First published in the June 18 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
Glendale Library, Arts and Culture is presenting two exhibits, one called “The Sound of Your Voice Is Home” by multidisciplinary artist Yasmine Nasser Diaz in the ReflectSpace Gallery and “My Life From the Grounds Up” by artist Helena Grigorian in the PassageWay Gallery, both in the Glendale Central Library, 222 E. Harvard St.
Inspired by a family practice of exchanging audiocassettes between Chicago and Yafa, Yemen, Diaz’s latest installation provides a ritual, gathering and listening space. The setting, a 1980s-era kitchen, is a nod to her childhood and a time long before the ubiquity of cell phones.
Communicating with family in the highlands of southern Yemen from the United States was challenging. Only one house in the family’s village had a telephone, making access and coordination difficult. Instead of long-distance calls, her family would gather around the kitchen table to record lengthy audio messages on cassette tapes.
The messages included updates on the health of relatives, news of engagements, pregnancies, births and the latest local scandal.
“The Sound of Your Voice Is Home” pays tribute to the evolving ways communities of diaspora maintain connectivity and affectionate exchanges while separated by time and distance. Upon entering the space, visitors will hear a collection of audio recordings in different voices and languages playing on a loop.
The clips have been gathered from immigrant friends, acquaintances and family, including recollections of different familial practices and clips from actual voice messages between relatives. The stories shared reflect varying temporalities, from the past and present, further evoking the importance of storytelling in producing and maintaining communal memories.
The physical setting pays homage to the kitchen as the heart of the home and the core domestic space for conversation, nourishment, reconciliation and care. A grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts supports Diaz’s exhibition.
Grigorian has fond childhood memories of her family and friends drinking Armenian coffee, quickly turning over the demitasse cups and waiting for the grounds to dry. Once dry, a coffee cup “interpreter” would read the grounds and divine the future and fate of the coffee drinker.
Every coffee klatch had a designated coffee cup interpreter — each known for her distinct style. A few even achieved great renown in their coffee-drinking circles for their uncanny intuition to tell the future. When they picked up a cup to begin “reading,” a pregnant hush, full of anticipation and excitement, would fall over the entire room of women.
Grigorian’s fascination with this magical ritual remained with her over the years. Her exhibit in the PassageWay Gallery is an installation of many of her actual coffee cups and photographs of close-ups of coffee-grounds patterns.
For her, these grounds are far more personal than the pages of a diary. They reveal and divine a future that speaks to the beauty of this distinctly domestic ritual and its myriad interpretations — a reflection of the vast universe of human experience to be found in a small coffee cup.
“The Sound of Your Voice Is Home” and “My Life From the Grounds Up” run through July 23. The exhibits are open to the public during regular library hours.
Diaz is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice draws from nuanced, discordant and evolving concepts of culture, class, gender, religion and family. She uses mixed-media collage, photo-based fiber etching, immersive installation and video to explore connections between personal experience and larger social and political structures.
Diaz is interested in complex narratives of third-culture identity, their precarious invisibility/hyper-visibility and the friction often experienced between the individual and the collective. Diaz has received awards and residencies, including the Harpo Visual Artists Grant, the California Community Foundation Visual Artist Fellowship, the Marble House Residency in Dorset, Vermont, and the University of Michigan Efroymson Visiting Artist Residency in Arbor, Michigan.
Her works are included in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Arab American National Museum and University of California, Los Angeles, and have been featured in Hyperallergic, PBS Newshour, Artnet, and Artillery magazine. She lives and works in Los Angeles.
Grigorian is a Los Angeles-based graphic designer and photographer who launched her artistic career when she began capturing images of the life around her on her small 110-pocket camera and creating her construction-paper magazines.
Her passion for the arts has led to a recognized career in photography and graphic design. With a graphic arts degree from California State University, Northridge, and more than 15 years of professional experience, she has designed for corporate, entertainment, financial and nonprofit organizations.
She served for seven years as the creative director for the National Association for Television Program Executives, the trade association for the television industry, before starting her creative firm, Circles Six. She has been a featured artist in several group shows in the Los Angeles area.