Uncaged Art, Caged bodies


At the entrance to “Uncaged Art” we are told there is a saying that the Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, cannot be caged or it will die.

This exhibit at the Centennial Museum on the UTEP campus shows the work of mostly Central American immigrant teenagers ranging in age from 13-17 who were kept at the camp in Tornillo. This was the largest detention center for children in the US with some 2500 children being kept at its height before closing this past January.

With the help of two instructors, detainees made art with what was at hand. The instructors suggested they create images which reminded them of home. The result is a series of drawings and sculptures with scenes of the quetzal, churches and home life.

In many ways heartbreaking, yet also a testament to the resilience of these kids in what must have been an unimaginably difficult emotional time.

The exhibit is up through October. – david sokolec

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Haunting images of a troubled land.

For the last number of years when people think of Tamaulipas, if they think of it at all, it is probably only as a place of violence. However much like Juárez, which often suffers much the same sort of reputation, there is more to the area than the horrible things people do to each other.

Local artist Jair Tapia was awarded a three months arts residency there and has produced a haunting work entitled “Espacios en Vigilia” which was shown last weekend at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez.

This was Tapia’s first visit to Tamaulipas and his work is something of a visual tone poem reflecting his impressions of Victoria and the surrounding area. Four projectors present a simultaneous stream of images. This is not a straight forward portrait in the usual sense. In fact, there seems to be little or nothing which even tells us where we are. There are no people or well-known landmarks to indicate geographical specificity. This is the polar opposite of those old travel shows of the This is Tamaulipas! variety. Instead the mostly pastoral scenes create an impression of a mostly beautiful area, but the background music as well as the images themselves which, though often beautiful, nevertheless give a sense something is off, that there is something definitely seriously amiss. There is a sense, if not specifically of danger, then of foreboding running through the series.

I found that long after I left the museum the images, or more specifically, the mood of disquiet evoked stayed with me, and actually continued to grow stronger throughout the rest of the evening.

Through this series of seemingly random images located somewhat out of time and place, Tapia has been able to evoke the sense of both beauty and danger he felt while living there, and has enabled us to feel something of the same.

Unfortunately, for technical reasons, this will only be shown once more this upcoming weekend, but hopefully he will be able to find a way to get the necessary equipment and venues to show it in other places. It is a beautiful and haunting work and deserves a larger audience.-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

Three gems at Rubin Center

The smallest show of the three fine shows at the Rubin Center is perhaps the most satisfying . Russian born artist Yana Payusova studied at the St Petersburg school of fine Arts where she was trained in a strict classical style faithfully copying Old Masters, and perfecting her drawing skills. She then moved to the US where she completed her studies, and now teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

She began as a painter but has recently turned to ceramics and here her show entitled “Revolutions” demonstrates her skills as a painter and ceramicist, as well as the concerns which have long been at the center of her work.

Here there are bowls revolving slowly and painted inside and out with haunting folklike images of women. Payusova uses cartoon like forms, Russian propaganda poster images, Japanese print forms and other references to explore issues of gender equality, power structure and other serious themes, often with a light sardonic touch, and at other times with truly haunting images. On display are not only her ceramic pieces, but also her paintings as well and they are all quite wonderful. Even though they do not directly show Old Master techniques, one can sense the skill and talent underlying all of them, as well as a keen sense of humor.

Upstairs, Mexico city born and based artist Betsabee Romero uses the space to illustrate her concerns with immigration by foot as well as by train. When she was still in school, her best friend moved to Tijuana, and and this led to her interest in the border and moving to distant places in order to better one’s life . Here she has created huge installations involving train tracks, and foot lasts, each of which is inscribed with a phrase of encouragement. On the hill outside the Center, there are flags which also carry a shoe last. Originally these came all the way down to the front door, but the wind necessitated their removal.

The other show upstairs comes from Oaxaca, where contemporary print makers reference traditional images such as maize and combine them with contemporary images exploring and playing with the past and present.

All in all shows to explore. They will be up through mid- December.- David sokolec

No Place for Selfies

The fine photography show “Exilios del Imaginario” at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez(MUACJ) attempts to review the past 50 years of photography in Juarez in keeping with the current celebration of the 50 years of the museum’s existence. As the show’s curators point out photography came to Juarez much earlier when the Mexican Revolution brought many war photographers to the city. Curators Jaime Bailleres and Itzel Aguilera show the progression of photographic development in the city beginning with some news photography and then showing how each generation learned from the previous one and developed a style of its own.
The show starts with Saul Sepulveda, who was a news photographer in the 50’s and 60’s, and who worked with a panorama camera which helped give his photos of such things as parades,for instance, as seen here, a wider scope, than the usual camera could manage.
From this point we can see more personal expression and some experimentation start to come into play. The mostly black and white photos show a desire to play with technique and material.There is are examples of non-camera image making, and using different material on which to print.
What clearly was a huge influence in the development and spread of photography was the establishment of a Visual Arts degree at UACJ in 2001. This seems amazingly late, but better late than never. From this point on in the show we see here a greater interest in more formalist concerns, more experimentation and some very good examples of the craft.

There are 61 photographers and 165 photographs in a mix of black and white and color, as well as as a mix of analogue and digital techniques. Although many of the pictures are taken in Juarez, there are also many taken in other parts of Mexico and in other parts of the world. The emphasis here is on the photographer, rather than the city itself.

Of course, even with 165 photographs the surface is barely scratched. I remember seeing a number of shows by local news photographers, which showed an amazing talent, and, in many cases, an ability to get beyond the immediate event recorded to create images which were haunting. There have been numerous shows at other venues by a great number of other equally talented photographers as well as by many who are on view here.
It occurred to me that an interesting auxiliary show might be an historical look at the real street photographers, by whom I mean those hard-working souls who have worked since time immemorial in the Plaza de Armas by the Cathedral taking pictures of tourists and locals who wanted a memento of their visit, and whose job was much easier when not everyone had a camera, and when selfies didn’t exist. It would be interesting to look at how their life and photographs have changed.
In any case, the show serves to remind us of some of the amazing talent in the city, whose practitioners continue to try to continue to explore the practice of photography in diverse ways.
For the past number of years, Alukandra, whose work is in the show, has been hosting a series of “Charlas Photographicas” (Photography talks) with different people speaking on some aspect of the field. This month it is being held on
Sundays, from 12-2 at the Juarez Monument, which dovetails with the Bazaar at the Monument also held every Sunday.
Last Saturday Alex Briseno, also included in the show, held another photowalk in which people turn their cameras loose on the city.
In short, there is a huge amount of talent and energy here and it would be nice if the rest of the world took notice of this aspect of the city, rather than the more dismal events which usually seem to be the only time the city is mentioned.-david Sokolec

September is for art

It’s September and time for art on both sides of the border.

Rubin Center at UTEP is opening three shows this Thursday (Sept 20). Kerry Doyle, the indefatigable director, went to Oaxaca (does she have the best job ever, or what) and explored the booming print scene there. With co-curator Carmen Cebreros Urzais, whose extraordinary CV seems to go on forever, she has brought back a variety of prints for a show called Iconografica Oaxaca by artists who are blending the traditional indigenous iconography with the contemporary.

The second show called Revolutions is by Russian born artist Yana Payusova who uses the medium of ceramics to explore issues of power and gender. She has exhibited internationally and is currently teaching at University of Arizona in Tucson.

The third show features internationally known Mexico City based artist Betsabee Romero with a show called Tu Huella Es El Camino. Her themes include issues of immigration, globalization and cultural issues in general.

I believe this exhibit includes a large installation outside of the gallery.

So all of this is opening Thursday night from 5-7.

Meanwhile on this side of the border, the Museo de Arte, which is celebrating 50 years is opening a show called Exilios del imaginario which features a retrospective of photographers who have shown at the museum from 1968-2018. This is set to open on the 28th at 7pm.-david sokolec

The Border From the Border

Although the Transborder Biennial features the same artists in both museums, the two halves at the El Paso Museum of Art and the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez seem almost two completely different shows.
This may be due,in part, to the different size of the two spaces. Sometimes the more intimate space of the Juarez Museum provides a better venue with the relative coziness providing a certain coherence often lost in the larger more industrial feeling museum in El Paso. In this case, however the larger museum affords the opportunity for larger installations and videos which would overwhelm the smaller venue.
Angel Cabrales’s interactive piece “Hole in One” which allows one to sit in a chair and literally shoot a small rubber ball across to a golf green with a Mexican flag sticking up from the cup would be nearly impossible in the smaller museum while it only takes up a small corner here.
I went to the opening in Juarez first and was, frankly, disappointed in the show because it seemed to involve way too many conceptual pieces which failed to communicate and which seemed to involve some private vision whose point or significance I was often unable to discern. This was certainly not true of all the works which included some very fine pieces, but I just felt it as a whole a bit cold.
This feeling completely disappeared over in El Paso. Even though these were the same artists and not all of the pieces worked, (Some of the found objects should have perhaps been better left in situ) those pieces were subsumed into a larger totality. Unlike previous years, there was a stated theme for this show which was, not unsurprisingly, the border itself, and in this show one had a real feel for a border as seen and felt by the artists who live here. There were installations like the aforementioned Hole in One, Gil Rocha-Rocheli created a full size foosball game pitting police against sneakers moving forward; there were large spaces for videos of personal trips into the border, as well as large works taken from archival photos. Some of these also appeared in the show across the border but were of necessity much smaller.
Sometimes the smaller venue was better. Zeke Peña’s witty drawings work everywhere, but were perhaps a bit better served by the smaller Juarez museum museum in Juarez rather than in El Paso where they seemed a bit dwarfed. On the other hand, Adrian Esparza’s deconstructed sarapes looked good in both places, but the larger space allowed him an even more impressive installation.
The border is a huge subject but the show provides a visceral feeling for the border by artists who live here, and the show particularly in El Paso brought this feeling into coherence. This sense of unity and cohesion might have been due to the space, but it is just as likely due in large part to recently hired EPMA curator Kate Green who has impressive degrees, and tons of museum experience, most recently in Marfa. This is her first show for the El Paso museum and is one of the best things to happen here in years. It is also possible that because I saw this first in Juarez I already had a certain feeling for the show. In any case, it is important to see the works in both venues not only to see the complete show, but also to see how the different spaces can shape the perception of the work.
The show will be up through Mexican Independence day Sept. 16th-david sokolec