Life and Art in the Desert

Even though it might seem we’re living in a place containing only concrete, broken sidewalks and buildings, we’re actually living in a pretty vast desert, something readily apparent from a plane or even a fairly short drive. Of course, the word desert means different things to different people. Many who live elsewhere might think of the desert as being empty or barren. Those who have explored the desert know that careful scrutiny reveals abundant and varied forms of life. They also know it can be dangerous as well as rich and breathtakingly beautiful.

All of this by way of introduction to the exhibit “Desierto/ Arte/ Archivo” currently on view at the Central Cultural de la Frontera and running through the end of January.

This was a project begun back in June in which Dr Leon de la Rosa Carrillo engaged participants in exploring different aspects of desert life through a series of lectures and discussions led by different experts and figuring out ways of interpreting the culmination of those discussions through art.

Not unsurprisingly the show actually feels a bit like a desert. At first glance it seems spare, and perhaps even a bit arid. The predominant tone, mainly due to a few large pieces, is light brown. Like the desert itself the pieces require close inspection to reveal their beauty and riches.

Jane Terrazas’ work looks at first glance like a simple colored rendering of a part of the Chihuahuan desert, but it is, in fact, created with dyes made exclusively from plants found there with special attention paid to the controversial Samalayuca mine and the danger it poses to the region’s health. The qr code for the piece explains which plants produced which colors, and gives a more detailed explanation. While Terrazas uses plants, Cassandra Adame uses minerals and stones from the region to create pieces of jewelry set here among rocks from the area for her piece entitled Tierra de Nadie. (No Man’s Land, which also happens to be the Mexican title given to the movie Sicario.

The desert can mean a lot of different things. It can be a term indicating a place of danger and you might feel the need for protective armor, and while at first glance, Alejandra Rodríguez and Octavio Castrejón seem to have created what looks like some sort of Bedouin head covering, they have actually designed a physical protection which includes thick sharp wooden arm bands to protect against all manner of dangerous animals both four footed, but especially two footed, that roam in this desert city. Others mine their childhood or create desert curio cabinets to explore the theme.

The show contains video, installations, and among other pieces a series of very free flowing portraits drawn on long sheets of canvas. This work by artists Réne López Dorado and Alejandra Vargas called Sangre(s) de la Arena shows just the simplest rendering of individuals whose own recordings of reflections on their life can be downloaded from an accompanying qr code next to each

Perhaps the most impressive piece, and certainly the largest, is a recreation of the border wall with large recreations of all of the animals whose life is specifically threatened by its existence. This work called simply El Muro (the wall) by a team composed of Paola Mendoza, Laura Menesses, and JuanCarlos Reyes, provides something of an anchor to the show and is clearly linked to the impetus for the show itself, which was created in conjunction with Albuquerque 516 gallery as part of their Species in Peril of Extinction along the Rio Grande series.

At the risk of coming off as some kind of dinosaur, I do want to say something about the use of qr codes which are used exclusively here in lieu of wall information charts. They definitely provide a clean contemporary look and, more importantly, can transmit more and different kinds of information than can be provided on a simple wall post. On the other hand, while it might be safe to believe everyone has a phone capable of reading them, it seems a bit presumptuous to assume so. Additionally while the building, owned by the University, now offers free wifi to its guests, I’ve found it doesn’t always work, and not everyone has an unlimited data plan. This is not the fault of the show, but it is something that needs to be considered, otherwise it seems something of another unintentional barrier between those who have and those who don’t.

Apart from that quibble, this is an excellent show which reflects the hard work and careful thought expended in the long months of preparation and study, and focuses our attention on the fragile environment in which we live. – David Sokolec

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Procesos – working the line

As everyone knows, the Maquilas, those factories set up by international and national companies along the border helped transform the economy of Northern Mexican towns. As everyone also knows, they created problems inherent in the work itself and also as a result of a certain culture often found within the work environment.

The Art Museum of Ciudad Juárez(MUACJ) has mounted an exhibit called Procesos de Línea -which opened last Friday the 13th asking us to take a look at some of the consequences of long hours and repetitive work.

Of course there have been any number of other exhibits, demonstrations, and performances over the years on the subject, but it is always worth remembering and taking a look at the lives of people within our community working long hours for little pay to produce all manner of bright and shiny consumer goods. – David Sokolec

At Saturday’s Charla con Mujeres Trabajadores as a part of exhibition Procesos de Línea.

Children of the Rarimuri

There is a sweet photo exhibition which opened a few days ago at the Museo de Arqueologia here in Juarez that might be something of a needed antidote to the fear-fueled hate which arrived across the border recently.For some 12 years the ever active and seemingly tireless multi-tasking photographer Ogla (no, that’s not a typo) Liset Olivas has been photographing Rarimuri life in the Sierra Tarahumara and, through those photos, to bring us a closer understanding of what life is like in that rugged mountain range. In this show entitled La Raíz de Tu Mirada, she focused exclusively on Rarimuri children and women and their daily lives. By turns thoughtful or wistful or just grinning with delight the people in these photos reflect dignity and humanity.At a time when there are so many on the other side of the border who seem to feel frightened of anyone who seems different, this show helps remind us of our common humanity, and portrays a beautiful, strong and resilient group of people. It will be up until Sept 8.I also have to say that for anyone (like me) who has not been to the Museum in awhile and who remembers it as a small cramped area, it is it has been transformed into something totally different and wonderful with huge airy spaces and lots of room for exhibitions. – David sokolec

Mago la Magnifica

Margarita Gandara Armendáriz (Mago) who died last year at the age of 89, has been given a well deserved retrospective at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez. A true fronteriza she was born in El Paso, but, interestingly, her grandfather registered her as a Mexican citizen. She was always interested in art, studied it formally and then after 25 years of marriage , divorced and constructed a private art studio in Juarez which she called Casa Cui and spent years there happily living and working alone until the violence in 2011 forced her out.

She was strongly influenced by Italian Renaissance al Fresco artists as well as by Byzantine mosaicists. From that beginning, she incorporated a wide variety of, at the time, untraditional material such as fiberglass, wood and incorporated techniques learned from bricklayers to focus on visually exploring her surroundings, but also the underlying cultural spirit in the form of prehispanic and Christian religious symbols which always lie just beneath the suface here .

La Maquina de la Esperanza

La Niña cósmica

Although she worked in many different media, it is unquestionably her large murals and her sculptures which are the most impressive and are here shown along with an installation representing her beloved studio Casa Cui.

Fortunately Casa Cui has now been turned into an art center which will not only keep alive the memory of this wonderful artist but also her desire for that space to be an oasis for artists.

Installation reproducing Casa Cui

The show continues until September 7. – David sokolec

Clothes Keeping Tradition

Doña Maria Esther Zuno de Echeverria (1924-1999) was so concerned about the increasing custom in the 1970s of Mexicans to forego, and therefore to possibly forget traditional clothing, that she commissioned artisans to clothe dolls wearing traditional clothing from all the regions of Mexico. These artists created clothes worn for special occasions such as ceremonial dances as well as the clothes traditionally worn for every day.

The Museum of the Revolution (MUREF) here in Juarez has just opened a display of these dolls in a show called Vestidos de Tradición Por Amor à México.

Filling the main floor of the museum the glass cases show the wide diversity of clothing worn with an explanation of when the clothes were worn, and the and how the clothes for the individual maniquíns were made whether by hand or by machine.

Fascinating display which runs through September 22. – david Sokolec

Border art themed openings

There are two openings this focused on border issues.

Tonight (Friday) Metalworker extraordinaire and good friend Ale Carrillo-Estrada is opening her solo show “Itinerant Dialogues” at Xolo Gallery 2800 N Piedras from 6 -9 pm. A too brief summary is that she fuses carefully constructed jewelry and other metal items with themes concerning immigration and border culture.

Tomorrow from 2-4 at the Chihuahua Desert Museum on the UTEP campus there will be the opening of “Uncaged Art”. This important and probably heartbreaking show is the art work of 13-17 year old immigrant children who were held in the detention center at Tornillo. Current UTEP President Diane Natalicio as well as other special guests will speak at 3 and I’m hoping it will show that you can cage the body but not the spirit. – David Sokolec

Sensory Riches at Museo de Arte

The Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez here has a new director, Christian Diego Diego, so what better for an opening show than to go back to basics.

In her show “Cromática”, Tania Candiani explores the three primary colors as a means of showing and helping preserve indigenous traditions and craftsmanship as well as showing how colors, in this case, the red, yellow and blue primary ones, can and should interact with all of our other senses. She also wants to remind us of how the making of these colors for textiles and other things is an interaction between the fabricated and the natural world. As curator Blanca de la Torre notes red dye traditionally came from the Cochineal bug and therefore from the animal world, anil blue (azul anil) from plant life and the yellow pigments were made from the mineral world. So there is this man-made natural world interchange.

Each room in the exhibit is devoted to one of these three colors and provide information on how these colors are made as well as ways of interacting with the items to heighten our other senses. In the main “red” room there is an enormous loom hooked up to a loudspeaker and at the opening we were treated to a symphony of sorts by the playing of the loom. In the yellow room there are yellow birds, which are actually ocarina which can be played by means of an attached bellows. These birds are reminiscent of whistles often found in the south of Mexico . For years I used to have a black clay bird whistle I bought in Chiapas.

Each room also features a series of hand embroidery with quotes about the specific color featured. There is also detailed information as to how these colors are formed, videos showing traditional methods of dye making and large hanging examples of wool both dyed and undyed.

All of this is specifically related to native cultures and I believe at some point during the show there will be dances by the members of the Raramuri community. The show itself runs until June 16.

This is a really exciting show and a great beginning for this new chapter in the museum’s history. – david sokolec