naaf exhibitions open aug. 7

Oria Simonini

BENSON – BFF Omaha and Lutheran Family Services will present the New American Arts Festival Friday, Aug. 7, in beautiful downtown Benson. In conjunction with the festival, the little gallery will host the work of Oria Simonini and student work facilitated by Mike Giron.

Oria Simonini
Simonini creates small-scale paintings and drawings that depict migrants and refugees. Her work focuses on the human experience of immigration – a highly politicized and polarizing topic. Simonini works from web and news-sourced imagery, sometimes cropping or combining images. “It’s important for me to be true to the sources, that it was a real moment in someone’s life,” she said.

In her work from the series Water’s Edge, the ocean side serves as a stage where two sides of society meet. The beach can be either the end or the beginning of the migrant journey. But the beach also evokes pleasure; a day of leisure spent at the beach, the escape of a vacation. “My focus here is to question who gets to take pleasure on the beach and who doesn’t,” Simonini said. “Instead of highlighting the differences between these groups of people, I use formal qualities to blend them together and to create a false sense of harmony.”

Student Work
Millard South High students from east Africa, Mexico, the Middle East and Viet Nam were asked to reflect on the homes they left behind and the difficulties they face as teenage immigrants. With the help of Omaha artist Mike Giron, their individual thoughts were summed up into paper-cut shapes and designs, which were then arranged into two compositional stencils as a layered screenprint.

Two of the three originally planned layers were produced. The third, contemplating their hopes for the future, was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. By switching combinations of paper and ink colors and transparency levels of ink, at least this part of their collective story is told. Some students miss family and friends, familiar foods and music and customs, the ubiquity of their language, their country, their childhood homes, even profoundly elegant objects such as a personal chair. Most seem to have heartbreak in common when thinking of home.  In the mean time, they struggle with being English language learners, schooling, cultural misunderstandings, the American diet and distressing news from home.

“This project follows the structure of screenprinting workshops I do with various groups in which we all contribute to one design, print in workshops and everyone takes home a print,” Giron said. “Unfortunately, the closure of schools did not allow us to take all those steps together. I was able to reassemble and reproduce our compositions and print the suite of prints in this exhibition. Each is technically a monotype, since no color combinations are identical. The shifting color schemes indicate how experiences are both shared and individual.”

This NAAF exhibition runs through Aug. 29.

The little gallery, located at 5901 Maple Street in downtown Benson, is powered by Polecat Communications – we turned 5 in June! Our new hours are Thursday and Friday from 1:00 to 5:00pm, Saturday from 10:00am to 1:00pm and by appointment (402.681.1901). You can always text the appointment number to make sure we’re in before you head our way. Don’t let local art galleries be a victim of COVID-19: support them and the artists who create work for them.

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