Postcommodity, Ai Weiwei, and others consider forced migration and new worlds at Mia exhibit

Richard Misrach, 'Agua #10'

Richard Misrach, 'Agua #10'

The Greek and Roman sculptures normally found in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s 24th Street entrance have all been removed. Doryphoros, the 12-50 BCE “ideal man” who usually greets visitors as they enter the atrium, is out of sight. These pieces have been taken away to make room for a giant, commissioned piece by artist collective Postcommodity as part of “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration.” 

The traveling exhibition, which opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston last fall, takes its title from Somali-British writer Warsan Shire, whose poem “Home” begins with the lines: 

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border 
when you see the whole city 
running as well.

Mia’s iteration of the exhibition features 21 artists and two special commissions, one from Postcommodity and a new piece by the local artist collective CarryOn Homes. Mia’s exhibition also includes the first U.S. presentation of Ai Weiwei’s Safe Passage (2016), as hundreds of life jackets have been wrapped around the outdoor columns of the museum in a statement on refugee travel. 

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An internationally recognized artist and activist, Ai Weiwei has used his work to bring increased attention and visibility to human rights issues. Debuting in Berlin, with later iterations in Japan and Chile, "Safe Passage" marks its U.S. premiere at Mia. The installation comprises thousands of discarded lifejackets, worn by refugees making the dangerous sea journey from Turkey to Greece, installed on Mia’s exterior columns. This installation is a part of the new exhibition "When Home Won't Let You Stay: Art and Migration," opening on Sunday, February 23, at Mia. Get tickets and learn more at #WhenHomeWontLetYouStay #SafePassage #artsmia #AiWeiwei @aiww [Pictured: Installation view of Ai Weiwei, "Safe Passage" at the Minneapolis Institute of Art]

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For Postcommodity’s installation, Let Us Pray for the Water Between Us, they have transformed a chemical storage tank primarily, used for industrial farming, into a giant water drum. The tank has also been retrofitted with a robot that strikes the base of the piece to create sound.

“These tanks are ubiquitous throughout North America,” says Postcommodity member Cristobel Martinez. “They're used to store all kinds of chemicals that are used for farming: everything from the fertilization of the land, to dust control, to hydrochloric acid and other various chemicals that are used for industrial farming.” 

“The idea behind it is to build a discourse around displacement of Indigenous communities, which also is tied to sovereignty over food systems,” Martinez says. 

One of Postcommodity's previous projects included making art, not walls, along the U.S./Mexico border.

One of Postcommodity's previous projects included making art, not walls, along the U.S./Mexico border. Image courtesy Postcommodity and Bockley Gallery

The 2,300 gallon storage tank will hover above the atrium where the Greek and Roman sculptures once stood. 

“It’s a conceptual gesture,” Martinez says of the piece. “We’re challenging a venerated place of objects that signify the Western, Judeo-Christian, scientific worldview. The worldview that is also implicated is the extraction of resources on an American Indian land, and the pollution of our Indigenous land.”

The robotic drum will be playing the rhythm of honor songs of Dakota people. “The piece is operating on multiple registers,” Martinez says. “On the one hand, it’s an honor song. At the same time, it’s acknowledging that water is becoming increasingly polluted throughout North America, especially in Minnesota.” 

The issue of pollution in Minnesota, Martinez says, is intricately linked to colonization. “[The piece is] dismantling the decolonized institutional structure that has historically discriminated against Indigenous people.” Martinez says. 

Industrial storage can vary greatly in shape and size, but often looks something like these guys.

Industrial storage can vary greatly in shape and size, but often looks something like these guys. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Based in the Southwest United States, Postcommodity also has ties here in the Twin Cities. They are represented by Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, where they have shown their work, and have had speaking engagements at the Walker Art Center and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. 

“Over the past couple of years, we've been able to develop really warm and supportive friendships in Minneapolis. It’s kind of like a sacred space for us as a collective; a place where we're where we feel a great deal of support,” says Martinez. 


“When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration”
Sunday, February 23–May 24
Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis

"When Home Won't Let You Stay"

"When Home Won't Let You Stay" L-R; Work by Yto Barrada, Xaviera Simmons, Do Ho Suh