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This series of paintings of imaginary adventures of Marco Polo was originally inspired by the narrative structure and subject matter of Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, in which a fictitious Marco Polo describes to the Kublai Khan all the cities he has visited on his travels. The series then grew to encompass personal experience of travel and cultural displacement, as well as ideas taken from the actual Travels of Marco Polo, a book with many contemporary parallels. Specifically, these paintings explore notions of xenophobia, tourism, exoticism, and cultural difference as Marco Polo, depicted as a wealthy westerner, and the quintessential tourist, is both drawn to and made uneasy by the foreign-ness of the exotic places he visits. While each painting has its own narrative, I am most interested in the larger narrative suggested by the series, as the recurring Marco Polo comes to be a sort of everyman, and we as viewers arrive at an understanding of the good, the bad, and the contradictory aspects of Polo’s (and perhaps our own) character.
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