After coming to the U.S. to earn her master of fine arts degree, Xiaohong Zhang was offered a teaching position at UW-Whitewater in 2002. Originally from Hubei, China, Zhang decided to stay and pursue her American Dream.
“To me, ‘American Dream’ means life, liberty, opportunity and equality,” said Zhang, now a professor of art and design at UW-Whitewater.
In the past 20 years, has she found that dream?
“Sort of,” she replied in a recent interview from the Fort Atkinson home she shares with her two children and her husband, a professor of information technology at UW-Whitewater.
“Because I feel I have freedom to create artwork here,” she said.
“Meanwhile, as we know from the current situation in the United States, we are still fighting for human rights,” she continued. “We are still fighting for Asian American rights. We want to reduce hate, we want to reduce crime (against) Asian Americans. So I will continue to fight for my rights, and to pursue the American Dream.”
That pursuit is among the themes in Zhang’s artwork “China & US,” one of the works in the upcoming exhibition “Artists without Borders: Reflections on Art and Place” at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.
For the exhibition, the museum asked nine Wisconsin artists to explore themes of immigration, identity and belonging. Seven of the nine were born abroad and spent their formative years in another country. The other two were born in the Midwest but maintain close ties to their cultural roots.
“What it means to be American has been forced into the front of our consciousness in the past couple of years,” said Tyler Friedman, director of collections, education and research at MOWA.
The question raises “complicated questions, complicated issues,” he said. “This exhibition doesn’t attempt to solve any of these difficult, entrenched issues, but is meant to contribute to the dialogue.”
Another of the works featured in “Artists Without Borders” has a very personal backstory. The gold-plated “The Barber’s Chair” by Faisal Abdu’Allah, the new Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art at UW-Madison, harks back to his boyhood days growing up in London the son of Jamaican immigrants.