Two St. Paul artists have a message for their neighbors in St. Paul’s Rondo and Frogtown neighborhoods. Actually, it’s many messages delivered through powerful words and images.
Aki Shibata and Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay have created a project called “Dear Neighbors,” which shares its messages through posters created by writers and artists based in St. Paul. The posters are exhibited at XIAART Gallery on University Avenue, visible through the windows of the storefront space. A couple of the posters are at Marc Heu Patisserie Paris just across the street on the other side of the Green Line. They’re hanging at the Victoria Theatre project down the street and at the Rondo Community Library.
Shibata and Vongsay are giving away posters and hope to see the five designs throughout the neighborhood — creating community and connection. In a letter to their neighbors taped to the gallery window, they say the messages offer “hope, reflection, imagination, interrogation, joy and more.”
Frogtown and Rondo neighbors can pick up copies of the posters Jan. 21, 22 and 24 at XIAART gallery.
Japanese public artist Shibata started Dear Neighbors “and invited me to dream with her,” said Eastside-based Lao American poet and playwright Vongsay. They invited a group of five writers and five artists to work in pairs on the posters. Each duo created a visual “letter” to their neighbors.
“How do we as artists stay connected today?” Shibata said. “More than ever we need each other.”
The project features Black, Indigenous, Asian, Desi and Latinx artists. Frogtown and Rondo have a majority BIPOC population, Shibata said. All of the writer/artist pairs had a different process to come up with the message on their posters.
Fiction writer and poet Terrance Shambley Jr. worked with artist Chineze Okolo. Shambley lives in St. Paul’s North Side and Okolo is a student at Como High School. Shambley said last week that he can “sometimes feel the hostileness” toward BIPOC people in his neighborhood, a sentiment Okolo shared, he says, “and we wanted to try this thing as a way to call folks out.”
The main image Okolo, 15, created for their poster “Silence is Violence” is a Black girl’s head with two white hands covering her mouth, Shambley pointed out. Some of Shambley’s text reads: “You stroll the streets of your St. Paul neighborhood, untouched by the plights of darker skins; know you’re passing through ghosts.”
Shibata says the writer/artist collaborations have created powerful messages. “What a joy to see that strong work coming out of it,” she says.
Vongsay, whose family immigrated from Thailand after the American/Vietnam War, grew up in Rondo and felt that artists have a role to play as connectors. “We essentially wanted to be connectors between neighbors with our poster project. Rondo and Frogtown hold firm spaces in our hearts because we grew up here and make our art here. Artists have a unique role to play as documentarians and messengers,” Vongsay said in a written statement. “We hope people see the posters and think, ‘Yes, thanks for empathizing,’ or ‘Wow, I’m not alone in feeling that way.’ ”
The Dear Neighbor poster project was one of 10 granted projects from the Visual Arts Fund made possible by Midway Contemporary Arts through the Andy Warhol Foundation. Artists who created the posters are: Adlyn Carreras, Gita Ghei, Heather C. Lou, Winfrey Oenga, Chineze Okolo, Atlese Robinson, Terrence Shambley Jr., Bayou Thomas, Thomasina Topbear, Boonmee Yang, and screenprinting artist Courtney Cochran.
Get a poster
- What: Dear Neighbor poster pickup (masks and social distancing required)
- When: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Jan. 21, 22 and 24
- Where: XIAART Gallery, 422 W. University Ave., St. Paul
- Plus: Neighbors can also view the posters at XIAART from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays by calling 651-222-7798 to make an appointment. The Dear Neighbor exhibit is open through Feb. 28.
- To see the posters: dear-neighbor.com
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