Immigration Through a Creative Lens

Esteemed artists, scholars & cultural figures come together to share their immigration stories.

Sunday evening, Terasaki Exhibitions hosted a spirited panel discussion inspired by Taiji Terasaki’s installation Generations of Immigrants in partnership with Hawaii Theatre Center. Moderated by Isabella E. Hughes, panelists Konrad Ng, Reem Bassous, Daniel Sheinfeld, Nanci Amaka, and Ara Feducia jumped into the discussion feet first, sharing their thoughts on their personal immigration stories, what it means to be both an artist and an immigrant in the creative community, and the potential impact of the current political climate on the creative future of America.

Developing quickly and organically, a common thread ran strong throughout the evenings’ discussion. In their own way, each panelist expressed the belief that art and creativity can and should act as a bridge—connecting individuals from opposing sides of political, cultural, and ideological aisles. Konrad Ng, the executive director of Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design shared this sentiment when he stated, “that is our work…[today], there is kind of an operating lack of empathy. We seem to be operating in a lack of factuality, so [we need] to engage in projects in which we try to strive for some common understanding…we have to be able to try to make some room in the middle. To be able to reach across to somebody [with] creativity as the bridge…I think it requires our best effort at this time.”

Creative Panel

Creative Panel

Nanci Amaka, a conceptual artist who works specifically with refugees and stateless individuals in the realms of memory, trauma, and identity, gave rise to applause when she called upon the audience to take action in their own communities. “There is a reason why people move here, there is a reason why people leave their whole lives, there is a reason why people give up everything, give up their families and come here…there really is a set up here. The US constitution is valid, there are checks and balances in place. The tools really are here and it is up to the citizens to actually go out and clean their streets…it is up to you to own it and take it,” Nanci stated. She continued, “people are sort of in this place where they feel like ‘this is the world I want and it should be this way’ instead of ‘this is the world I want, it’s up to me to make it happen’.”

Taiji Terasaki also shared his own immigration story, that of his grandfather’s voyage on the S.S. Siberia from Japan to Hawaii, and his thoughts on the current political climate and the US government’s view on immigration. 

The discussion closed on a high note with the panelists sharing their hopes for the future. Reem Bassous, an artist and educator from Lebanon shared her hope that, “future refugees [will] not feel like refugees, like they are imposing.” Reem continued, “they are not always refugees by choice and I think we should always remember that.”

Konrad added, “[I hope] that we at least opened up a conversation where you believed again, or deepened your strength in your own artwork and its ability to shape the world around you. I mean, that’s what we need...I’m hopeful, because this happened.”

To view a live stream of the panel discussion from 9/2, please visit our Facebook Page.

Hawaii Theatre Center has graciously donated all proceeds from the event to Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center. Terasaki Exhibitions will match Hawaii Theatre Center's donation.