song of love.  It presents the Gita and its eternal message of spirituality.  SEND ME YOUR GITA speaks to love, hope, peace and goodness.

Luigia Gio Martelloni, Sea of Promises, 2018. Wooden boat, red fabric, artificial roses and mix media archival inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist.
Luigia Gio Martelloni, Sea of Promises, 2018. Wooden boat, red fabric, artificial roses and mix media archival inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist.

The work “Seas of Promise” is a large wooden boat installation, mixed media, fabrics. It was shown for the first time at the IAMLA, Italian American Museum in Los Angeles. This is a print version of the work, I added a written sentence on it “When a boat crosses the sea and the storm from afar we fear, the strength to survive is all that we need.”

The boat draped in red, with roses inside, is an ode to the dreams that force the migration and the tragedy that can come from the journey. It represents both Italians who left the country in the late 1800s and the contemporary refugees seeking to reach Italy from the Middle East and North Africa, escaping from poverty, violence and wars, in search of a better life.

The journey to Europe is dangerous, with numerous reports documenting accidents and death as people cross the treacherous Mediterranean. It is about resilience and the strength to survive, it is about taking action against the odds and the strong desire to change one’s life, even with the risk of losing it.

I dedicated this work to Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants to America. They were unfairly sentenced to death in 1921, by an anti-Italian and anti-immigrant trial judge, even though they were innocent. Sacco and Vanzetti became the center of one of the largest cases in modern history, that brought protests to North America and Europe.  But, in 1927, they were executed by the electric chair in Massachusetts. This work is dedicated to all the Sacco and Vanzetti in the world.

Rebecca Setareh, Gratitude, 2020. Bronze and rock.
Rebecca Setareh, Gratitude, 2020. Bronze and rock.

Empathy is activated when we can observe the expression of “ Gratitude “ and my sculpture I’m sharing for this show demonstrates that with arms reaching out of the wall and in the Act of Giving Back with a Rock a symbol of Mother Earth which is pure empathy towards gratitude!

M Susan Broussard, Videos for US History (forgotten), June 23 - Aug 4 2020. 15 videos (each 60 second or less).
M Susan Broussard, Videos for US History (forgotten), June 23 – Aug 4 2020. 15 videos (each 60 second or less).

On June 23, I started creating 60-second TikTok videos to support my history/ anti-racism website. I now have created 15 videos. These videos, like my website www.ushistoryforgotten.com, hope to create empathy through teaching basic US history that most Americans were never taught in school. My belief is that a result of learning about our country’s dark and violent history will result in empathy and compassion, which in turn will help turn the tide on racism and white supremacy.

Specific topics of these videos are: Benefits of learning history of Black Americans, Natives & Asian Americans; Columbus; BLM; Mt Rushmore; US’s first for-profit prisons began with Emancipation; Rep John Lewis; End Racism & White Supremacy; Slavery: Cause of Civil War; Response to Tom Cotton; Voter Suppression.

Julia Michelle Dawson, Windy City, 2008. Acrylic on Canvas. 48 x 60 inches.
Julia Michelle Dawson, Windy City, 2008. Acrylic on Canvas. 48 x 60 inches.

In times of challenge we come together. When the winds of change blow through our souls, empathy shelters us like a strong umbrella.

Lionel Popkin, Steep, 2013. Video Still by Cari Ann Shim Sham. Courtesy of the artists. https://vimeo.com/138405944 PW: TeaDance
Lionel PopkinSteep 2013. Cinematography Cari Ann Shim Sham. Single Channel video. 04:40. Courtesy of the artists. https://vimeo.com/138405944 PW: TeaDance

Can we come to terms with being out of control? Will floating be the new mode of existence? In this video, two plastic men and a tiny yellow dog are subsumed as water infiltrates their world, and they are left circling each other.  We watch them trying to reconcile their unbidden movement and accidental interactions, trying  to align despite their lack of command over the forces around them, even as they go round and round.

Ameeta Nanji, Entangled VIII, 2019. Red cotton thread, acrylic on canvas. 24” x 24”. Courtesy of the artist.
Ameeta Nanji, Entangled VIII, 2020. Red cotton thread, acrylic on canvas. 24” x 24”. Courtesy of the artist.

I would add, networks of Hope, Imagination and Action 

”…the threads of ideas weave around the world and through the decades and centuries.” Rebecca Solnit

Entangled VIII, depicts chaotic strands of entangled ideas, movements, struggles, victories and defeats experienced in the creative field of infinite possibilities. We don’t know what is going to happen, or how, or when, and that very uncertainty is the space for empathy, hope, imagination and action.

With the rise of the far-right, of injustice and violence, and the existential threat of climate change …despair and cynicism are easy. Examining the silver-linings of what the  current global Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and has urged us to do…to re-set, re-evaluate and re-define, has fanned my own wavering flame of hope for a better future. 

Although we live in a capitalist society, the way we live our everyday lives are anti-capitalist; we do things for free, out of love and on principle. Lest we forget, we are civil society; we the people are a superpower more powerful than injustice and violence. 

My hope is that we won’t just go back to ‘normal’;  we’ll achieve an increase in empathy as everyone in the world feels more vulnerable, more grateful for human connections and more aware of our planet’s fragility. With renewed vitality, may we continue to plant seeds and grow networks of empathy, hope, imagination and action for the common good.

Siru Wen, Take off, 2019. Chromogenic print. 23 7/8 x 36 inches. Photo by the artist. Courtesy of the artist.
Siru Wen, Take off, 2019. Chromogenic print. 23 7/8 x 36 inches. Photo by the artist. Courtesy of the artist.

In “Through You, Thickly,” Siru and her partner Gionatan observe, question, break, and reconstruct themselves and each other through their mirroring gaze between the mundaneness and occasional dreadful events.

Elham Sagharchi, Lost In, 2020. Mixed media, acrylic paint, collage on canvas. 36 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Elham Sagharchi, Lost In, 2020. Mixed media, acrylic paint, collage on canvas. 36 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

“Lost In” painting is about a person who is lost in her thoughts and searching for the answers.

Debra Disman, Chromatic Interactions: The Golden Thread, 2020. File cards, pencils, crayons, thread. Installation. 76 x 90 inches. Photo by Debra Disman. Courtesy of the artist.
Debra Disman, Chromatic Interactions: The Golden Thread, 2020. File cards, pencils, crayons, thread. Installation. 76 x 90 inches. Photo by Debra Disman. Courtesy of the artist.

I was commissioned to create an interactive book for Craft Contemporary’s 2017 exhibition, Chapters: Book Arts in Southern California, which opened shortly after the 2016 presidential election. Visitors could choose file cards in an array of colors, draw and write on them, and insert them into the pocketed pages of the book. A range of feelings, responses, and concerns were expressed through the cards, which the Museum Staff saved and gave to me at the end of the show. I stitched them together grouped loosely by theme, to express the network of empathy they depicted, held together by golden thread.

Luciana Abait, Untitled, from the Formations Series. 2020. Mixed media on a wooden panel. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist.
Luciana Abait, Untitled, from the Formations Series. 2020. Mixed media on a wooden panel. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist.

Formations Series explores the architectural and sculptural creations that occur in nature while reminding us of the fragility and beauty of our environment. The pieces created present extremely subtle images, poetic and minimalistic in nature. They inspire the viewer to take positive actions and engage in deep reflection through the contemplation of them. I believe artists can be considered “second responders” because while the population’s bodies are healed by health professionals during this pandemic, their minds and souls need healing and nurturing as well. Art can definitely accomplish this mission. This new series that I am developing, with its contemplative nature, brings a moment of respite and calm to the chaos and uncertainty that we are immersed in.

Sheila Karbassian, Love is Universal, 2019. Paper collage and powdered pigment. Courtesy of the artist.
Sheila Karbassian, Love is Universal, 2019. Paper collage and powdered pigment. Courtesy of the artist.

Empathy is Love in action. It’s a spiritual connection to another.

Daniela Schweitzer, Blooming. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Daniela Schweitzer, Blooming, 2019. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Healing in these difficult times is important. To help our loved ones and those around us it is important to turn inward and learn how our own internal emotions and vulnerability affect us during these unprecedented times. Only with that awareness can we cultivate compassion and empathy for what others are feeling and going through. My three paintings show some examples of these emotions I have been experiencing and how empathy, compassion, connection, and closeness with our loved ones and familiar networks in our lives can cultivate seeing a better future ahead. A blooming, a rebirth, and hope, help us imagine a more optimistic future.

Joan Wulf, Echoes (California Redwood), 2020. Handmade charcoal on canvas. Photo by Gene Ogami. Courtesy of the artist.
Joan Wulf, Echoes (California Redwood), 2020. Handmade charcoal on canvas. Photo by Gene Ogami. Courtesy of the artist.

Nature is brimming with networks of empathy. There is no human invention to be done. No new ideas, no moments of innovation or creativity. Nature provides us with all the teachers, all the information. All we need to do is open our eyes.

The very production of Wulf’s “Echoes” creates a physical connection with the natural world, forcing the artist (and by extension the viewer) to step back and truly observe. Wulf does very little to manipulate the marks—armed with charcoal and canvas, she invites the trees to tell their own tale. 

The tale they tell is one of empathy and community. Patterns reflect and refract from tree to tree, communicating age, climate, years of feast and famine. The trees speak to one another, and, if we listen close enough, they will speak to us as well. “Echoes” begins this hum.

Loren Harris-Heller, When will I hold you again…, 2020. Acrylic on Canvas. 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Loren Harris-Heller, When will I hold you again…, 2020. Acrylic on Canvas. 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

My painting of a mother and child is representative of mothers who impart to their children empathy, compassion and sympathy: the emotions that make us human. 

My painting: “When will I hold you again… “ began the day my daughter left California…. a planned separation, but knowing that the return date was exactly one year. 

What about those less fortunate? Young children who are forced into traumatic separation from their parents and faced with the unknown, a different culture, expectations, language. The possibility of not knowing if they will ever see each other again.

Nung-Hsin Hu and Yuhan Su, The Imperfections Are Nothing, 2020. Single-channel video. 04:04. Courtesy of the artist. Video link and more info: https://vimeo.com/431997879
Nung-Hsin Hu and Yuhan Su, The Imperfections Are Nothing, 2020. Single-channel video. 04:04. Courtesy of the artist.
Video link and more info:
https://vimeo.com/431997879

“The Imperfections Are Nothing” is an international collaborative project by visual artist Nung-Hsin Hu and Jazz vibraphonist/composer Yuhan Su, along with other musicians from China and Germany, exploring the possibility of combining poetry, improvised music, and visual arts during the pandemic era.

The project uses unsettling rhythmic and harmonic ideas to create a musical flow of an ongoing journey. Inspired by a poem written by American Poet Mary Oliver from her book House of Light, this project reflects during the pandemic when artists are facing the challenge of a new normal and uncertainty whilst trying new ways of communicating with others through their works.

Susie McKay Krieser, Hugging, 2020. Diptych, mixed media, paper, ink and acrylic paint on canvas. 36 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Susie McKay Krieser, Hugging, 2020. Diptych, mixed media, paper, ink and acrylic paint on canvas. 36 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

This work is a collage of articles from magazines, based upon current culture in these tumultuous times. I painted on top of the collage, figures of a mother and her son, wearing face masks and each giving him and herself a hug. The verbiage speaks to racism, black lives matter, COVID, staying healthy and safe, coping, and trying to recover in every way.

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Related events:

Lionel Popkin, Six Positions on Uncertainty, 2020. Video still. Courtesy of the artist.

(Inter)Facing Darkness: a facilitated dialogue

November 12, 2020 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

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