From Alexandria to Azerbaijan: blurring borders with Torpedo Factory artists

Art is a source of profound enjoyment, but it’s also a passport to the experiences of others, even when they’re impossibly far away. For 50 years, the U.S. Department of State has promoted cross-cultural dialogue and international understanding through its Art in Embassies program—and Torpedo Factory artists are proud to be part of it.

The final Art in Embassies show of 2013 recently opened at the U.S. embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, and included the works of four of our artists: paper artist Gwendolyn Graine, ceramicist Lori Katz, sculptor Carol Levin, and painter and sculptor Mary Lynch. The show represents a collaboration between two curators, one from the United States and the other from Azerbaijan, and features artwork from both countries that explores the theme of relationships, which the curators interpret in myriad ways: “family members, friends and  lovers . . . workers or artists and their tools; athletes and their equipment; America and her arriving immigrants. A mirror even offers an opportunity to explore one’s relationship with self.”

Faith Morningstar, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, visited the Torpedo Factory in the autumn of 2012 and personally selected several of these works. The artists, who had a chance to meet and speak with her, were humbled by the 6,000-mile journey their work was invited to undertake.

“Art is one of our most powerful tools for promoting cross-cultural understanding among nations,” says Levin, whose ceramic sculpture Elizabeth and Zoe deals with the theme of relationships at their most intimate: Elizabeth, a mother, demonstrates her capable care-giving through her large, strong hands, while her daughter, Zoe, is partially embedded in her, showing how much she depends upon her mother’s guidance and love. The theme is universal, but Levin points out that when two artists from different countries converse, their different ways of seeing the same work always hold the promise of mutual understanding.

“As we learn about one another’s history as well as our own history, we exchange ideas and promote goodwill among countries by studying each other’s art,” she says. “I couldn’t be happier to be a participant.”

“It’s an honor to have my work in Baku and in two embassies in Africa,” adds Lynch, whose reshaped canvas work in this show, Two-part Angular Wall Piece, invites multiple interpretations—and prompted the artist to ponder her relationship with her own work. “As I told my brother, who’s a world traveler, my work is traveling in my stead.”

Having presided over the installation of this show in Baku, Ambassador and Mrs. Morningstar offer kind words indeed: “Relationships has improved our quality of life every day since its installation.” That’s the sort of compliment every artist loves to hear: It proves that their work has connected people across vast distances, transcending language and encouraging perfect strangers to value each other anew.

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