Watching her step: Animator makes a moving art exhibit

Watching her step: Animator makes a moving art exhibit
Stephanie Williams

She’s making a walk.

A strange new stop-motion video exhibit of walking figures in Bay Ridge was inspired by a tragic incident from the artist’s family history. Stop-motion animator Stephanie Williams says that she started “The Lingering Survival of the Unfit,” opening at the Stand4 Gallery on Aug. 25, after researching her Filipino and African-American genealogy. She learned that her maternal grandfather had walked in the gruesome Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II, and created her current work to highlight the event, which was never covered in her history classes.

“Every family hears stories that are traumatic, but it was not part of my everyday understanding,” said Williams. “And when I learned that people died there and how people were walking for 70 miles, I realized that this is an American story and a human story. So I wondered ‘Why are some stories seen as heroic and some not? Who determines which stories are valuable?’ ”

In the exhibition, three lumpy, armless puppet figures walk endlessly along the edge of a circular, rotating stage, forever moving forward.

“The idea is that they walk until they don’t function anymore,” said Williams.

The animation will be projected onto four different screens at the gallery, accompanied by audio of Williams talking to her mother about the family’s history.

The walking figures represent her grandfather’s forced march, as well as the long journeys made by refugees seeking a home in the United States, said Williams. Comparing how her grandfather and her mother navigated through life in order to create a better one for the next generation, opened her eyes to the freedom she enjoyed growing up, she said.

“This is about my understanding of what struggle is because it hits close to home, but it’s not my story,” she said. “I’ve never experienced not been able to move where I wanted to, or running from fear, or being forced to migrate. I was able to settle where I wanted and feel safe in my upbringing.”

Williams hopes that viewers will relate to the struggles of her stop-motion figures, and then relate that to the plight of refugees in the United States.

“I am hoping people think a little more about what it means to leave one place for a better life and recognize what it’s like to be forced to be moved from one place to another in a personal context, and share empathy with folks going through those hard circumstances around the world,” she said.

“The Lingering Survival of the Unfit” at Stand4 Gallery [414 78th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Bay Ridge, (917) 842–7958, www.standconnect.com]. Open Saturdays, noon–3 pm from Aug. 25 to Oct. 6. Opening reception on Aug. 31 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Non-stop: The figures walk a circular, rotating table in the animation — never stopping. Williams says it is a metaphor for the journeys many immigrants make throughout their lives.
Stephanie Williams