Dylan Graham’s recent work centers around the historic issues of colonialism, immigration and forced migration. It is a visual portrayal of the aftereffects and consequences of these legacies of events. During an artist-in-residence period in New York in 2004 Graham made the first preliminary sketches for what would later become his current series of cut paper works. The artist has busied himself with various mediums over the years, however, drawings and installations remain the backbone of his work. The paper cutouts are monochromatic two-dimensional works made by delicately cutting paper down to minute details. The depictions are generally of dramatic global events seen from both a personal perspective as well as from within a historic-cultural context. The imagery is rendered in a complex silhouette and then the whole is decoratively embellished taking inspiration from folk traditions from around the world. They shift in their focus from large scale to minute detail which is also apparent in his installations and sculptures, where an array of objects are brought together to form a complex environment.
The political content of this work concentrates on the social aspects and repercussions of colonialism and the historic and modern cultural context of colonialism, immigration and forced migration. Dylan Graham is a modern ‘immigrant’. Having moved with his family from one nation (Aotearoa / New Zealand) to another (The Netherlands), giving up citizenship of one and replacing it with another. During his youth Graham witnessed at first hand the effects of colonialism on the Maori people of New Zealand. “I had always felt profoundly the meaning of my presence in my homeland, and once ‘conquered land’. In essence, moving ‘back’ to Europe was a return to my roots. I look closely at my presence in my new land and notice how myself and other new immigrants are in effect historically playing out a reverse migration”.
The Netherlands was one of the major colonialist nations, used to occupying other lands, but not at all accustomed to being inundated from others within their borders. This is a modern conundrum that many of the old Western nations are now dealing with – a passive saturation of foreign peoples within their own borders. While some countries, such as the United States and Canada were ostensibly built on these principles (although they too at times overlook their own beginnings), Europe was not. Graham’s work comments on these movements from the seemingly benign, and indeed revolutionary missions of discovery dating back to Cortez and the Dutch East/West India Companies, to the modern day realities of the new colonialists- refugees, adventure seekers, multi- national corporations, etc. His work takes a close look at the icons and enduring symbols of these subjects and juxtaposes the perspectives, from the conquered to the conquerers, from the empowered citizen to the rootless newcomer and presents a subtle analysis of these historical events from the perspective of an individual living in seemingly very different times.