Spotlight: Aram Han Sifuentes – The Protest Banner Learning Library
Aram Han Sifuentes works to fight for complex humanity of people who are othered. She is deliberate in creating space for disenfranchised people and their allies to voice their humanity through art. Han Sifuentes recognizes the artist in everyone. She has fostered communities of people to express themselves in the making of samplers [see below] or protest banners. Marginalized people have always used protests in the US for their humanity to be recognized. Han Sifuentes gives space for people to contribute to protests by making fabric banners. Protestors can design and sew banners and house it in the The Protest Banner Lending Library, where people can use the banners for any purpose.
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 provides a space for empowerment, subversion, and protest―a place for minorities to have a voice in a world that seeks to silence them.
To build community in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections, Han Sifuentes began making protest banners in her apartment. Originally done with her friends, soon Han Sifuentes began doing banner-making workshops for the public. She built community as a form 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.
“Some people say my parents should be appreciative of the opportunities given to them [as immigrants]…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”
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 participants have made the protest banners, they are entered into the growing collection within to be used in protests. Protestors can check-out a banner and use it for however they see fit and the banners can be returned at any time without penalty. People use the banners they create in protests themselves or donate their work to the library.
Han Sifuentes provides an outlet for people who want to be part of a movement but may not feel safe attending protests. Participants artistically express their opinions in banners.
“The Protest Banner Lending Library ‘is a space where people come together in solidarity through making’”
People crafting and sewing fabric to create protest banners allows for more sustainable use of materials since fabric is more durable than the traditional paper and cardboard used for protest signs and banners. People unite with each banner as they travel to various places at various times, under one movement, fighting for disenfranchised people. For Han Sifuentes, sewing is an act of resistance. Immigrants are exploited by being forced to work in sewing and dry-cleaning jobs despite their careers in their home countries. Han Sifuentes is taking the traditionally dehumanizing work and using it to fight for the humanity of othered people across the country. Han Sifuentes is continuing the genealogy of the Asian American artists before to use art as a force of protest and resistance while honoring her culture along the way.
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. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Han Sifuentes immigrated to the US with her family as a young girl. 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. She uses sewing as a medium to interrogate identity politics, immigration and immigrant labor, possession, and dispossession of citizenship and belonging, dissent, protest, and race politics in the United States.
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.
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/