All Along the Watchtower 


Francisco Mata Rosas (b Mexico City) tends to focus his lens on those people and places  usually marginalized in order to give them, if not a voice, at least an opportunity to be seen. A few years ago the Museo de Arte here in Juarez mounted a show of his series Tepito (Bravo el Barrio) in which he photographed residents of that somewhat notorious Mexico City barrio with excellent professional lighting against a white backdrop in order to afford each of them a dignity and recognition which they perhaps rarely receive from others.
In the series called “La Linea” which opened last Friday night at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez, he has focused on the border. For five years he has focused his attention on the border using his camera to capture some of the people and reality of the line between Mexico and the United States through a variety of means including a drone.
The photographic images, which are presented here without informational cards, take varied forms and sizes from more or less standard size photographs to landscapes that take up a whole wall. Here, as in his other series, he focuses on those who are often ignored or shunned, including  drug addicts as well as those who are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Many of the photographs focus on the detritus left behind by those attempting to cross from one side to the other or on some of the absurdities inherent in a situation in which those desperate to escape difficult situations bump up against the implacable forces which attempt to deter them.
The photography is wonderful, Francisco Mata has a keen sensibility and a sharp eye for the often overlooked and the small things which can imply much more, so why did the show leave me somewhat dissatisfied even while I admired the individual pieces?
There is a scene in Alain Resnais 1959 film  Hiroshima Mon Amour, which concerns both the destruction of Hiroshima and an affair  between a Japanese architect and a French actress , in which she says something like “When I  was in Hiroshima…” and he responds “You were never in Hiroshima.” (This despite the fact the film is set in Hiroshima). This kept playing in my head as I was wandering around the exhibit because unfortunately many people who live outside the border region probably believe these images constitute the totality of the border region. Many people tend to view the place as a wild and marginalized area consisting mostly of nothingness and desperate people trying to cross over or the very poor scrambling to get by.  While that is clearly are an integral part of the border, it is only a part.  Those of us who live here know that the border is an enormously dynamic place. There is a huge amount of trade and commerce which happens daily, there are universities and arts and a rich cultural mix which creates a distinctive culture. Despite a general misconception, the border is not simply  bicultural but  is filled with people from a wide variety of cultures. In Juarez alone there are people from an enormous number of  countries as well as many different indigenous groups. The number of languages spoken is enormous even though this isn’t often realized in daily life. I’ve been thinking lately that the border is a bit like the Nile in that there is a large swath of desert spreading out from either side, while along the banks or la linea  a distinctive and rich culture has sprung up on both sides.
The excellent photographs in this exhibition show an integral and important part of that culture, but it is important to remember that it is only a small part of the much larger and much more varied world this border forms.
For those who cannot see the show in person Francisco Mata’s website (Francisco Mata.com.mx) provides an even more complete selection of photos, though of course they are better seen in person, particularly for the variety of forms and sizes they take.

The exhibition runs through October 15.-david sokolec

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Opening and closing at the Museo de Arte 

There are two worthwhile events this week at the Museo de Arte. Opening on Thursday the 15th at 7pm is Herbadores para Soñadores. This installation in the newly transformed exposition space at the museum is by  Gabriela Zubillaga and curated by Victoria Vinamaragui. 

The following evening. Carla Rippey is giving a talk at the closing of her wonderful retrospective. Entitled Gráfica Reinventada it is also scheduled for 7pm.

I should also mention there are a number of workshops also scheduled this week at the museum. – david sokolec 

A Bug A Cactus and World Domination

Textiles and dyeing techniques seem to have suddenly become the topic du jour for museum shows. About two  weeks  ago, I was reading Rainey Knudson’s excellent review in Glasstire  of the Ikat textile show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; I see there is a show of waxed batik at the Dallas Museum of Art, and just last week I stumbled into the magnificent show “The Red That Colored the World” at the El Paso Museum of Art.
This show comes from the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe and explores the importance of cochineal dye throughout the ages and throughout the world.
The dye comes from the cochineal bug happily feeding on the prickly pear cactus and if you think this is a bit too arcane or tedious you need to think again. This is a remarkably vibrant show.
The discovery of using this bug for a particular shade of red and its variations first occured in both Mexico and Peru centuries ago, but with the conquest of the area by Spain it soon spread throughout the world. We often think about the Spanish conquest in terms of gold or maybe chocolate but this dye became the third most important trading item for them and was used in all kinds of ways.

In addition to telling the history and showing the spread of the dye back to Europe then to Asia and back again to the Americas. It displays all sorts of items on view from bags to ancient huipils centuries  to paintings centuries old to dresses made in 2014. The dye was used for the English “redcoat”uniforms in the Revolutionary War and in items we use today.  It was found in Native American weavings and along the silk road. I mentioned the Ikat exhibit because I believe there is a tie-in. The Ikat weavings were from Bukhara and Bukhara was one of the important stops along the way for the trade of the dye to Asia.
This is a marvellous show and there is even a section where you can try on various red colored pieces of clothing and take photos of yourself. Photography is not allowed in the rest of the show.
It  will be up through August 20 and unlike most of the previous majot shows at the Mueum this is free. -david sokolec

 

Great Art Events This Week on the Border

There are some great art events happening this week on the border. Beginning tonight, (Wednesday May 17) at the Museo de Arte here in Juarez ,Carlos Palacios, curator at the Museo de Arte Carillo Gil and curator of the Carla Rippey show currently on exhibit will give a free talk about the show. This is at 7 pm and tomorrow at noon he will lead a guided tour of this extraordinary retrospective.
There are a series of events at the museum this week in honor of International Museum Day culminating in a whole series of activities this Saturday at Un Dia en El Museo.

Friday is the opening of what promises to be a fascinating exhibtion to be shown on both sides of the border. Called “Narradores, Ponte en los Zapatos del Otro” here and more simply “Storytellers” in El Paso it shows the work of 60 students from different schools who present thier videos, and projects as well as interviews in which they talk about their life, hopes and dreams.
This was supported by the US Consulate in Juarez with the participation of some other local organizations and, of course, the assistance of a wide variety of local schools.
The opening in Juarez is this Friday night at Juarez Contemporary Gallery at Calle Omega #1351 at 7 pm. It will be up through the 21.
In El Paso it is scheduled to open on the 25th at The Station Urban Offices 500 W. Overland where it will run through the 28th.
Thursday is also the start of a series of films to be shown pimarily at Cafe Unico and at the Cineteca Nacionale branch at Cultural Centro Paso del Norte. The series is called Apanerowa and concerns indigenous culture and human rights . The  series at Cafe Unico begins at 4 pm .

So there you have some of the things going on here. Don’t tell me there’s nothing to do in Juarez.-dsokolec

 

Texas Biennial open to Mexican Artists

I just learned about the open call for the  Texas Biennial today(Thank you Kerry Doyle) so I’m calling attention to it  for artists on both sides of the border.  As is noted it’s open not only to artists living in Texas but also within ten miles of the border including Mexico. In addition the curator is Mexico City based Leslie Moody Castro. Note the $30 entry fee, but also that there is a stipend if your work is accepted. The deadline is at the end of the month so get on it. -d sokolec

Juarez blessed with arts this week

I feel like I need to clone myself this week because there are so many overlapping events I can’t see them all unless I’m my own double.
Beginning last Thursday and running through this Thursday (20) is the amazing “Ambulante-gira de Documentales.”. This yearly collection of documentary films from around the world tours various States of Mexico, and this week it is here. Mostly concerned with issues of social concerns in all of its forms it brings some remarkable films, most of which are free. Included are well-known, though too little seen films like Last Men in Aleppo, about the doctors who stayed in that city during the bombing, but there are also unknown fims and various series on different films  like a series of shorts I saw the other day about migration in all of its forms told from a child’s point of view. I was particularly moved by a film of a young boy from Syria who was missing his father still in Syria. There are director’s talks and a series of workshops. This Wednesday night there is an outdoor  screening of “Ovarian Psycho” about a group of women (Ovarian Psycho Bicycle Brigade)  who use bicycles  to take back streets of Los Angeles. This film at 8:00 will be preceded by a bicycle tour starting from La Rodadora led by Punto de Lanza and beginning at 6.
So in  addition to all of  these films, there is also the Siglo de Oro drama festival on both sides of the border which this year brings troupes from Spain, Canary Islands and Mexico City. These are all free.
Tuesday at 5 there is a free lecture about Carla Rippey’s remarkable exhibition at the Museo de Arte, and of course there are the usual goings on like the weekly c”Charla Fotografia” which features a talk on a different aspect of photography every week.

It’s a good week to be here, I just wish there were more of me.-David  sokolec

 

Carla Rippey-Rememberance of Times Past

Carla Rippey shows what can be accomplished when great skill, willingness to experiment and unity of vision combine. Her superb retrospective called “Resguardo y Resistencia 1976-2016 currently on view at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez takes us on a journey through the past, or rather a journey through many different pasts as well as to dreamscapes and to other worlds by means of a variety of techniques often built on a solid foundation of drawing and printing skills.
Rippey was born in Kansas City, but has lived and worked in Mexico since the 1970’s. In 2013 she was named director of “La Esmeralda” (Escuela Nacional de Pintura,Escultura y Grabado), the first woman ever named to that position, and this retrospective perhaps is an indication of why she was selected.
It presents a unity of theme which is not so much a linear stroll down memory lane as a wash of impressions and images which creates a sense of the past as well as a concern with the female form. This show feels a bit like those images which flit through one’s brain just before waking or just before drifting off to sleep.
Maybe I’m going on a bit too much about this or maybe it is a result of the wonderful large prints from the series called “Esclavos del Sueno” (Slaves of the dream) which poses a languorous figure, often nude,surrounded by imagined landscapes- the whole filled with somnolence and other lands and time. Like most of the prints in the show these are in black and white which adds a sense of out of time and place.
In some cases her concern with the female figure leads her to create highly detailed portraits, while in other instances she has applied thinner to a face drawn on a sheet of newsprint which erases part of the detail, contributing to the unreality. The show includes a pillow book she has drawn which seems like a scene from a telenovela, as well as other little books and fold out creations. She has appropriated old post cards from Cambodia placed on vintage material for a series called Turista.
One whole wall is given over to her judicious selection of archival photos from Nebraska, where her own ancestors came from, and Mexican archives with photos from around the time of the Mexican Revolution. There is one photo from 1914 which shows US troops from Nebraska camped on the Mexican border, this in a nod perhaps to referencing her own personal history.
Some retrospectives concentrate on how an artist has chaqnged technique from realism to abstraction for example, or how a change of media. This show despite a plethora of techniques seems to show a continuity of theme and purpose. It also shows the power inherent in skilled draftsmanship.
It takes a show like this to remind one of what power there can be found in pure technical skill combined with a willingness to invent, and an idea to explore. It makes so much of what is often on view seem like the gawdy trinkets of a two-bit street hustler.-david sokolec