New Outdoor Exhibition Opens at East Lansing Public Library

Project Showcases the Work of Collaborators from the Lansing Area

The51 Pounds exhibit by Vivek Vellanki outside the East Lansing Public Library East Lansing Public Library and Vivek Vellanki announce that the exhibition 51 Pounds (Take Me with You) opens at the East Lansing Public Library in East Lansing, Michigan on October 21, 2020. The exhibition showcases work from a collaborative project in which Vellanki asked immigrants, refugees and international students to respond to the current rise in xenophobic rhetoric and policies through an exploration of the objects in their everyday lives. He asked them, “What would you take with you if you were forced to leave tomorrow?” and invited them to curate these objects which he then photographed in their homes.  

51 Pounds (Take Me with You) showcases eight photographs that Vellanki created with collaborators living in the Greater Lansing area. Vellanki’s collaborators are from a diverse range of ages and nationalities. Vellanki’s exhibition is a timely and important response to the xenophobic rhetorics and policies that are impacting the lives of migrants and refugees around the world. This exhibition highlights the uncertainty that shrouds their lives. It is also a reminder that migrants and refugees often leave behind more than they take with them.  

Vivek Vellanki's Artist Statement:

Today, the strike of a pen, an uninked stamp, or a policy set in motion can force individuals, families, and communities to relocate, leaving behind the mainstay and majority of their lives.  They must choose what they will take with them and this must fit in the confines of two suitcases, each weighing less than 51 pounds.  Hence "51 pounds (take me with you)," -- a concept familiar to anyone who has taken that often one-way flight with hopes of building a new life in a strange country.

For this series, I photographed eight immigrants in their homes in the United States and asked them: "What would you take with you if you were forced to leave tomorrow?"  The photographs of their chosen belongings offer a glimpse into their everyday lives, desires, and dreams: the young girl who wants to pack a can of whipped cream, the couple that wants to take back the souvenirs they have collected through all their travels, and the artist who will take her paint brushes.  Through these portraits of the carefully curated objects they would carry with them, we can see the resilience of their dreams, what brings them joy.  What escapes the photographs, policies, and public discourse, is the reality that when migrants and refugees are deported, denied entry, cast away, they are forced to leave behind everything else in their lives; all that won't fit into those 51 pounds.

--Vivek Vellanki

“When Vivek shared his vision with me, pre-COVID-19, I was excited about the project and showcasing the photographs in the library, where the diversity of people and cultures are celebrated. Then the pandemic hit and Vivek had to reimagine his project,” stated Kristin Shelley, Library Director. “The 51 Pounds photographs are a wonderful cultural exhibit for the community and provide thought provoking and heartwarming visual stories during a time when we all need beauty.”   

Vivek Vellanki is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society and a visiting Assistant Professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. He received his PhD in Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education from the College of Education at Michigan State University. His artistic practice and scholarly research center issues of migration, arts-based research, and educational justice. His artistic work has been shown at the MSU Union Gallery, Broad Art Lab and other venues. His scholarly work has been published in Contemporary Education Dialogue, Teachers College Record, Urban Education and other journals.

The exhibition is organized and hosted by the East Lansing Public Library with funding from The East Lansing Arts Council. The dates for the show are October 21, 2020 to January 11, 2021 and can be viewed by driving up to the East Lansing Public Library located at 950 Abbot Rd, East Lansing. This is an outdoor exhibition, please wear a mask if you are visiting and follow the health guidelines suggested by the city and county health department.