Spotlight: Aram Han Sifuentes – The Protest Banner Learning Library
Aram Han Sifuentes makes art at the intersection of fiber, social practice, performance, and pedagogy. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Han Sifuentes immigrated to America with her family as a young girl. She learned to sew at the age of six to help her mother, who works as a seamstress. “Some people say my parents should be appreciative of the opportunities given to them [as immigrants],” she told us in a visiting artist talk on April 20, 2020, at DePaul University. “I don’t see it this way. I see it as an exploitation of immigrant labor to keep the cost of handwork and manual labor low in this country.” Because of this, sewing has become her medium to investigate identity politics, immigration and immigrant labor, possession, and dispossession of citizenship and belonging, dissent, protest, and race politics in the United States.
Han Sifuentes’ work is socially engaged with world issues for those who are oppressed. She creates materially rich projects in an art world environment that is accessible for minorities. She wants to create a space for people to stand up for civic engagement and belonging. Han Sifuentes confronts social and racial injustices against those disenfranchised by official institutions and bureaucratic processes and seeks to redefine new, inclusive, and humanized systems of civic engagement and belonging. Rather than creating art by herself, Han Sifuentes develops large-scale projects for many communities to be part of. She creates participatory environments where it is safe for immigrants, a place for skill-sharing that many can contribute to. Through her work, she is able to create a space for empowerment, subversion, and protest―a place for minorities to have a voice in a world that seeks to silence them.
In an effort to build community in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections, Han Sifuentes began making protest banners in her apartment. Originally done with her and her friends, soon Han Sifuentes began doing banner-making workshops for the general public. This act of building community also eventually became one of resistance, where even those who are unable to go to protests can make their voices heard. The Protest Banner Lending Library became a public exhibition and installation in various locations throughout the United States in 2016 and 2017.
In workshops, people are shown and encouraged to create their own banners. Basic sewing skills are taught, and attendees craft their own phrases to put on banners. Once the protest banners are made, they are entered into the growing collection of the library to be used in protests and can be returned at any time. People are able to use the banners they create in protests themselves or donate their work to the library.
This project provides an outlet for those that want to be part of a movement, but may not feel safe attending protests. They can artistically express their opinions in banners, and other people can take those banners to events and represent them. As Han Sifuentes describes, The Protest Banner Lending Library “is a space where people come together in solidarity through making” .
This form of crafting and sewing fabric to create protest banners allows for more sustainable use of materials–as the use of fabric is more durable than the traditional paper and cardboard protest signs and banners. Each banner is able to travel to various places at various times, uniting people together under one movement. For Han Sifuentes, sewing is an act of resistance. As a way to bring meaning to the craft that is more than just menial labor, The Protest Banner Lending Library physically brings sewing to the front of political and social issues.
About the Artist
Aram Han Sifuentes is a social practice, fiber, and performance artist whose work confronts racial and social injustice, particularly as it affects immigrants of color. Her work centers around skill-sharing and group-based art, employing sewing as a means of civic engagement and resistance. Han Sifuentes learned to sew at the age of six, helping her mother make a living as a seamstress. Thus, Han Sifuentes’ art is informed by her upbringing. Sewing became a politicized act for Han Sifuentes, a part of her identity as an immigrant of color and a skill that she has passed on to others through her workshops. Through her Protest Banner Lending Library, Han Sifuentes has hosted sewing workshops across the country, allowing people to protest the 2016 elections safely and without restraint. In her U.S. Citizenship Test Sampler workshop, she empowers immigrants by giving them a space to practice for the U.S. citizenship test. As an artist, Han Sifuentes states that her goal is “to disrupt, unsettle, and rupture dominant narrative to assert, demand, and claim space for those who are commonly ‘othered’”. With her art, Han Sifuentes continues to give voice to disempowered people, to allow their struggles and experiences to be visualized and communicated on both an individual and collective level.
Aram Han Sifuentes earned her BA in Art and Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and her MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a 2016 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow, 2016 3Arts Awardee, and 2017 Sustainable Arts Foundation Awardee. Her work has been featured in numerous locations, such as the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis, MO), Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (Chicago, IL), Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago, IL), Chicago Cultural Center (Chicago, IL), Asian Arts Initiative (Philadelphia, PA), Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum (Seoul, South Korea), and the Design Museum (London, UK).
This Spotlight module was created by DePaul University undergraduate students Melissa Aguinaldo, Mackenzie Farel, Tuyết Anh Lê, Melina Medina, Lily Nelson, Gertrude Palillo, Sabrina Salvador as part of Professor Laura Kina’s Spring 2020 course AAS 203/ART 395 Asian American Arts and Culture with additional editing by DePaul University Critical Ethnic Studies MA student Lennex Cowan Summer 2020.
Alex Chang – can you hyperlink the citations? Lennex, can you finish formatting the citations to Chicago Manual of Style format for notes and bibliography? Lennex – also, go back and watch the original video and add in additional readings.
1. Aram Han Sifuentes, “Aram Han Sifuentes visiting artist talk.” Zoom, AAS 203/ART 395 Asian American Arts and Culture, Professor Laura Kina, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, April 20, 2020.
Can you also put the 2nd set of images in a gallery or help us make this look pretty? My former student ART 395 Mackenzie Farel made the following video selections (see links below) but I didn’t get the original files. I’ll ask Lennex Cowan to use the original zoom files to recreate these selections. Lex and Alex, should we add an opening image and credits at the end? Should we include other video selections? We have 1 hour of footage.
Aram Han Sifuentes, “Aram Han Sifuentes visiting artist talk.” Zoom, AAS 203/ART 395 Asian American Arts and Culture, Professor Laura Kina, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, April 20, 2020.
See also: https://via.library.depaul.edu/oral_his_series/70/
Works CitedAram Han Sifuentes "Aram Han Sifuentes." Accessed 1 Jun 2020. https://www.aramhansifuentes.com/.