Aram Han Sifuentes: Who Was This Built to Protect?
As an immigrant and daughter of a seamstress, Korean American artist Aram Han Sifuentes (she/they) uses sewing as a medium to investigate citizenship, protest, and belonging in the United States. With a practice rooted in the collective, her work is used to center disenfranchised communities, particularly dispossessed immigrants of color.
Who Was This Built to Protect? developed over the course of Getting to Know Aram Han Sifuentes, the artist’s long-term, long-distance residency with moCa. It centers around a set of six large-scale red silk curtains with white text that spans the museum’s Gund Commons. These curtains, entitled Messages to Authorities (Go Away!) (2021), are modeled after Red Cards created by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center with language that outlines the rights and protections held by all people under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of immigration status.
Underscoring how language can act as a barrier to citizenship, Who Was This Built to Protect? places Messages to Authorities (Go Away!) directly in conversation with the U.S. Naturalization Test questions through a selection of U.S. Citizenship Test Samplers (2012 - ongoing), needlework samplers of U.S. Naturalization Test questions and answers made by U.S. non-citizens during artist-facilitated workshops. Han Sifuentes repeats these questions on moCa’s Kohl Monumental Staircase, a game of one step forward, two steps back to test civic knowledge and illustrate the often-performative labor non-citizens must endure to prove their worth. An unflinching critique of U.S. governmental practices, Who Was This Built to Protect? highlights roadblocks on the path to citizenship and encourages audiences to question bureaucratic systems, those who constructed the systems, and for whom the systems are designed to benefit.
About the artist
Aram Han Sifuentes (b. 1986, Seoul, South Korea) is a fiber, social practice, and performance artist who works to claim spaces for immigrant and disenfranchised communities. Her work often revolves around skill sharing, specifically sewing techniques, to create multiethnic and intergenerational sewing circles, which become a place for empowerment, subversion and protest. Han Sifuentes earned her B.A. in Art and Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and her M.F.A. in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been a recipient of a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, Map Fund, Asian Cultural Council’s Individual Fellowship, 3Arts Award, and 3Arts Next Level/Spare Room Award. Her project, Protest Banner Lending Library, was a finalist for the Beazley Design Awards at the Design Museum in London in 2016.
The artist’s work has been exhibited at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago Cultural Center, Asian Arts Initiative, Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum, and the Design Museum. Aram is the inaugural artist in moCa’s Getting to Know You residency and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.