Paolo Arao: Reverberations / Neo-Custodians: Woven Narratives of Heritage, Cultural Memory, and Belonging

Paolo Arao: Reverberations / Neo-Custodians: Woven Narratives of Heritage, Cultural Memory, and Belonging

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

January 8, 2024
Paolo Arao: Reverberations / Neo-Custodians: Woven Narratives of Heritage, Cultural Memory, and Belonging
December 9, 2023–April 14, 2024
Artist and curator conversation on textile practices: February 24, 2–3:30pm, Camilo Sanchez with Paolo Arao & Ron Norsworthy
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
724 S. 12th Street
Omaha, Nebraska 68102
United States
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 11am–5pm,
Thursday 11am–9pm

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Omaha, Nebraska—Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts is pleased to announce two new exhibitions—Paolo Arao: Reverberations and Neo-Custodians: Woven Narratives of Heritage, Cultural Memory, and Belonging. Highlighting a variety of contemporary textile works, both exhibitions opened December 9, 2023 and continue through April 14, 2024.

As an artist-in-residence at Bemis Center in 2020, Paolo Arao spent his time creating new textile works in response to the unique industrial architecture of Bemis Center’s studios and installation spaces. Marking a return to Bemis, Paolo Arao: Reverberations includes several works that were developed during Arao’s residency including his largest work to date Collective Comfort—an ongoing monumental quilt top that Arao has created from fabric remnants of his sewn paintings. At eleven feet tall by 42 feet wide, Collective Comfort has grown to almost twice the size since Arao’s residency and will span an entire gallery wall at Bemis Center. Additionally, four new site-specific installations will don Bemis Center’s Douglas fir columns that define Bemis’s galleries.

Regarding his practice, Arao has said, “Working with textiles feels like the appropriate material to help soften the rigid geometry and ‘straight’ system of the grid that I’ve been working with for over twenty years. Textiles can hold deeply personal narrative histories. This is evidenced by certain fabrics incorporated in my work that show physical traces of the bodies that wore them. Equally important to the materiality of textiles is my use of color. I carry color within me. My relationship with color is not passive. It is political, it is personal, it is emotional, it is felt, and it is in my very being.”

By enveloping the galleries in color, Arao’s work weaves together a lineage of abstraction that both explores the elastic concept of queerness and honors his Filipino heritage. By centering on a cross-cultural and queer perspective, the work connects and places patterns and color in textiles from the Philippines in direct conversation with hard-edge painting, Op-Art, and the Pattern and Decoration movement. Encompassing ideas related to safety and comfort, Arao’s adornment of the columns will incorporate patterns inspired by indigenous textiles from the Philippines that symbolize protection, adding two-toned chromatic vibrations that will reverberate throughout the galleries. This exhibition is curated by Rachel Adams, Chief Curator and Director of Programs at Bemis Center.

Neo-Custodians: Woven Narratives of Heritage, Cultural Memory, and Belonging is a group exhibition that aims to redefine the role textiles play in investigating African and diasporic cultural practices, histories, legacy, and conceptions of belonging. The exhibition brings together a diverse array of artists whose practices are deeply informed by African textiles and cultural memory.

Neo-Custodians pays homage to the impact of African textiles and fibers while also elevating the discourse around textile art, culture, and materiality. The exhibition, originally inspired by and featuring the works of influential artists such as El Anatsui (Ghana), Seydou Keita (Mali), and Yinka Shonibare (Nigeria/England), also showcases the creative expressions of a remarkable group of artists, including Malene Barnett (US), Layo Bright (Nigeria), Celeste Butler (US), Sanaa Gateja (Uganda), Enam Gbewonyo (Ghana/England), Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga (Democratic Republic of Congo), Ron Norsworthy (US), Nnenna Okore (Nigeria), Patrick Quarm (Ghana), and Latrelle Rostant (US).

The collective works featured in the exhibition invite viewers to contemplate multifaceted narratives embedded in textiles. Beyond aesthetics, the artists prompt reflection on the transformative power of fibers while speaking to textile’s historical resonance and future influence. El Anatsui’s monumental sculpture, Trova, 2016, crafted from liquor bottle caps, serves as a poignant commentary on global power dynamics. Yinka Shonibare’s exploration of Dutch wax fabric as a symbol of contemporary African identity challenges viewers to reflect on postcolonialism and globalization. Enam Gbewonyo’s work addresses the traumatic histories of marginalized black women, utilizing hosiery to foster healing and reclamation. Malene Barnett’s fragmented and woven works reflect on migration, loss, and identity, while Layo Bright’s textured sculptures bring concealed histories to light, underscoring the significance of untold stories.

At the heart of Neo-Custodians lies an invitation to rediscover the profound stories woven into the fabric of our existence. As the threads of history, identity, and artistry intertwine, this exhibition propels us into a realm of introspection and dialogue. It is a celebration of the enduring power of textiles to encapsulate our heritage, provoke contemplation, and ignite conversations that resonate across cultures and generations. The exhibition invites the public to witness the emergence of a dynamic discourse that transcends time and space, redefining the boundaries of cultural expression and highlighting narratives that unite us all.

Neo-Custodians: Woven Narratives of Heritage, Cultural Memory, and Belonging is curated by Nneoma Ilogu, Bemis Center’s 2022–2023 Curator-in-Residence.


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January 8, 2024

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