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  1. Don’t Come Crying to Me: Artist Melanie Ubaldo’s take on Immigrant Identity
    In her solo show at Gallery Gudmundsdottir, Icelandic artist Melanie Ubaldo takes a deeply intimate look at how immigrant placemaking––or, seeking your place in the world and navigating the dissonance of feeling othered––manifests in its interior, phenomenological dimensions. The show evolves the trajectory of Melanie’s earlier work, which often deconstructed overt, public encounters with social marginalization. 

    Melanie anchors the exhibition in a neon text piece spelling out the phrase “don’t come crying to me.” Drawing on autobiographical experience, she recalls how her mother uttered this phrase when they first discussed her then-new relationship with her partner. Across the gallery is another text, reading “addiction is greater than maternal love.” With characteristic irony, Melanie reflects on both the protective urge in maternal love and its limitations, which immigrant life often renders more complex:

    “I grew up in this matriarchy, and my mom is the hero figure. She’s been going through all sorts of generational trauma [...] she’s extra hard on me because she’s protective. Even saying ‘don’t come crying to me’ is her way of showing affection.” 

    Melanie’s textual juxtaposition shows how the desire to protect and the drive to instill mental resilience are often inextricably intertwined in the immigrant experience. Even the most apolitical, personal dimensions of life (like navigating intimate relationships and expressing love) embody a nuanced dissonance that characterizes migrational identity. Like her earlier piece Thanks Mom, which captures her mother’s disappointment over her decision to be an artist, Melanie explores the inherent frictions in seeking your place: the quest for personal fulfillment is unavoidably saturated with intergenerational pressure to succeed (or, an intergenerational urge to protect) in the precarious footing of an unfamiliar environment. 

    Melanie expands on this theme in the show’s installation piece. The installation is a replica of the tiny room her mother rents in Iceland, overlaid with a video of an extravagant mansion that her mother has been building in the Philippines over the last decade. 

    “Inside this small, tiny, crowded space lives the huge dream of this opulent mansion full of chandeliers and glass and wood carvings. It’s something that we constantly argue about [...] I often wonder why she chose to do this. She’s working 16 hour shifts and living in such difficulty just to provide for this dream, to give a sense of her making it in Iceland. It’s her version of the immigrant struggle… you haven’t made it until you’ve built a mansion back home.”

    Melanie depicts her mother’s interior life as similarly wrapped up in a deeply ironic dissonance evoked by a desire to legitimize the losses of leaving home. She thus suggests that the dissonant irony of placemaking is a common intergenerational thread in the immigrant experience, coloring even the most intimate dimensions of one’s interior life. 

    Moreover, her material and process-related choices make semiotic allusions that place her in intersectional dialogue with other artists grappling with identity, belonging, and placemaking, like British/Pakistani artist Shezad Dawood (who explores immigrant identity with neon scripts) and American/Chinese artist Wu Tsang (who uses citations to explore the ambiguity characterizing many immigrants’ sense of belonging). Similarly, Melanie’s room-based installations call to mind Swedish/Chinese artist Lap-See Lam’s installations (which replicate actual diasporic spaces that immigrants inhabit in their host cultures). Among other immigrant artists, including Danish/Vietnamese artist Dahn Vo, Melanie leverages personal encounters as a jumping off point in her process. Subtle references like these add another layer of meaning to the show’s overall narrative. They underscore a sense of conceptual universality in the immigrant experience, centering around the idea that displacement and the quest for belonging live in a space of reflexive ambiguity that demands constant negotiation of one’s relation to both physical environments and other people. 

    In a poetic nod to this larger narrative on social marginalization, Melanie explores how migrational dissonance also bleeds into the interior human experience, thereby shaping one’s conception of selfhood. 

    -Exhibition text by Dr. Erum Naqvi for Don't Come Crying To Me