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 Sep 6 - 12, 2018 
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Arts Interview

Stitch in Print

Kemely Gomez’ work shares authentic narratives of migration

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Gomez embroiders the stories of migrants over newspaper headlines
Gomez embroiders the stories of migrants over newspaper headlines
Kemely Gomez
Every story has nuance. Yet, often times, as we try to stay tuned in to the world and access complicated stories through the media, we lose some of the richness, or forget that at the core what we are discussing are human lives with all the associated complexity. The work of Kemely Gomez aims to provide an antidote to the journalism that often paints these stories with broad strokes and too little of the depth—sorrow and joy—that colors the real narratives of our experiences. In particular, Gomez hones in on the stories of migrants, whose stories are often presented in the media, but not often told by those who have lived the experience.

“I think that the media often generalizes the stories of immigrant families,” Gomez explained. “It is about attitudes, and creating a sense of what is and what is not important. When we watch or read the news … we can become disconnected from the real situation. We like to think that we are informed … but the reality is that media frames the debate and the questions members of the media ask shape the outcomes of the discussion.”

In Gomez' upcoming exhibition at the Harwood Art Center (1114 Seventh Street NW) Aún no Escrito (Unwritten), she tackles the construction of the prevailing narratives surrounding immigration and gives them breadth, upends them or simply adds to them by embroidering real stories of migrants on top of those written and distributed in print media. Here, she overlays the stories in contrasting colors, bringing metaphorical and literal depth to the topic.

Gomez grew up in Guatemala in a very creative family. Throughout high school she took art classes, coming into her artistic ability. When she graduated she was still “not convinced about the idea of being an artist,” but was accepted into the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, where it became clear to her “that this is what I was meant to do.” Art became an avenue to explore all sorts of ideas and experiences for Gomez and in her second year of study in Santa Fe she began to find the complexities of migration a compelling point of departure for her creative practice. “Dealing with my own immigration status, I've always struggled to find the right way to discuss this issue. Each time I touch upon that topic it’s always very sensitive and emotional to me. While trying to find my voice through my artwork I discovered art as a medium to share my experience. It made it comfortable for me to share my story. After that point, I began to explore themes of memory, absence and displacement.”

Gomez embroiders the stories of migrants over newspaper headlines
Gomez embroiders the stories of migrants over newspaper headlines
Kemely Gomez

Over the course of several months, Gomez hand embroidered the pieces that will be unveiled during the opening of Aún no Escrito on Friday, Sept. 7 at 6pm, but collecting these stories was a years-long process, born of deep friendship. “Something has always been clear for me—I wanted to build a strong and close relationship with these individuals … [and] I do consider all the individuals that were a part of this project friends,” she explained. “ I asked each of the participants to share their story without restraint; I gave them a few questions to give them a starting point. I wanted them to know that their story was safe with me but needed to be heard.”

And by sharing these stories, participants allow those who see the work to access stories in their fullness, as told by those who have lived the experience. “We begin to relate to others and it becomes easy to comprehend the situation. We can’t know others' situation while relying on a third party’s recollection of the stories,” Gomez said.

Over the course of the opening visitors are invited not just to observe Gomez' work in Aún no Escrito but to participate in the creation of another piece, “Home.” For this installation, ideas of what home means are to be written by anyone who has something to share. These will later be transferred to fabric and affixed to the wall structure. “Regardless of where we go or we stay there is always a place that we call home,” Gomez explained of the inspiration for the piece. By sharing our own personal meanings of place, and accessing the words of others, we can all “gain some understanding of the importance of sharing stories and relating to others' experiences,” Gomez said. And through art, she holds, there is a unique power to “unite diverse cultures and allow communities to transcend boundaries.”

Catch Gomez' work at the Harwood through the month of September.

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