Art and Design
Highlighting the work of six Atlanta-based artists, a new exhibition at the High Museum of Art features two recent graduates of the Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design, Jessica Caldas (M.F.A. ’19) and Wihro Kim (B.F.A. ’16).
The exhibition, titled “Of Origins and Belonging, Drawn from Atlanta,” focuses on issues related to place, identity, belonging and heritage.
Michael Rooks, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the High Museum, selected Caldas, Kim and the others for how their “distinct voices, diverse perspectives and personal experiences represent worldviews informed and enriched by their cultural heritage.” The third installment of a series of exhibitions at the High that curate and collect work by Atlanta-based artists, “Of Origins and Belonging, Drawn from Atlanta” allowed Caldas and Kim to cover entire walls of the museum in layered installations.
With work often driven by narrative and drawn with evocative colors, Caldas portrays United States–Puerto Rican citizen relationships, depicts the meeting of her Puerto Rican grandparents in New York City and represents her own multifaceted identity through the exploration of dual heritage.
Kim installed panels of paintings and drawings of abstracted and interwoven interior spaces and landscapes. His work has arguably become more abstract to represent how humans wrestle with time, perception, memory and — especially in this show — identity.
We interviewed alumni Caldas and Kim to talk about their work what it meant to participate in this show at the High.
You both created work specific to the show. What was the inspiration?
Kim: What inspires most of my work is questioning of the surface of the world. I wanted to create an image that could be questioned, where interpretation is tentative and shifting.
How did the conversation with Rooks (curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the High Museum) begin?
Caldas: Rooks was very interested in the struggle and trauma that’s part of the immigrant experience. We talked about how complicated that experience is for Puerto Ricans, who are technically American citizens but face a sort of second-class citizenship without full rights or representation.
The idea for this exhibition was sparked by national debate and dialogue about immigration reform. The show focuses on identity and celebrates the diversity that distinct perspectives in Atlanta have to offer our shared, urban culture. Do artists have a calling or obligation to share their perspectives?
Kim: It’s difficult to be conclusive about something as shifting and unknown as my own identity, let alone the identities of others. In my work, I simply try to portray inquiries that feel sincere to me and might move me toward empowerment. It is my hope that doing so will lead to a more sincere and nuanced understanding of who I am and who my people are — whoever they may be.
Are different pieces in the show in dialogue with each other?
Caldas: Definitely. For a lot of the artists, conversations about liminal identity seem to be crucial — meaning, the idea of being here and somewhere else at the same time without ever being all hereor all there. This is a common experience for immigrants or migrants — especially for the first and second generations who are often raised in more than one culture and who end up with a mixture of all sorts of cultural influences on their lives. Personally, I have always taken an intense pride in being Puerto Rican while feeling very distant from it.
Kim: There is always dialogue between works that share space. This show showcases a range of approaches to dealing with identity, from didactic statements to more emotional, spiritual and psychological inquiries. Each approach sheds light on the rest.
What does this exhibition do well?
Caldas: I love how different the styles are. There are traditional approaches to drawing, such as graphite or charcoal, while others use more abstract styles that question what drawing is.
Kim: It’s fostering a sense of community among Atlanta artists and making us — both the artists in the show and those who identify with us — feel that people want to hear our voices.
What has set this experience apart from other exhibitions or opportunities?
Caldas: It’s the High Museum, so it feels like a big deal. The number of people who will see the work will far outnumbers anything else I have ever done.
How has your work changed since graduating from Georgia State?
Caldas:I tend to trust myself more — even when I’m anxious about my work.
Kim: My decision-making is becoming far more liberated. I love the structure of classes and students learning from teachers, but I thrive in a different way when I am self-directed.
The exhibition, “Of Origins and Belonging, Drawn from Atlanta,” features six Atlanta artists who address issues related to place, belonging and heritage in their work: Caldas and Kim alongside Yehimi Cambrón, Xie Caomin, Dianna Settles and Cosmo Whyte. The exhibition will be on view at the High Museum of Art (1280 Peachtree St. NE) through Sept. 29. For more information, visit high.org/of-origins-and-belonging.