In the current political climate, the art movement deconstructing race, diaspora, and racial micro-aggression have taken on a new meaning and form. Homegrown connected with the founders of the Brooklyn-based art collective, Orientation (inspired by Edward Said’s paper Orientalism) on their thoughts. Orientation is comprised of three people; Natasha Sumant, April Son and Saad Rahaman. The collective focuses on work that depict the struggles of their individual diasporas, using incredible images to showcase the effects of post-colonialism and the post 9/11 era on issues as diverse as race, standards of beauty in Korea and India, and racial profiling.
When asked about how Orientation came about, co-founder Natasha Sumant said “2015 was a particularly hard year for me, I just ran out of my student visa and had gotten rejected from the normal work visa, and just felt so discriminated against. I went to lawyers and just saw that there were so many different policies depending on which country you came from. Something I saw in particular was how the US govt treated people of specific ethnicities different from people from white countries. That coupled with everyday racial microaggressions I experienced [inspired me]. I was also dating someone at the time who pretended to be “woke” but would say things like “you use racism as a crutch”. So one day I was feeling especially inspired and asked my friends if they wanted to make art about it.”
And so they did. Each of the issues presented are selected based on personal experience. “An experience is taken and a visual concept is then built around it. We don’t think we have the authority to speak for experiences outside of our race & personal experience,” she notes. April Son’s pieces often focus on the culture of plastic surgery in Korea. “I’ve always held prejudice towards Korean plastic surgery, but it was never really the procedure or the choice to do it that bothered me so much. It was everything in Korean culture that perpetuated these narrow beauty standards.“ Saad Rahaman, the photographer behind each piece, shares his own motivations. “Being a born and raised New Yorker in a post-9/11 world, I can’t ever remember a time where I didn’t feel a distinct discrimination against me and my family. That day changed the world in the worst of ways and we live that reality every day. From the subtle jibes at me (being called a “terrorist” or “paki”) to the not so subtle attacks on people I know for having a particular skin color, it has painted all of us with a very broad, hateful, brush. The re-emergence, or evolution, of this hatred in the form of Donald Trump’s propaganda has really forced a lot of us into action. I think it’s a responsibility of mine as someone with the freedom to have a voice to show why this hateful rhetoric is wrong and ultimately cyclical if allowed to continue.”
Mainstream media’s depictions of Eastern cultures often lie on heavily overused one-dimensional stereotypes, Orientation aims to use their voice to display a different side of the East to the West. It’s this reclamation of their voice that they hope will resonate with their audiences. Often, acceptance in a mainstream space involves being accepted by white mainstream media, when asked if this has affected them in anyway, here’s what they had to say. “I think it’s affected us because I think people, especially white mainstream media are a bit intimidated by us. I think even some of our friends who are white sometimes don’t know what to say to the stuff we’re making,” adds Natasha. April Son adds “We’re not reaching for acceptance because we know it’s not there on a large mainstream scale. Instead, we want to set our own standards for media that’s emerging for the people. Social media like Instagram has allowed us to do that appealing, to people like us who are searching for imagery to relate to.” Saad Rahaman insightfully adds “I’m not particularly trying to appeal to white America. Collectively, we all have a voice that challenges the mainstream. We just aren’t properly organized to do so just yet. But the more we band together the more underrepresented people get seen.”
So what’s next for the collective? “In the digital age it’s hard to pinpoint when you’ve really nailed it. We always ask ourselves ‘what happens next?’ after each instagram post. If the conversation ends there, then we have a lot more work to do. But so far, we’ve found success in how supportive and engaged our audience is on Instagram. Our followers are tagging their friends, discussing and debating our concepts, reposting and even talking about how they’d like to re-create our photographs. They really value what we have to say, which encourages as artists and also people who sometimes feel marginalized or unheard.”
You can follow Orientation’s work here.
All Images Courtesy of The Orientation Collective
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