Signals from New York

From March 23 to May 11, 2023, PS184 Shuang Wen students collaborated with artist and educator Aya Rodriguez-Izumi on a series of classroom-based workshops that explored symbols of personal and familial identity as a flexible medium for contemporary cultural expression.

The project, Signals from New York: Workshop with PS184 Shaung Wen School, took inspiration from a nobori–the Japanese name for a style of signal flag rooted in Asia that carries histories and uses in war, advertising, traditions, and building of cultural identity through imagery; and a hatagashira–a 3-dimensional sculpture that sits atop a flagpole, often adorned with regionally specific objects. Such symbols are traditionally hoisted during parades, ceremony and communal celebration. In this series of workshops, students created their own flag that reflected their cultural and personal identities through layering art materials and referencing objects found in their surroundings.

Students explored the powerful symbolism of objects and how they can become a visual language to be used to share their own experience. In Rodriguez-Izumi’s own practice, the artist has been exploring such symbols since 2017 to research and express her own history that is partially rooted in Okinawa,
Japan. These concepts have manifested most directly through her work 上る(Noboru), exhibited in Hokkaido, Japan, and in Gainesville, Florida in summer 2023, as well as her project Signals, which debuted in Taiwan for Romantic Route 3, an outdoor artwork triennial.

Through interactive artist presentations, hands-on workshops, and experimental art-making, students created their own unique flag objects that represent their personal history as well as a collaborative sculpture that represented the community of PS184m Shuang Wen. These were made using a mix of art materials like fabric, vinyl, pen, paint, clay, and reference objects from their surroundings and memories of their family and community..

Special thanks to Aya Rodriguez-Izumi, studio and classroom assistant Jasmine Espinal, educators Mona Wong and David Lennington, and Principal Jeremy Kabinoff for their dedication to this program.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised between that island and East Harlem, Aya Rodriguez-Izumi is an interdisciplinary artist and educator who’s practice intersects multi-sensory art, narrative history and community engagement to explore ritual retention, cultural identity and histories that risk erasure. Her projects blend installation, video, sound, sculpture, and social engagement to present scenarios for audiences to question themes of occupation, demilitarization, traditions and how they are forced to adapt for survival. Rodriguez-Izumi uses everyday materials that are around her like chain link fencing, goods from dollar stores, garments, tools of self care, oral history and field recordings to share stories that need visibility while inviting viewers to interact.

This project is presented by Artists Alliance Inc, through an ongoing collaboration with District 1’s Lower East Side public schools, and marks the pilot year of AAI’s new in-school residency program. Working directly with professional contemporary artists in the classroom, students explore ideas related to personal identity, family, friends, neighbors, spaces of personal and shared resonance, memory, and archive, while reflecting on notions of togetherness, collaboration and mutual exchange. AAI prioritizes the commission of artists whose personal, familial, and cultural backgrounds reflect that of District 1 students. As this in-school artist-in-residence program is dedicated to the notion that people and institutions are stronger when working together, projects encourage students to develop their work in conversation with parents, guardians, neighbors, family members, and caregivers.

Commissioned by Artists Alliance Inc. Presented in partnership with the PS184m Shaung Wen School. Project support provided by New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.