Afghan-American artist’s installation shares the stories of immigrants

Kabul, Afghanistan, maggio 2011: Amanullah Mojadidi, artista contemporaneo, nel suo studio di Kabul, durante la preparazione di una installazione che verra' esposta a Parigi il prossimo Ottobre.


Contemporary Art Toledo and artist Aman Mojadidi bring Once Upon a Place, a set of three interactive public art works that create a platform for immigrant voices, to Toledo beginning September 15.

The work will be traveling from New York’s Time Square, where it’s been installed since late June to three Toledo locations: Toledo Lucas County Public Library, the University of Toledo, and Promenade Park, near the new downtown campus of ProMedica.

The opening weekend of the exhibition coincides with both Momentum (a three day celebration of art and music in Toledo’s Promenade Park) and National Welcoming Week.

He will speak on “Borderless: Art and Migration in Troubled Times,” Sunday, September 17 at 2 p.m. in the McMaster Center, Main Library Toledo Lucas County Public Library.

Visitors to the installations will be invited to open the door of a repurposed telephone booth, pick up the receiver, and listen to oral histories of immigrants from across the globe. Visitors can also open the phone book inside each booth to read more about the storytellers’ communities – both in their current home and the countries they have traveled from. Individuals may also wish to leave behind a part of their own story if they choose.

The installation includes 70 different stories that last between 2 and 15 minutes each. According to the Pew Research Center, by the year 2065 one in three Americans will be an immigrant or have immigrant parents. Locally, according to a 2015 report by New American Economy, Toledo’s immigrant community is increasing and partially offsetting local population loss. Furthermore, immigrants in Toledo hold close to $242 million in spending power and increased the total housing value in Lucas County by $45.9 million.

In current political and social conversations about borders, bans, and citizenship, the word “immigrant” can be used as a monolithic block, sweeping under a single label people from a wide variety of backgrounds. By giving participants a platform to tell their individual stories, Once Upon a Place instead explores a rich variety of personalities and journeys. Listeners are drawn into the lives of current New York residents from Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Russia, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and Yemen, bringing an intersection of experiences to the public.

The stories featured in Once Upon a Place were recorded by Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi over the course several months. His goal was to create a safe environment for residents to share the experiences that brought them to New York, either in English or in their mother tongue. The three phone booths – among the last phone booths to be removed from the streets of New York City – establish an intimate space for reflection and connection with people we may never personally come to know.