by Ruth Erickson and Eva Respini. Yale University Press, November 2019. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9780300247480 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed March 2020
Carol Ng-He, Exhibits Coordinator, Arlington Heights Memorial Library, email@example.com
Conceived in the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)/Boston in 2019, When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art accompanies an exhibition of the same name. The catalog is comprised of three parts. The first features artwork since 2000 by twenty artists from over a dozen countries, many of whom are internationally known. The art ranges from painting, sculpture, photography, and mixed media collage to installation, video, sound art, and public art. The second part includes three segments of artists’ conversations about their creative practice, in order to juxtapose the featured work. The third and last part consists of four essays written by scholars and critics who interrogate social and political theory, maps, and vocabulary concerning migration. A list of featured artwork, bibliography, artists, and contributors’ biographies are also included.
The catalog has a social justice overtone and the thesis is coherent throughout all chapters. With the title borrowed from a poem by Warsan Shire, the catalog masterfully curates a series of culturally diverse and intricate accounts of artistic responses to migration and displacement of people. Themes such as identity, memory, home, loss, and political inequality are interwoven in the chapters and eloquently articulated. A call for activism for artists, curators, and cultural workers is underpinned in the writing.
The content is structured in an engaging and compelling manner. Starting with the curators’ introduction on the geographic connection and history of migration in Boston, the catalog presents a balance of addressing the complex dimensions of migration with the cultural impact. The art featured does not seem to follow a particular order (by the artist’s name alphabetically, art medium, location, or other elements), so readers would need to make the connection from one chapter to another. The pop-up style of the artists’ conversations amid the art provides readers some direct, intimate, and powerful narratives about the artists’ philosophy and their motivation. As the chapters progress, the scholarly essays deal with politically loaded matters, allowing readers to dive more deeply into current discourse.
Rich and striking full-page illustrations are abundant in the catalog. However, reproduction of video and sound art is limited to written description. A minor downside of the publication is the small insert images that appear in the featured text. While they could help enrich the visual experience for readers, the small size does not do the reader justice.
When Home Won’t Let You Stay is recommended for graduate students and scholars particularly in art history, cultural studies, critical theory, art education, and community art.