Photo by Sarah Whyte
As an immigrant and a daughter of a seamstress, I learned to sew at age six. It was not a choice but rather a necessity to help my mother earn a living. In this way, sewing has ever since been an important part of me, my body memory, and my politics. Sewing is my medium to investigate identity politics, immigration and immigrant labor, possession and dispossession, citizenship and belonging, dissent and protest, and race politics in the United States.
My art practice situates itself at the intersection of fiber, social practice, performance, and pedagogy. At the core of my practice, I create socially engaged and materially rich projects in an ‘art world’ environment that are available and accessible for those who are disenfranchised, particularly for dispossessed immigrants of color.
I confront social and racial injustices against the disenfranchised and riff off of official institutions and bureaucratic processes to reimagine new, inclusive, and humanized systems of civic engagement and belonging. I do this by creating participatory and active environments where safety, play, and skill-sharing are emphasized. And even though many of my projects are collaborative and communal in nature, they incite and highlight individual’s experiences, politics, and voice. Much of my communal work revolves around sharing skills as a point of connection. We share sewing techniques, to create multiethnic and intergenerational sewing circles, which become a place for empowerment, subversion, and protest.
Aram Han Sifuentes (she/they) is a social practice and fiber artist, writer, and educator who works to center immigrant and disenfranchised communities. She confronts social and racial injustices against the disenfranchised and riffs off official institutions and bureaucratic processes to reimagine new, inclusive, and humanized systems of civic engagement and belonging. She does this by creating participatory and active environments where safety, play, and skill-sharing are emphasized. And even though many of her projects are collaborative and communal in nature, they incite and highlight individual’s experiences, politics, and voice.
Han Sifuentes earned her B.A. in Art and Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and her M.F.A. in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been a recipient of a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, Map Fund, Asian Cultural Council’s Individual Fellowship, Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, AHL Foundation’s Andrew & Barbara Choi Family Foundation Grant, Illinois Art Council Agency’s Artist Fellowship Award, Center of Craft’s Craft Research Fund Artist Fellowship, and 3Arts Award. In 2021, she was awarded a 3Arts Next Level/Spare Room Award, a $50,000 unrestricted grant to three women in the visual arts in Chicago who were previous 3Arts Award recipients. In 2022, she was awarded a Joyce Award, a $75,000 award to support the creation of her new work in collaboration with HANA Center called Citizenship for All: Storytelling Through Nonggi Making. Her project Protest Banner Lending Library was a finalist for the Beazley Design Awards at the Design Museum in London in 2016.
Solo exhibitions of her work have been shown at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Chicago Cultural Center, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Hyde Park Art Center, Asian Arts Initiative, Skirball Cultural Center and moCa Cleveland. Public art commissions include Messages to Our Neighbors for Mural Arts Philadelphia in 2021, a 28-billboard project made with Philadelphia immigrant youth that was placed all over the city of Philadelphia. Her work often revolves around skill sharing, specifically sewing techniques, to create multiethnic and intergenerational sewing circles, which become a place for empowerment, subversion and protest. Han Sifuentes has facilitated workshops for her projects internationally including at the Whitney Museum of American Art with Cauleen Smith as part of the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Zeeuws Museum in the Netherlands, Harold Washington Library, and the Design Museum in London. Han Sifuentes’s art works are included in various public collections including the Renwick Gallery of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Design Museum in London, Herbert Johnson Museum of Art, DePaul Art Museum, and Wing Luke Museum of Asian Pacific American Experience.
She lectures and presents artist talks to international audiences. She has published writings and texts. Her monograph, We Are Never Never Other, was published in October 2021 by University Galleries at Illinois State University with the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Other texts include, “How Internalized White Supremacy Manifest for My BIPOC Students in Art School,” for the summer issue of Art Journal (2021) for which she was awarded the inaugural 2021 Lois Moran Award for Craft Writing, and a book chapter “A Mother’s Work: A Mother/Daughter/Seamstress/Fiber Artist’s Merging Practice and Politics,” in Maternal in Creative Work: Intergenerational Discussions on Motherhood and Art edited Elena Marcevska and Velerie Walkerdine and published by Routledge in 2019.
Her work is recognized for merging art and activism through community-based art projects. In addition to recognition within the field of contemporary art, her art and scholarship is also recognized in fields of social justice and activism. Since 2021, she serves on the board of a renown national immigrant rights organization, National Korean American Service And Education Consortium (NAKASEC), who are at the forefront of fighting for Citizenship for All for all immigrants and adoptees in the United States. She was the 2020-2021 Artist-in-Residence at Loyola University, Chicago and is currently a Full Professor, Adjunct at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.