Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

Jess X. Snow and Kill Joy tackle Palestine, capitalism, ecological destruction, immigration in multi-media show at Linfield

Students had a say in picking the artists whose work is featured in the artistically complex and politically engaged exhibition, which runs through March 16 at the McMinnville university.

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Giclee prints on archival paper by Kill Joy are hung from the ceiling inside gate-like pallets in the “Earth & Place/Roots & Movement” show at Linfield University. Photo by: David Bates

Linfield University’s art gallery has benefited over the years from having directors with connections far beyond the McMinnville campus. The exhibition brought in by Thea Gahr, Earth & Place/Roots & Movement, which runs through March 16, illustrates that fact with an eye-popping display of prints, video, and a sprawling installation by two artists whose work otherwise might never have landed in McMinnville.

Jess X. Snow is a New York-based queer, non-binary Chinese diasporic muralist, poet, and educator whose work includes short films and photography. They have spent a decade creating art and murals for migrant, climate, and racial justice movements and were recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.

They are joined here by Filipino American artist Kill Joy, who lives in Texas and works with murals, printmaking, installation work, and more recently (though none appears in this show), puppetry. She employs interpretations of world mythology and ancient symbolism in storytelling that calls for “global, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual awareness, and action.” Joy prefers to keep her face offline, but she and Snow visited the campus a couple of weeks ago and talked about their work after spending some late nights with Gahr getting all the show’s pieces in place.

“Just this spirit of the three of us coming together and talking about this vision and working all day and into the night, and then waking up and doing it all over again, it was so much fun, the entire time,” Gahr said. “There’s this energy about it that is revitalizing.”

"Border Crossers" by Jess X. Snow (hand-cut paper, 2016) was originally exhibited as an installation “Belonging: Before and After the Immigration Act of 1965” at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s Chinatown. Photo by: David Bates
“Border Crossers” by Jess X. Snow (hand-cut paper, 2016) was originally exhibited as an installation “Belonging: Before and After the Immigration Act of 1965” at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s Chinatown. Photo by: David Bates

As with another recent exhibition, Earth & Place/Roots & Movement is both artistically complex and politically engaged with works that “imagine healing in the aftermath of violence and transnational worlds without borders,” according to the show notes.

The ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza and the West Bank, capitalism, ecological destruction, and immigration are just a few of the issues the exhibition confronts. The gallery space easily contains at least a hundred pieces of artwork, which work on the viewer both individually and in collections that fill a wall or a corner.

That Snow and Joy’s work is available for viewing in McMinnville is, to some extent, a result of Gahr’s students. As an adjunct professor at Linfield, she asked her art students to consider a long list of artists affiliated with a nonprofit she’s been involved in for years: Just Seeds, a decentralized cooperative of more than 40 artists from Mexico, the U.S., and Canada who work on social justice issues. Snow and Joy, who had not previously worked together, generated the most enthusiasm.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

An altar in the “Resistance, Land, Intifada, Struggle” installation is covered with keffiyeh woven from Hirbawi, the last remaining keffiyeh factory in Hebron, Palestine. Photo by: David Bates
An altar in the “Resistance, Land, Intifada, Struggle” installation is covered with keffiyeh woven from Hirbawi, the last remaining keffiyeh factory in Hebron, Palestine. Photo by: David Bates

The show’s centerpiece, which greets the viewer visually upon entering, is an installation titled Resistance, Land, Intifada, Struggle. It includes prints and painting on the far wall, banners featuring poetry hanging from the ceiling, prints on the floor, and an altar adorned with books, zines, and a New York Times front page facsimile created to display names of Palestinian victims.

The altar is covered with keffiyeh, the headdress traditionally worn by men in some Arab cultures. These pieces were woven by the Hirbawi factory in Hebron, Palestine, which was founded in 1961 and is reportedly the last such factory there.

The altar, according to the notes, “invites viewers to learn about the Palestinian cause and pays tribute and respect to the 35,000 (and counting) martyrs killed by the Zionist state since October 7th in Gaza and the West Bank.” It is the first public acknowledgement of that conflict on the campus of the private school since the Oct. 7 early dawn assault by Hamas that killed more than 1,100 Israelis. Otherwise, Gahr told me, the campus has been silent.

This piece of the show includes poetry by Palestinian writers.

Framing the altar, on two banners hung from the ceiling, are poems by two late poets: Ghassan Kanafani, widely regarded as one of the best Arab writers of his generation, who was killed July 8, 1972, by a bomb planted by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad; and Refaat Alareer, a professor and writer who was killed Dec. 7 in an Israeli air strike.

The “Resistance, Land, Intifada, Struggle” installation by Kill Joy, Jess X. Snow, and Amira al-Thawra “invites viewers to learn about the Palestinian cause and pays tributes and respect to the 35,000 (and counting) martyrs killed by the Zionist state since October 7th in Gaza and the West Bank.” Photo by David Bates
The “Resistance, Land, Intifada, Struggle” installation by Kill Joy, Jess X. Snow, and Amira al-Thawra “invites viewers to learn about the Palestinian cause and pays tributes and respect to the 35,000 (and counting) martyrs killed by the Zionist state since October 7th in Gaza and the West Bank.” Photo by David Bates

The latter’s poem, his last, is If I Must Die. It was read online by British actor Brian Cox as part of the Palestinian Festival of Literature the following week and has been seen nearly 14 million times on the social media platform X (Twitter).

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze —
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself —
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above,
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love.
If I must die
let it bring hope,
let it be a tale.

Behind the banners and over the altar are poems written by Amira al-Thawra, a New Orleans-based Palestinian organizer and poet, in which the text appears on kites painted on the wall. Here’s one:
When my skin
Is in intimate embrace
With the Sun, I see
The Naqab Desert
My ancestors Smile
Down on us.

“We wanted to prominently feature the words of a contemporary Palestinian organizer and poet, because we have the really big banners by Palestinian poets who have been martyred,” said Snow in an interview with ArtsWatch over Zoom. “I wanted to have the poetry of someone to give a sense of the contemporary experience of being a Palestinian.”
Silkscreen print by Jess X. Snow of a protest banner created for the Women's March on Washington, D.C. and designed for use in every march. Photo by: David Bates
Silkscreen print by Jess X. Snow of a protest banner created for the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. and designed for use in every march. Photo by: David Bates

About half the gallery is given over to a collection of prints — giclee, silkscreen, block print, and letterpress. The subject matter varies widely, from the overtly political to scenes of domesticity and nature. Most are on the wall. To cite just two of dozens, a four-panel block-print cotton rag by Joy celebrates one of her many enthusiasms: volcanos. On another wall, a signed silkscreen by Snow declares, “LONG LIVE OUR 4 BILLION YEAR OLD MOTHER,” with the visual component being a woman’s face in profile, dappled with yellow and red flowers and, instead of hair, a mesh of mostly bare black branches flowing off to the left, some bearing leaves.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

Giclee print by Kill Joy. Photo by: David Bates
Kill Joy did this Earth-themed graphic, “Las Hermosas,” for the UniPro Texas annual arts showcase
highlighting local Pilipinx and Asian American artists. Photo by: David Bates

In one corner of the gallery, several of Joy’s vibrant giclee prints on archival paper call for the release of political prisoners and an end to “death by incarceration.” These are displayed on wood pallets, hung to resemble the bars of a prison cell.

A video installation, meanwhile, loops one of Snow’s films: AFTEREARTH, a 14-minute experimental film about “how four women from different parts of the world draw their understandings of motherhood through connections with the environment.” The photography and image compositions are stunning. Snow directed and operated the camera, shooting scenes in Hawaii, the Pacific Coast of North America, and the Philippines.

Gahr said students particularly have appreciated engaging with the work, adding that others are finding their way in as well. Gallery admission is free and open to the public.

“People have been coming to the show,” she said. “When I’ve been there, community members have come through. I don’t know how they find it, but I’m glad they do.” 

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Earth & Place/Roots & Movement is sponsored by the Lacroute Art Series and Linfield’s art department, with local arts benefactor Ronni Lacroute behind the former. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. To reach the gallery from Oregon 99W, turn east on Keck Drive, which runs by the Albertsons on the south end of town, then turn right at the first street onto Library Court. The James F. Miller Fine Arts Center is the second building on the left.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

David Bates is an Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a
newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering
virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in
arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and
is working as a freelance writer. He has a long history of involvement in
the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players
of Oregon and other area theaters. You can also find him on
Substack, where he writes about art and culture at Artlandia.

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