A herd of 10,000 glass buffalo charge down a table in one gallery, painting by a Cuban artist who came to the U.S. in the 1980. Mariel boatlift are on the walls of another space and video of boatbuilders constructing a vessel to ferry people to a nearby island plays in a third gallery of the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Together, the three works by two artists and a collective, make up “Unquiet Harmony: The Subject of Displacement,” a timely exhibition exploring artists' responses to immigration across borders and displacement, both physical and economic within a single country.

The latter comes from multi-media artist Tiffany Chung, who, in her installation titled “Tomorrow Isn’t Here,” uses four charts, 15 works on paper, two videos and the aforementioned bison to examine the Dust Bowl and collapse of agriculture on the Great Plains in the 1930s.

The bison, arranged by the dozens on the curved table, with one white buffalo in the middle of the herd, literally represent the real animals, who were decimated in the 1800s by, as the title of the piece indicates, .50-caliber rifles. Their near extinction, Chung implies, was the first degradation of the Great Plains that peaked in the Dust Bowl.

And in her series of works on paper, Chung juxtaposes engravings of 19th century European farm equipment commonly used on the plains with graphic representations of the silicon molecule, this time arguing that the equipment destroyed the soil, creating the sand that led to the dust storms and agricultural collapse of the 1930s.

The human results of the collapse and displacement are seen in her videos -- ”the great simplicity,” which finds two men stomping around an abandoned amphitheater, looking for a new place to land; and “thousands of years before & after,” which depicts a group of white-clad farmers wandering through rock-strewn, glassy hills, again looking for a place to start over.

The video “Kwassa Kwassa” from the Danish artist collective SUPERFLEX is explicitly about immigration, economics and global displacement.

Shot, in part, by a drone, the 19-minute video from 2015 looks at a group of boatbuilders working on the “unstable vessel” of its title that take migrants from Anjouan, an island in the Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean to Mayotte, an island 50 miles away.

Mayotte remains a “department” of France, setting itself apart politically and economically from the other Comoros islands, luring those who want to have a better life there. That, of course, echoes migrants journeys around the globe, including many of those seeking to enter the United States from Mexico.

Cuban Carlos Alfonso made it into the U.S. as part of the Mariel boatlift, settling in Miami where he created brightly colored, symbol filled paintings for about a decade before he died from AIDS in 1991.

Four of those pieces are in the show -- “Shift” from 1987, a piece covered with spirals, arrows, daggers amidst floral greens and dark slashes and an untitled 1989 work on paper that uses much of the same imagery to represent the transition from Cuba to Florida.

That move is explored more deeply in “God (turned) Backwards” from 1987, which finds a pair of hands shooting out flames and daggers framing a spiral in the middle of the activated canvas with drips and slashes colliding across the work.

The fourth piece is the autobiographic “Still Life with AIDS Victim,” from 1990. Created a few months before Alfonso’s death, the painting finds an abstracted figure on a hospital bed, legs in the air with another figure looming nearby. Surrounded by a large ochre field, the image, when given its context, is haunting.

Together, “Unquiet Harmony,” Sheldon’s major fall exhibition, more than accomplishes its goal of looking at the thorny issues of immigration and displacement through art that can be tied to the theme, but stands as strong, provocative work on its own.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.


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