“We celebrate one another’s specificities”: Leonard Suryajaya in conversation [Video]

As part of the Block Museum’s Student Acquisition initiative, Northwestern students in the 2020-2021 Block Museum Student Associates program selected artist Leonard Suryajaya’s Quarantine Blues (2020) for the museum’s collection. Suryajaya’s work explores complex intersections of intimacy, community and family, and how the “everyday is layered with histories, meanings, and potential.”  In October 2021, Suryajaya joined the Student Associates team to discuss his practice, how this work explores the personal and collective impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the artist’s role in shaping narratives of history.

The conversation was Moderated by curator Essi Rönkkö and Susan and Stephen Wilson Associate Director, Education and Engagement Erin Northington. Quarantine Blues is on view in Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection.

Watch the Program

From the conversation

My work explores social-cultural tension, immigration, generational change. And, you know, in a quest for acceptance through a language of family and friendship. I strive to show that family, community and culture, ground us as human beings in the midst of the chaos and confusion of the world, they are the training grounds in which we learn how to achieve our goals and fulfill our potentials. In them, we got to be funny, messy, and unruly when we play, but we are supporting and learning about one another in the process. And through our desire to connect and pride in celebrating who we are, we also develop the skills to face the world, and we are better humans when we celebrate one another’s specificities…

My work is a vision that validates multiple ways of being and multiple specificities at once. Instead of trying to argue with, “go back where you belong,” I’m here to show what’s to be gained from adversity and diversity. I offer it in a form of an absurdist drama and unlikely gathering, featuring my family and friends. The experience of diversity comes with tension, compromise and sacrifice but after its initial shock and discomfort, I learned that it offers a wealth of human excellence and beauty. These photographs are photographs of all of my relatives around the world, in my kitchen, during the pandemic, early in January this year. The chaos and confusion of being in the world taught me to be empathetic, compassionate, and responsible. I hope when you look at my work you are reminded that it is more important to be compassionate and responsible than to be right.

Leonard Suryajay

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