By Bridget Garnai, Arts Management Intern
On Thursday October 6, 2016, artist Carol Hamoy visited Miami University and presented a lecture titled “The Complications of Making Art from a Feminist Perspective,” in conjunction with her current installation at the Miami University Art Museum, Welcome to America. Her lecture was co-sponsored by the Contemporary Arts Forum. Hamoy began her lecture by thanking each staff member at the Miami University Art Museum for their hard work in installing her pieces and for making her feel like “The Queen of Art” whenever she comes to Oxford.
During her lecture, Hamoy talked about her inspiration for Welcome to America and took the audience through a compilation of other artworks that she has created during her career. Hamoy grew up in New York City as a first-generation American. Most of her Eastern-European family that lived in New York worked in the garment industry, so not only did some of the immigrant stories come from her own family but the uses of textile as a medium and sewing as a technique were also inspired by her family’s profession.
Hamoy’s project Welcome to America began when she was invited to create a piece of artwork for the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Her first iteration of the project consisted of 30 garments and narratives that took her two years to create. They were on view in a former dormitory room of the Ellis Island immigration center. Hamoy knew that she wanted to tell the stories of women immigrants to America and began her research for the project by looking through Ellis Island’s extensive database and records. However, she found that often women were simply listed as “and wife” or “and daughter” next to their patriarch’s name in official records. Disappointed in the lack of information she could glean from this database, Hamoy decided to gather stories herself. She talked to her family, her friends, and her friends’ families, and their friends and family, and compiled her own database of interviews. These video interviews evolved into a 45 minute film from which she drew stories for her pieces of art. Once she had the narratives she felt compelled to share the stories with others. Hamoy had to determine how she could present them, which is where the influence from her family’s profession in the garment industry comes through in her work.
After her exhibition at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, Hamoy was commissioned by other communities and museums to create and display her signature garments. These garments and stories were added to her own collection, and before she knew it, she had created 150 dresses from 200 interviews. After reaching 150 garments in the project, in part because her sewing machine broke, she decided that she was finished making garments for Welcome to America. To arrange works for an exhibition, she selects from the existing garments. In her current installation at the Miami University Art Museum, Hamoy installed over 50 of her garments. She always includes one blank garment without quotes (next time you’re in the gallery, try to find it!) to represent all of the stories that remain untold. Perhaps you can imagine the narratives of an immigrant woman who is close to you. There is even a journal in the gallery in which to make a record of those immigration stories to share with other visitors to the gallery.
The Miami University Art Museum has even more upcoming programming related to Hamoy’s Welcome to America. On Tuesday November 8, Dr. Helen Sheumaker, a Lecturer in Miami’s History and Global and Intercultural Studies Departments, will present a lecture entitled “History with Things” at MUAM from 6-7 pm with a reception at 5 pm. Dr. Fatima Emlemdi, a visiting professor from Libya, will moderate a panel titled “A Conversation: Welcome to America” on Wednesday November 16 from 7–8 pm, with a reception beginning at 6 pm. The panelists will include Esther Berlioz Claros from Honduras, Regina Garcia from Brazil, Silvia Rothschild from Argentina, and Lalita Satyal from India.