Art resonates amid local and global strife in upcoming Tephra exhibit

3AM: Time Sensitive, a new exhibit at Tephra in Reston (courtesy Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art)

A new exhibit at Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art in Reston is set to highlight how great art can still be created even in the midst of intense political and social upheaval.

The Reston Town Center-based local arts organization, which re-branded earlier this year from Greater Reston Arts Center, is debuting “3AM: Time Sensitive” next month, a collection of performance-based works from a Myanmar artist collective.

“There’s a lot that we can learn about how people express themselves, how people create art, and how people organize in their communities in the face of volatile political times,” says show curator Adriel Luis. “Often times what can be missed is how much we can learn about…these issues happening in the United States when we actually look at things from a global lens.”

The exhibit will feature three video-based works showing lived-in experiences of the artists, particularly the impact of globalization, political turmoil, and the complexities of queer life in Myanmar.

This is the first time that work of the three artists that make up 3AM — Ma Ei, Ko Latt, and Yadanar — is being shown in the United States. The exhibit at Tephra will run through early January 2022.

One piece, says Luis, features still images of the artists holding objects that are commonplace in Myanmar, some traditional and some clearly imported from the west.

“There are places in this world that are actively going through civil war, but yet art persists and people continue to express themselves,” Luis says.

The exhibit is in-person only at the moment, but the display will also be shown out the windows of Tephra’s gallery at 12001 Market Street for those who are not comfortable coming inside.

Despite a pandemic, Tephra has had several notable exhibits and displayed works over the last few months including Quantum Shift, which is still on display until August 7, as well a monolith sculpture that was erected in D.C. back in May.

Luis says he and Tephra as a whole made it a priority to work with international artists not only to grow as an institution, but also to provide a look into what’s going on in other parts of the world.

Luis, who is also a curator at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, says his career has been about bringing artists from across the world to local galleries and communities.

“The hope is to demonstrate how showing an international artist can actually resonate deeply within a local community, as opposed to sticking out like a sore thumb,” he says.

He believes Reston’s size will give community members a closer connection to the message that these artists are trying to make.

“There’s a lot of reasons why somewhere like Reston is so much more similar to the environment that these artists are used to than a bigger city like D.C.,” he says.

Under normal circumstances, the artists would be here to introduce and answer any questions about their work, but between the COVID-19 pandemic and upheaval in the wake of a military coup in Myanmar, that isn’t possible for 3AM. Luis and Tephra are still trying to figure out a way to have the artists be available for a conversation about their works.

Either way, the message that Luis hopes audiences take away from this, no matter the circumstances, is one that is universal.

“The message is ‘what does it mean to be true to ourselves?’,” Luis asks. “We’ll definitely see how it lands once it’s shown, but that’s the hope.”

Courtesy Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art

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