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Artists discuss being part of ‘Two Different Worlds’

A woman speaking at a microphone and podium with audience members looking toward her.
Maddison Behringer / THE GATEPOST

By Jack McLaughlin

Arts & Features Editor

Artists Jasmine Chen, Saberah Malik, and Stephen Marc were invited to a discussion titled “Creating Two Worlds: Contemporary Artistic Diasporas” hosted in the Alumni Room and over Zoom April 10. 

The event was sponsored by Arts & Ideas as part of their series titled “Courage + Resilience.” This discussion was also made possible in conjunction with the Division of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, along with the Danforth’s Paul B. Rosenberg Fund for Museum Education. 

Katherine Tako-Girard, staff assistant of the Danforth Art Museum, began the discussion by introducing the panel, which was moderated by English Professor Sandy Hartwiger. 

Saberah Malik was the first to be introduced. Based in Rhode Island, her artwork has been featured in exhibitions across the U.S., and she is currently one of six artists in the Danforth’s exhibit “Harvest, Foraged, Found.”

Jasmine Chen was introduced next. She had spent her childhood moving between China and America, and her artwork was described by Tako-Girard as reflecting “the struggle to make sense of place and identity by making connections across time, societies, and places.”

Stephen Marc was introduced last. He is a documentary street photographer and digital montage artist, who has also published several books of his photos. In 2021, he was the recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in the field of photography. 

Malik spoke first, and began with her admiration of universities. 

“I love the idea of higher learning, curiosity, the excitement of possibilities,” she said. “I love being here, with or without my backpack.”

Malik then directed the audience toward the presentation, where she wanted to show them “the colors of where I come from,” she said. 

The presentation featured bright patterns, with a geometric and floral infusion that identified with it being a part of her. 

She went on to describe her creations as “inherently delicate, yet very sturdy luminous sculptures,” and said that “it is a very meditative rhythm.”

Next, she showed an art piece made of a series of empty bottles. She described the importance of the bottles, and how they represent how she accesses memories. 

“I also bottle up memories of my progression through life - what is it that I can hold through these symbolic memories?” she asked. 

After this, she showed audiences how she incorporates stones into her art pieces. She talked about how stones “are a witness of evolution,” and said she changes the textures of the stones to recreate “the thoughts that I see around me.”

Malik then showed a piece that she created during the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece consisted of transparent, colorless apples. She said, “Color made no sense for a lot of people at that time - including myself.”

She said her artwork consists of a lot of what she witnesses in nature, and shows the importance of “the hierarchy of living things.

“It’s not just an inanimate object like a bottle or a stone - it’s very much about the living, breathing things around us. And it’s also about things that change,” Malik said. 

Chen spoke next. She talked about how artwork is her second career, and said that she went to school for applied math and economics. Her talk was focused on her journey on becoming an artist, while her artwork was displayed in a slideshow behind her. 

She said she first came to Massachusetts in 1990, determined to be a good student with a focus on math and science, and was not initially interested in taking an art class. 

“I wanted to be serious and be self-reliant and have a career,” Chen said. 

Her work paid off, and she attended Harvard University where after graduation she worked in asset management at 30 Rock in New York City, she said.

She lost her job as a result of the financial crisis of 2008, and described her situation at this time as “the artist life.

“You don’t get paid much, but you get to sustain your life,” she said. 

It was when she began writing her dissertation on the Chinese stock market that she grew depressed and as a response began to paint, she said. 

“I started doing a self portrait. It took me nine hours the first day,” Chen said. 

After her success, she began making paintings of nature, and said each time “I would be so surprised that I pulled it off.” 

Chen became interested in portraits, and said her childhood experience of being exposed to portraiture a lot is what drew her toward it. She specifically cited a portrait her father drew of her as a direct source of inspiration.

“I don’t know if that’s where that comes from, because I don’t think that portrait is around, but I remember every detail,” she said. 

After this, Marc spoke next. When speaking on his work in photography, he said his experiences “are far more important than the photographs.

“I am very fortunate that I have photographs that I can share as a byproduct of an experience,” he said. 

When producing work for Arizona State University and Columbia College in Chicago, he wasn’t given any instruction on what the subject was, which gave him the chance to follow ideas he was passionate about. 

“The work takes different forms depending on the different kinds of things that I’m investigating,”Marc said. 

Next, he showed two pieces that he worked on for Chicago’s Red Line station on 79th Street. For both of these pieces, he said that he presented the work in hopes he would get them commissioned. 

“I present the work to try to get the commissions - explain to them what I want to do and then I go into the community to create the work,” he said.

When making pieces for communities, Marc said he hopes that the residents where his work resides don’t see him, but the group he is creating it for. 

“My goal is if I do a project for a community, I want it to get to a point where they don’t see me anymore - they see the piece as theirs,” he said. 

Marc spoke on how he paces his projects, and when he feels as though they are ready to be finished. 

“When it comes time to stop a project, it’s not like I have a definitive stop. I just find that my project has been going for a while,” he said.

“What’s really important as an artist is to figure out what your normal pace is when pursuing work,” he added.

The event concluded with a conversation with moderator Sandy Hartwiger to give the artists the chance to dive deeper with their works. 

The artists were asked how the event’s title connects to themselves individually and through their work. 

Marc answered this by explaining that the “two worlds” idea of the event reminded him of hearing stories of living in segregation through his family and having his childhood split between being in Champagne, Illinois and Chicago. 

Chen said that it’s very easy for her to see that she belongs to two different worlds after immigrating to America from China. 

“Everybody belongs to multiple worlds,” she said. 

Malik said they don’t think about the idea of being in two worlds, and rather sees her experiences as being in the moment.

“It’s just who I become and who I am and it just flows,” Malik said. 


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