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Cultural Focus Group

November 17 – December 15, 2019

Curated by Ipek Kosova

Opening: Sunday, November 17, 4-6 PM

Artists: Sanie Bokhari, Maia Chao, Rehan Miskci, Ilya Popenko and Ipek Kosova

Cultural Focus Group is a group exhibition presenting works by artists from four different countries - USA, Russia, Pakistan and Turkey: Maia Chao, Ilya Popenko, Rehan Miskci, Sanie Bokhari, and Ipek Kosova. Most of them are countries in flux - undergoing political, social, cultural and economic transformations. These processes produce fragmentation, but in a more positive sense - there is potential to be re-formed, analyzed and re-defined. The artists in the show collect and assemble notions of history, culture, identity and politics to produce alternative spaces to dream, to perform, to rethink – offering their personal entry points to a complex past and present.

Maia Chao (Providence, 1991) is interested in our current obsession with social boundaries. Creating social connection and empathy, she uses play and absurdity as subversive and emancipatory tools for collective re-imagining. In the work Ego Mass, she provides compensation to the visitors to momentarily dissolve the boundary between self and other, combining the participants’ faces into one identity that is neither self nor another. The temporary result is an uncanny whole, a distinct being often marked by eruptions of laughter.

In his photograph Vlad and John, Russian-American artist Ilya Popenko (Moscow,1980) shows John Lennon and Vladimir Lenin musing alongside the romantic waterfront of Gowanus canal. Using custom made latex masks to produce an archetype of an idea, he turns the identity of the real person into the brand of a revolutionary. Played by female models in casual dresses, the ideal setting is further broken by a wire fence, reminiscent of cold-war polemics. Marrying the cultural ‘68 revolution of love & peace in the US and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia, he explains how history, in an identity-obsessed world, is steadily commodified into silhouettes of meaning, representing our desire rather than truth.

Given her background as an Armenian raised in Istanbul, Rehan Miskci (Istanbul,1986) has always been familiar with historical conflict, displacement and the erosion of cultural identity, and examines how photographic images can be recontextualized through juxtaposition of personal and collective memory. Her work Places You Haven’t Been uses as a source a photograph of her parents taken in 1959 by Maryam Sahinyan, the first woman photographer in Turkey of Armenian roots. Dividing the photograph into a three part tableau with an empty middle covered by a Persian rug, she turns the question of the void, or a new beginning, to herself and the viewer.

Similarly, Sanie Bokhari’s (Lahore, 1991) work uses her personal history as a starting point to interweave her childhood history on the Indian Subcontinent with entrenched colonialism and endogenous systems of repression into new images of departure. Framed by her perspective of queerness and femininity, she positions her narrative against the backdrop of a highly conservative society with restricted permissible discourse. In the installation The Arranged Marriage Luncheon she places a self-portrait as a traditional Pakistani bride at the center of a celebration table and imagines herself in the role of the head of the table, longing for regaining power, influence, and freedom of speech. Through the penetrating gaze of the two surrounding male figures an uncomfortable awareness arises and her body looks propped-up for a show. The nightmare is interrupted by humorous ends such as the tablecloth, physically falling out of the print into our space and reality.

With a background in glass art, architecture and architectural history, Ipek Kosova (Izmit, 1988) is an interdisciplinary artist who explores physical versus emotional borders. Threshold and dichotomies between the material and immaterial, invisible and visible, ephemeral and permanent stand at the core. In her video Peel, the artist pours and peels the latex paint off from her studio floor. The “dead skin” underneath reveals new paint, a metaphor for hidden traces, tensions and histories within one place. Within her socio-political context, the process of tearing off the layers of paint, symbolically initiates an active process of healing.

Cultural Focus Group invites viewers to experience and empathize with complex historical narratives that have been transformed into personal experiences by the artists. Since artists from different cultures are on display, the oftentimes derivative and critiqued practice of a focus group, due to its observer bias, becomes evident and satirical. In the current global cultural and political turmoil, Cultural Focus Group offers artistic production as a tool for awakening society to embrace diverse conflicts, trauma, tensions without falling into the trap of othering - to find common ground, interconnection, and move together into brighter futures.

The opening reception will include a dj-set by “exitpink”.”exitpink” is a personal sound and music project delivering repetitive industrial sounds, an avant-garde approach and chaos.

On December 14 at 4pm there will be a walkthrough through the exhibition with the curator Ipek Kosova, Kunstraum Curator-in-Residence Nina Mdivani and several artists of the show.

Image: Ilya Popenko, Vlad and John by the Gowanus Canal, Digital C Print , 20 x 30 in.

Address: Kunstraum LLC, 20 Grand Ave, Space 509, Brooklyn, NY 11205

Hrs: Thu - Sat 12-6 PM by appointment only – please contact us first!

Contact: Nadja Marcin, 646.924.9656,

Social Media:, Instagram @kunstraumllc, #Kunstraumllc

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