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Gary Lichtenstein Editions & PROOF: Media for Social Justice presents, Once We Were Strangers

On view May 20 – June 30, 2017



The collaborative practice of Ron Tomlinson and Amir Akhavan brings to light a unique story of an unpredictable, artistic duo whose focus is the exploration of the qualities of humanity – through a variety of aesthetic interpretations and expressions.   


Tomlinson’s career as a painter is vast and he is perhaps best known for the studio he has established in Fort Worth, Texas, a home-away-from-home for anyone who finds the front door and can demonstrate a true commitment to the practice of art. Twenty years ago, a chance meeting in Paris introduced Akhavan to Tomlinson and, despite geographical distances (Akhavan splits his time between New York and Tehran), the mentorship has endured.


Over the years, the subject of South American immigration has featured predominantly in the paintings of Tomlinson and the proximity of Fort Worth to the Mexican border is precisely the reason why.  Bearing witness to the results of thousands of border crossings, Tomlinson’s paintings examine issues of respect, trust, safety and dignity for all of those who seek peaceful refuge in the United States of America.


Akhavan has consistently examined the subject of duality, through his portrayal of figures who are frequently stereotyped. A citizen of the United States and Iran, Akhavan has had the opportunity to understand very different and frequently opposing perspectives relating to, among other things, the subject of armed conflict, religion and immigration. Akhavan’s own perspective is shaped by the fact that he was raised in America as an Iranian and later returned to Iran as an American. Akhavan does not like to be described as an artist who is attempting to “bridge the gap” between nationalities and yet his paintings do illustrate the complex relationship between two nations who must achieve peaceful coexistence.


Tomlinson and Akhavan recently reunited at Gary Lichtenstein Editions to create a new body of work using silkscreen as the primary medium. Once We Were Strangers will showcase a number of new silkscreen print editions produced by the Artists that illustrate the beauty inherent within different cultures. The exhibition will also include the photography installation entitled, (un)DOCUMENTED, made possible by PROOF: Media for Social Justice, a non-profit organization that uses visual storytelling and education to inspire global attitude and policy changes.


PROOF’s Picture Justice 2016 high school program, in partnership with the United Nations International School and The New York State Leadership Council produced (un)DOCUMENTED, an exhibit that focuses on the belief that human rights and dignity should not be premised upon the possession of documents. The images and stories in the exhibit ask the viewer to investigate what “legal” and “illegal” mean in relation to a human being. Following the 2016 United States presidential election, undocumented immigrants have been threatened with increased deportations and bans. (un)DOCUMENTED shares the stories of those directly affected and widens the understanding of why people leave home to seek sanctuary and the hope of a better life.


“A travel document is much more than a piece of paper. It is the weight that determines freedom or imprisonment, health or harm, family unity or separation, and injustice of rights.” – Abraham, Families for Freedom


Once We Were Strangers is the conceptualization of the definition of the word, “humanity,” the through-line and the thread that brought everybody together under one roof at Mana Contemporary.


30% of the proceeds of the works for sale (the works that comprise (un)DOCUMENTED are not for sale) will benefit PROOF: Media for Social Justice.


PROOF: Media for Social Justice was founded in 2006 under the vision of Leora Kahn, a longtime photo editor, documentary producer and human rights advocate, who sought to unite the skills and experiences of internationally renowned photojournalists for social good. PROOF brings together photographers, documentarians, journalists, academics, students and activists to create photo exhibitions, publications and educational workshops that document social injustices and empower people to act. These exhibits and workshops aim to engage the broader public in conversations about human rights, peace and justice through moving firsthand testimonies and powerful photo narratives.


Once We Were Strangers exhibition press-kit and pricing are available here.

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