Wylie: ‘I am here’ tribute to immigrant experience
Travellers flying in and out of the Kelowna International Airport over the next several months are surely bound to notice the large-scale work installed on the Kelowna Art Gallery’s art wall in the well-wishing area in the departures end of the airport.
Titled Piecework, this new work of art is five feet tall and 30 feet long, and was created with fabric cut from used clothing in various shades and patterns of red.
The artist is Renay Egami, who has lived and worked in the Okanagan since 2003 and is an assistant professor in creative studies at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.
Egami devised the phrase “I am here,” which is formed by red fabric letters and repeated to create the overall form of the work, to encapsulate the immigrant experience.
The piecework done at home and for low wages by immigrant women to North America is made reference to in the work’s title, and reinforced by the repeated letterforms, all of which have had their edges sewn up by the artist.
Despite the undertones and allusions to the trauma and rupture of leaving one’s home country to settle in a foreign one, and the economic hardship often associated with such circumstances, the overall mode of Piecework is one of happiness. In a certain way this makes sense, as after all, it was the feeling of hope that inspired immigrants to settle this continent and to struggle to better themselves after they arrived.
Egami has worked with various materials in the past, but this is her first work using fabric as her medium. She selected the colour red initially because of its association with the red circle on the flag of Japan, but also for its general high impact. Even behind the glass of the art wall, the colour has a strong energy and presence in the well-wishing area.
Egami researches widely before narrowing down the scope and look of her pieces. She usually works in the area of contemporary art known as installation art, that is pieces or projects, often in a large scale, that are designed specifically for a certain place and time.
She was given a solo show at the Kelowna Art Gallery in the summer of 2007, entitled Picnic, that made reference to people who take picnics to the park in Japan that commemorates the Hiroshima bombing of 1945.
In the gallery’s Rotary Courtyard space Egami had an array of glass vessels that she had melted in a kiln into misshapen forms, resting on a mirrored platform. In the Reynolds Gallery was a mushroom cloud made up of hundreds of lengths of thin, metallic chains.
Working expressively with visual metaphor, Egami has a knack for making art that alludes to various levels of meaning. So visitors to the airport might pass by Piecework and simply see some bright red letterforms that spell out “I am here,” and think nothing about it, considering the work to be a pleasant, decorative addition to the space. Or they might begin to imagine the amount of tedious labour involved to cut out and sew up the edges of each letter (they are actually each four layers thick) and then in turn sew them all together to make the overall piece. Created in homage to the strength and effort of immigrant women, the work is truly redolent with emotion that one can tap into after only a brief pause to think about the meaning of Egami’s work of art.
Piecework will be on display at the Kelowna International Airport until Nov. 14. Each of the works in this space is a six-month long temporary commission by the Kelowna Art Gallery of new art by an Okanagan-based artist.
Liz Wylie is the curator at the Kelowna Art Gallery.