A pure illustration of the saying, “every picture tells a story,” the One House project currently on exhibit at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown presents a collection of personal representational art from descendants of every group that has emigrated to America. More than 50 countries are represented with scenes diverse in style and media created on 12-by-12-inch wood panels portraying the journey of ancestors with a common shared narrative of hope. The raw wood structure covered with the illustrated panels in BlackRock’s Kay Gallery presents a quietly powerful visual statement. First shown in November 2017 at DC’s Touchstone Gallery with 220 artists participating, the installation was expanded to 298 artists whose work tells the story of each ancestral journey to America—how each of them came to be here.
The project is the largest undertaking of ArtWatch, a collective of DC-area artists who came together in 2017 to support and advocate for values of inclusion, tolerance and unity by allowing their art and visual presentations do the talking. Founded by Jackie Hoystead and Ellyn Weiss, “The overriding principle of ArtWatch and The One House Project is a vision for a country where we are united as one people rather than divided against each other by race, gender, class, religion, or any other artificial means of defining ‘us’ against ‘them,’” according to the ArtWatch website.
Anne Cherubim, a member of the Gaithersburg Artists Collective and resident of Quince Orchard Park, joined ArtWatch when she became involved in discussions with artist friends on Facebook. She said that differences seem to be under attack these days and she felt that her desire to turn that feeling around would be best achieved through art. She spoke about her family’s journey and the inspiration for her panel representation. “We were totally free to create the panel,” she said. “We all come from somewhere and it was a chance to honor an ancestor and tell their story.” Cherubim hopes the exhibit portrays the bigger picture and the ultimate question, “What is America?”
“I started backwards from how I got here,” she began. Her panel traces the journey her father took when he emigrated from Sri Lanka to Canada in 1971. He went home for Christmas the following year and came back married, with his new wife soon to follow. They relocated to a suburb of Montreal in 1973. Anne was born in Canada and speaks both English and French. She understands her parents’ language, Tamil, but doesn’t speak this much since her parents primarily spoke English. When civil war broke out in Sri Lanka in 1983, many more Sri Lankans relocated to Canada. Cherubim learned to speak a little more Tamil as more family members were living nearby. In 2003, she and her husband, also born in Canada of Indian and Filipino descent, moved to Maryland for his work. Their twins (a boy and a girl) were born in Washington, DC, two years later. Cherubim said that her children are now learning French in school so they can converse more when visiting Canada—a nice surprise.
Cherubim works in acrylic and some mixed media and favors an abstract contemporary style. She has always enjoyed art and actively pursued it when first moving to Maryland. She works out of her studio at Artists & Makers in Rockville. Her art’s underlying inspiration is the environment. Her current series is based on aerial views and satellite imagery. Climate changes, especially portrayed in aerial views, lend themselves to her abstract improvisation, particularly in coastal areas that are constantly changing. “I look at a lot of imagery for inspiration, and then put it away because I am not interested in an actual portrayal—the colors, exaggerations, bright vivid colors of nature (like) mineral deposits, algae bloom, etc., all stay with me. Usually my inspiration is color—where two colors meet, where it is not a named color, where a larger picture is involved. Thank goodness for Google Earth!” She is inspired by Rothko, among others. “The way the life of the colors jumps out at you—so much color even where you only see two,” she said.
Of the One House project, Cherubim said, “It’s often not the people who need to hear the message who receive it. Messages that trickle down to children, for example, aren’t as originally said. Reasons get lost in criticism of superficial things like a politician’s appearance, and that’s the unfortunate message kids take away, because superficial things are easier for them to take note of.”
The exhibit opened my eyes to consider the many stories in each life that we rarely stop to focus on—a shifting of thought perhaps, a realization that understanding is a base need for each of us. Cherubim is currently finishing her aerial-inspired series for a solo show in February at the Women’s National Democratic Club in Dupont Circle. Visit the One House exhibit through Dec. 15 at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. You can see more of Cherubim’s work at www.cherubim-arts.com and visit her studio page at Artists & Makers in Rockville, www.artistsandmakersstudios.com.