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Keyword International : Art, Collaboration, Identity – Pittsburgh based artists reveal the meaning of “International”

Zanele Muholi is a South African based artist who received the Fine Prize for her work of Face and Phases in 2013 by Carnegie International. The project gave visibility to different faces of black LGBTQIA individuals around the globe. Her photographs took a look inside communities that were unnoticed. This intergenerational endeavor was an attempt to express the face of Africa in an unpredictable light.

When Muholi came to Pittsburgh 5 years ago, she found herself in the home of Pittsburgh based artist Alisha Wormsley. They formed a creative bond and personal friendship. Wormsley had not been familiar with Carnegie International; it was shocking that a woman from South Africa knew more about the history of Carnegie International then a Pittsburgh resident like herself. Artists from around the world were being recognized, but artists in the local community were unaware of the accessibility to these opportunities.

Alisha Wormsley is an interdisciplinary artist who uses photography, video, sculpture, and sound to take apart normalized realities and create new concepts. She examines gender, class, race and time in order to recreate stories in memory and time periods where she identifies the past, present and future re-occurring together. Her work is engaging, remarkable and exciting as she paints a strong, but vulnerable relationship between art and real social issues. She is a locally and nationally recognized artist.

Wormsley states “If Pittsburghers were to show more of an interest in being international then people would know more about this international idea. We are an open city, but what opportunities are here for other people? It should be reflexive for the population of Pittsburgh. We aren’t there yet, but maybe we will be.”

Wormsley leads us to question what it means to be international. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines international as active, known, or reaching beyond national boundaries. The term international is a universal term that remains constant over time, although it has many forms. But, what does it mean in art?

Pittsburgh has been perceived as a permanent or unchanged city. Although over the past decade change has been inevitable. It has overcome challenges, created neighborhood renewal projects, and generated preservation movements. In 2015 Metropolis Magazine ranked Pittsburgh among cities like Toronto, Copenhagen, Hong Kong and Melbourne has one of the most livable cities in the world. Yet, there has also been a focus on gentrification and Pittsburgh’s East has been in the spotlight being one of the most gentrified areas in the nation.

In other realms of Pittsburgh, nonprofits play a part in the international art scene. There have been public art installations such as The East Liberty Community Art Project commissioned by Kelly Strayhorn Theater. These collaborative projects represented artists based in Pittsburgh, nationally and around the world. That leads us to question what art means in our city and who takes charge in it.

Andrew Carnegie is known for being one of the most important philanthropists of his era. As a wealthy man Carnegie improved our communities by building libraries, theatres, museums and so on, but was a deeply invested in international art. In 1865 the Carnegie International was found and created a series of contemporary art exhibitions. Through these exhibitions Carnegie attempted to educate and motivate audiences, advocate for international artists and raise awareness about the art scene in Pittsburgh. Currently, Carnegie International is the second oldest showcase of international contemporary art in the world making Pittsburgh a mecca for universal artists.

In collaboration Kelly Strayhorn Theater and Carnegie International created Keyword International in January 2018. This program is opportunity for local arts activators to research and define Pittsburgh as an international city. Organizations, curators and programmers have been supported through twenty $1,500 micro-grants that were encouraged to explore the meaning of “international”.

Wormsley has been chosen as one of the 20 awardees for Keyword International. She is known for her performance series AFRONAUT(A) ; a diaspora of brown people from around the world which she has been showing for the past 4 years. It was designed to spark conversation on identity and investigate visionary works from around the world. She used the award from her mirco-grant to gain access to the New York African Film Festival archives. She watched many films which will be implemented into the next generation of her project. Wormsley wants to influence people who haven’t experienced this type of art and support a different population in Pittsburgh to be more aware of these subjects.

Wormsley will present on October 20, 2018 at Kelly Strayhorn Theater alongside the other 20 Keyword International awardees. This is a unique opportunity is to experience the meaning of “international” in Pittsburgh. Creating an experience that will connect the public to ideas, thoughts, art and each other. The awardees research will also be published in the 2018 Carnegie International catalogue. Keyword International was created to challenge the role of art, current social issues and the global perspective. These projects explore what we bring to the world as a city, what the world is facing and how we work through these challenges through art.