Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2000

Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2000, 9 chromogenic color prints, 21-1/2" x 16-1/2" (54.6 cm x 41.9 cm), each, Edition 12 of 25, Edition of 25 + 5 APs, PHOTO, No. 47300.12, Alt # PAM# 1093 Format of original photography: high res tiff

Is the world having an identity crisis? Has America forgotten that it is "a nation of immigrants"?

Clear answers remain elusive, but the “Bodies of Knowledge” exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) suggests that identity is as much a matter of language and culture as it is DNA.

Work by Manon Bellet, Wafaa Bilal, Garrett Bradley, Mahmoud Chouki, Adriana Corral, Zhang Huan, William Kentridge, Shirin Neshat, Edward Spots, Donna Crump and Wilmer Wilson IV explore the complexity of the many layers of influences that form the identities of people all over the world, and the expo incorporates an array of events including performances, film screenings and talks. Some of the supporting events help the more cryptic works in the gallery get their points across.

The series of self-portraits by New York- and Shanghai, China-based artist Huan (pictured) are based on family history and folktales that progressively cover more of his face in Chinese writing. Wilson's “Black Mask” video similarly covers his face with black Post-it notes, evoking a paradox of black visibility and invisibility. Writing on hands appears in Iranian art-star Neshat's most iconic works, including her “Rapture” photograph in the expo.

South African artist Kentridge's work is based on animated drawings from his personal journal that use imagery as a kind of language. Bradley honors lost silent films by black artists by recreating films starring people from New Orleans communities as a way of graphically envisioning lost histories in oblique video projections.

Iraqi artist Bilal's bookshelf installation is a novel way to restock Iraq's bombed-out libraries, and Bellet's calligraphic-looking wall installation of black silk paper ashes reminds us that all things are ephemeral and impermanent.

The provocatively elusive qualities of this show remind us that all identities — personal, ethnic or national — are ever-evolving works in progress.

Though Oct. 13. New Orleans Museum of Art, 1 Collins C. Diboll Circle, (504) 658-4100.

Contact D. Eric Bookhardt at erikhardt@gmail.com.