The Big Idea

The Land is Whose Land?
Big Idea
The Big Idea

This Land Is Whose Land?

January 26 - March 31, 2018

Prompted by national conversation around the topic of immigration, this BIG IDEA project considers the United States’ relationship to the international refugee crisis. What role should our country play in resettling refugees? What responsibilities do we have as a nation? What are the potential risks and rewards of refugee resettlement?

Sun Valley Museum of Art tackles this subject in large part because of Idaho’s commitment to welcoming a growing refugee population, particularly in Boise and Twin Falls, where multiple agencies and organizations work to help recent arrivals adjust to life in a new country. This Land Is Whose Land? uses a local perspective as the platform for a larger conversation about refugees within the national context. The project also considers how we determine who is welcomed in our neighborhoods, towns or country and who gets to decide.

Although the current news media focus is primarily on the Syrian refugee crisis, those seeking asylum come to the U.S. from all over the world. The nation’s debate about how to address the refugee crisis is not a new one. The U.S. is a country composed largely of immigrants, all arriving in search of new opportunities, many having fled conditions such as war, famine, or religious, ethnic or political persecution that made life in their home countries impossible. The state of Idaho began accepting refugees beginning in the 1970s and has seen more than 20,000 arrive over the last four decades.

While this BIG IDEA project is prompted by current conversation about refugees in the U.S., it explores the topic within the larger framework of country’s history as a place of resettlement. It also considers the history of the U.S. as a place of contested (and sometimes contentious) claims over land.

View Exhibition Photo Gallery


The visual arts exhibition features work by artists who consider both the history of refugees in the U.S. and the contemporary refugee crisis.

Born in Tehran and now based in California, Shiva Ahmadi draws on the artistic traditions of Iran and the Middle East to consider contemporary political events. The exhibition features her works on paper and a hand-drawn animated film, Ascend, which Ahmadi recently completed in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Tiffany Chung has devoted much of her career to examining migration and displacement resulting from political and environmental causes. Her installation project, Tomorrow Isn’t Here, considers the Dust Bowl and the resulting migration of enormous numbers of people across the U.S. in the 1930s. Tomorrow Isn’t Here asks viewers to think about the ways complex relationships between political, economic and environmental factors can trigger refugee crises.

Fazal Sheikh is an artist who uses photography to document the lives of people  living in misplaced or marginalized communities around the world. The exhibition includes a selection of portraits he made in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and in camps in Kenya, where he began making photographs in 1992 when civil wars in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia led refugees to flee into camps that still exist today.

Los Angeles-based artist Angie Smith has spent several years making portraits and recording the stories of refugees who have resettled in Boise, Idaho, after leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Myanmar and other countries. Her work highlights the visual contrast between the backdrop of Boise and the people she photographs, many of whom dress in traditional clothing, pointing to the challenges refugees face in adjusting to a new country while also capturing their successes as they make Boise their home.

This Land is Whose Land? BIG IDEA project is generously sponsored by Jeanne Meyers and Richard Carr. Sun Valley Museum of Art is grateful to the many community collaborators supporting this BIG IDEA project: The Community Library, the Wood River Jewish Community and St. Thomas Episcopal Church.