Dual Identities: Installation

The first iteration of this body of work was included in the Gallo Pinto show at the Amalie Rothschild gallery at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore.  The show was curated by Maria Aldana as part of the five year celebration of her Art of Solidarity artist exchange program run in partnership with Maryland Institute College of Art.  My participation in the AOS program was a formative experience for my community work and one of many inspirations for starting this project. 

Excerpts from interviews were paired with imagery, based on common themes between photo and text.  Both were printed on transparencies and hung on plexiglass as a visual metaphor for what is seen and unseen, the varied internal and external layers of the immigrant experience, and to demonstrate the relationship between the individuals represented and their place as residents of Baltimore (visible outside).

Images of installation courtesy of Maria Aldana.  

View individual images and excerpts of text below:

In our culture, we’re not open about sharing our pains… especially men. You don’t want to tell them (family) that you’re going through challenges and difficult times, because it’s going to hurt them more, which is going to hurt you more, especially for your friends and family.   So, you hide all those things from them. You never tell them all those challenges you face.  The first thing they’ll tell you is, “Come back home.  We’ll live poor and we don’t want you to suffer in pain”.


Once you’re shaped, you’re just going to break.  Like a piece of plastic or wood or clay, it may get scratched or chipped, but it’s shape remains the same.  The only way to change it is to break it.  Just like me – the way I’ve been raised, those principles - will always be with me.

Today (on the phone), my father asked me what parts of my culture I’ll pass on to my children.  He told me I’ve already broken the traditions of my family by not respecting my elders and leaving them to come here.  Years of anger built in his heart, and today, it came through sharper than any bullet or knife.  It destroyed me.


My son asks me “mommy, why can’t we put a lot of gas in the car?  Let’s go see my grandparents, let’s go… I want to see (them).  It really breaks my heart when he says this because how can I explain to my children that their parents can’t travel and that they won’t be able to return?


I always tell people I’m from Mali, West Africa.  Even if I get an American passport, I well never be an American; that’s not who I am, that’s not where I was born. 

*       *       *       *       * 

I don’t believe that I am treated equally, because if you think about it, I came to this country when I was 11 years old.  So, I consider myself as American, because I don’t know anything about Mali…I grew up here, this is my country.

(*quotes from the same person, over the course of one interview)


I remember thinking that I didn’t want “half” children – I already feel half something….I remember one of the best compliments that I ever got, that just made me cry:  I had never heard of this idea before…which is this idea of being 100% something, and 100% something else.  It was this revolutionary thought process of identity, that you’re not missing anything.  You are living two worlds, at the same time, all the time. At least two worlds.


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