Photo caption: Above: Artist Minh Carrico is professor and co-chair of the visual arts department of Edmonds Community College, and a founding member of International District Engaged in the Arts (IDEA) located on 666 Jackson St. Photo courtesy of Minh Carrico. 

On view until February 28, “Fragments of Htrae” at the Centennial Center Gallery in Kent presents a solo exhibition by Edmonds Community College professor and co-chair Minh Carrico. The exhibition title references the artist’s affection for “Super Friends,” a 1970s cartoon series that aired throughout Carrico’s childhood. Htrae, or “earth” spelled backwards, is an alternative cartoon universe of doppelgangers, a world turned upside down. The show presents a series of digital images, journal entries and documentary photographs that touch upon the artist’s experiences of growing up in a predominately white Southern community in Little Rock, Ark.

Though trained in traditional wet lab photography, alternative film processing and commercial photographic printing, Carrico explores digital processes in his present series. Using an iPhone camera, he created digital captures of natural materials, including tree bark and water, and heavily photoshopped these images until they ruptured into abstract patterns that resemble cells, striated fascia, and rhizomes. Carrico then combined these images with childhood photographs that he cut into removing traces of his physical identity. The images were mounted together in a handmade journal, which the artist kept close at hand.

“I carried the journal with me so that the stiffness of the black cover stock and the 65-lb. sketch paper would break down into an aged and worn journal,” he expands. “As I carried it, I wrote my thoughts in context to the combined images. The fragments are also in the text. I purposefully didn’t write out the details. I want the view to piece together the meaning of both images on the page in relations to the text.”

Phrases like “Who will pick on me today?” and “Thanks for the reminder,” and “Still the One” evoke the pain and isolation of Carrico’s early life.

A piece from Carrico’s “Fragments of Htrae” exhibit.
A piece from Carrico’s “Fragments of Htrae” exhibit.

In another part of the building, images from Carrico’s photo documentary project “Circles of Identity” are on display, complementing the work in “Fragments of Htrae.” The photo series is part of the City of Kent’s permanent art collection.
In 2002, Carrico traveled to his parents’ native country to capture the cultural heritage that was nonexistent in his life growing up in Arkansas. While many of the images in the series capture a society that was contextually familiar to Carrico, the strange and distant gaze of the outsider informs the perspective of this pictorial biography.

Born in Maryland and raised in Arkansas, Carrico was the only Asian American throughout his K-12 education. He spoke English with a southern drawl, went to church and engaged in common activities like any other American teenager, but was constantly reminded that he didn’t look like his peers. Classmates regularly told Carrico he didn’t fit in. Even when returning to visit family in Arkansas today, Carrico is reminded of an unsettling feeling that “the Southern mentality towards diversity has not evolved as much as other areas in the U.S.”  The images in “Fragments of Htrae” reflect the artist’s dialogue with his childhood experiences in an effort to come to terms with the complexities of his multiple identities.

In the late ‘80s, Carrico left Arkansas for Austin, Texas, to attend St. Edwards College, where he was exposed to a radical new community and became immersed in the city’s music scene, later shooting photographs for The Austin Chronicle. Within these social circles, Carrico grew to feel supported and encouraged in developing a unique identity: “Life as a college student opened my eyes to a broader spectrum of diversity besides black and white. I met people from all walks of life, expanded my knowledge of worldly cultures and absorbed the counter-culture of music. I found solace with those who also left behind a troubled past for a new beginning. It is within these social circles that we not only supported each other, but also encouraged one another in the celebration of our differences.”

While working as a photographer and designer in New York City in 2001, Carrico began to develop his ideas for a personal project and realized how far he had come from his Arkansas roots.

“I was comfortable being an Asian American for the first time in my life, despite not really knowing what it meant to be Asian,” he remembers. “This led me to the pursuit of the most meaningful personal project come to light: the search for the qualities that comprises my Vietnamese identity.”

Carrico is a tenured member of The visual arts department at Edmonds Community College (ECC), where he teaches studio classes and works with students from diverse backgrounds. He recently curated the ECC Gallery show, “Interpolated Spheres” (reviewed on page 18 in this issue). Through working closely with other artists, Carrico’s own work propelled in new directions that yield a deeper understanding of his own themes and interests. This intellectual and aesthetic engagement challenges Carrico to seek new ways to present visual works by merging analogue processes with digital techniques.

In recent years, Carrico has become more interested in expanding his curatorial practice to create dialogue and conversation with a broader audience beyond ECC.  Carrico co-founded the International District Engaged in the Arts (IDEA) Odyssey with Carina del Rosario and SuJ’n Chon in 2010, a collective and nonprofit art gallery that fosters and supports artist of color.

“Fragments of Htrae” closes at the end of February. The Centennial Art Gallery is located at 400 W. Gowe in Kent. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the artist, visit www.minhcarrico.com.

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