The Rubin Center at UTEP opened three shows last Thursday featuring two reflections on iconic streets in decay and one on what might be seen as one of the reasons why.
Patrice Lumumba was considered in Africa as a freedom fighter who successfully fought for the liberation of Congo from Belgium in the early 60’s .and by Belgium and the United States as a dangerous, possibly Communist, threat who needed to be eliminated. He also made internal enemies and within 12 weeks of the Congo’s independence he was assassinated.
Regardless, he remained a hero to many in Africa and in various countries streets and schools were named after him. Unfortunately if you are so famous streets get named after you it also means that sometimes your name runs the danger of becoming a metaphor for disappointment.
South African photographer Guy Tillem has taken photos of streets named after Lumumba in Mozambique, Angola as well as the Republic of Congo reflecting how in too many cases the bright future has become an unfortunate past and harrowing present. These are large 91cm x 131.5cm (36in x 51in) photographs printed on rag paper which give an insight into daily and official life in these countries. There are governmental offices trying to do work with hopelessly antiquated equipment; buildings in disrepair or totally abandoned, though obviously originally built with hopes for something better.
Clearly this portrait is not a complete picture of daily life, but one segment of a reality in what is still a little known part of the world.
Far better known to those of us living here on the border is the famous, some might say,infamous Mariscal street in Ciudad Juarez. The place to go for night life, it was for decades an area filled with bars, restaurants and tons of locals and tourists. The recent violence meant many places closed and the former municipal government decided it wanted to build something new and tourist oriented, hoping to create a new image for the city in the midst of the negative reports of the violence. So they started tearing down almost all of the old beloved buildings. Unfortunately they didn’t really have the money to build anything new so the area appears something of a wasteland. Of course it should be noted that among the many activities were rampant drug use, prostitution and trafficking of various kinds and many people tended to see Juarez only in terms of this wide open kind of trade, a bit like assuming that Amsterdam consists only of “coffee shops and the red light district. In any case, well known photographer Julian Cardona has documented the destruction of this once vibrant street. The exhibition consists not only of his superb photographs, but also of interviews with dozens of people who worked on the district. These are displayed on bilingual texts displayed along one wall, and as there are some fifty in all the texts will be changed every week of the exhibition.
Finally Argentine born, Mexico City based artist Maximo Gonzalez has what might be considered two different exhibitions. He has created a site specific installation filling the two story atrium with small plastic objects filled with red light creating a colorful spectacle. Upstairs he has fashioned pointed barbs at the war industry and financial currency manipulations through the use of cut up bank notes and other materials to form satirical images such as a plane defecating bombs. There are also videos exploring political themes as well.
Although individual situations are vastly different in all of the examples shown, it is perhaps not too much aof a stretch to see war and/or money somewhere not too far behind the scenes pulling strings and maybe laughing quietly.
The shows continue until March 15. – David Sokolec