Part of our national identity arises from the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans come from elsewhere, but it's the first-generation immigrants whose experiences most significantly contribute to this idea, while later generations forget the words to their parents' and grandparents' stories. As the immigrant leaves one "home" for another -- sometimes willingly, sometimes otherwise -- identity and allegiance can become constant psychological issues.
Three artists -- Gaye Chan, Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui, and Jenny Perlin -- meditate on exile and the duality of the immigrant's experience in S.F. Camerawork's newest exhibition, "Once Removed." Chan, a "settler immigrant" to Hawaii, touches on how assimilation to a new culture delivers the death blow to memory and history in her installation Points of Departure. Using immigrant narratives as a touchstone, Chan explores the unique position she and many other non-native residents of our 50th state occupy as both colonizers and the colonized. Ordoqui's photography series Banishments examines his own exile from Cuba, his alienation and inability to reconcile the present with memories of the past. Finally, Perlin's installation Crossing Borders (for Walter Benjamin) revisits the cultural critic's flight from Nazi Germany and his suicide as he believed his captors neared. Perlin draws together film, sacred objects, and a fractured text of Benjamin's failed escape through Spain in her memoir of his final exit.
An opening reception for "Once Removed" will be held Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. (the exhibition runs through May 6) at S.F. Camerawork, 115 Natoma (near New Montgomery), S.F. Admission is free; call 764-1001. Gaye Chan lectures on her work and her exploration of immigrant narratives on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.; admission is $4-6.