Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More images from Chicana/o Biennial

Here are more images from MACLA's Chicana/o Biennial. I wrote about the Biennial and all the pieces here in the previous post, Chicana/o Biennial at MACLA. Enjoy! -Michelle

Ask a Chola, Rio Yanez

untitled, Vivian Paredes

Sun Raid, Ester Hernandez

Citlali, La Chicana Super Hero, Deborah Kuetzpalin Vasquez

Yellow Backpack, Margarita Cabrera

U.S. Triangle, Consuelo Jimenz Underwood

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chicana/o Biennial at MACLA

Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana has a small gallery in its downtown San Jose location. Every two years the Latin cultural center hosts a juried exhibition on Chicana/o art. Each time, they make an effort to showcase a balance between genders and among artists at various stages of their careers, from emerging to famous in order to watch Chicana/o art evolve from its highly political inception in the 60s.

At this year's Biennial, about half of the pieces were driven by border issues, and many referred to Aztlan, the ancestral land of the Mexica and Maya, and therefore Chicanos, that is now the Southwestern US.

Consuelo Jimenez Underwood most directly drew out the tension between the US and Mexican border and land rights. He made an elongated triangle of a flag, using materials in red, white and blue to mimic the US flag, but embroidered flowers that symbolize different tribes to reference Aztlan. The symbols of the two countries overlay each other in the same space of the triangular flag, mimicking the way the US lies over the same area that Aztlan does. Can the same region be considered different places, different nationalities peacefully? This question about what space political borders carve out versus what people know that space as is not unique to the Mexican-American border tension, however, Underwood's piece artfully carves the tension out that underlies many of the other pieces in the Biennial.

Margarita Cabrea, for instance, created two sculptures that directly deal with the border itself. Nopal with tunas, a large prickely pear cactus made out of Border Patrol uniforms, and set in a terra cotta planter, makes the point that Border Patrol agents--and all the markers of increased surveillance and attempts to make to border impenetrable--are as much a part of the landscape now as are cacti. Cabrea addresses the other side of the border with Yellow Backpack. When would-be immigrants are caught by the Border Patrol, the Patrol takes their belongings from them, often nothing more than a backpack. In this sculpture, Cabrea makes an unsturdy backpack out of thin, gauzy material that is transparent. Inside is a rosary, made--like the other contents spread out on the table--out of a thick, leather-like material. All in all, the backpack contains garlic, a water bottle, a can of tuna, a breast pump, a first aid kit. Each piece is sewn, but the thread isn't tied off, so long strands of thread hang from each of the meager contents, leaving them unfinished. Yellow Backpack reveals what little one can survive on and the desperate hope that drives people to cross the border with no promise that life will be better on the other side. The rosary and breast pump together make the faith that drives women across tangible. A rosary by itself would leave a sort of abstract sense of blind faith, but the addition of the breast pump shows that this nursing mother fully believes that she will be reunited with her baby soon, and is determined to keep lactating as shes crosses over.

With Deborah Kuetzpalin Vasquez's Citali, La Chicana Super Hero, we get a different view of women on the border than the faith of the owner of Yellow Backpack. This print feature a militaristic, defiant woman wearing a bandanna, braids, and bullet belt. She is young, strong and angry, and, in a Kahlo-esque move, holds her heart literally in her hand. Her heart is the center of the piece, its bright red sends the dull background into gloom, and is almost the size of this woman's head. Its vena cava extends back from her hand into the massive hole in her chest. The background features the double wall of the border fence, and a Border Patrol car coming towards her. Across the top, this poster, reminiscent of the highly politicized posters from the 1970's, reads: Nigun ser humano es ilegal (No human being is illegal) and then, in lettering that matches her heart: NO to the Mexican-US Border Wall. Vasquez bypasses any ancestral claim to land to make a her statement simple and powerful. Her message is twofold: that the land belongs to all, everyone should have a chance to move about at their will and that people will always continue to try and cross the border.

Ester Hernandez also made a political poster, but she specifically addressed the results of NAFTA, which went into effect in 1993, and has arguably had positive results for the elite in all three countries and an overall negative effect on Mexican farmers and laborers, as well as having contributed to the increased economic inequality between the US and Mexico. Hernandez's poster, SunRaid, is a recreation of the Sun Made raisin box, but here, against the bright red background, a smiling skeleton dressed in the peasant outfit of the Sun Made maid holds the basket of grapes. The poster claims: "Un-natural harvest of Sun Raid Raisins" and "Hecho en Mexico/Mad in the USA." The power of this poster comes in its framing of an ubiquitous image of a commonly seen food, making the viewer question where does our food come from? Whose hands touch it? How are they treated?

Viviana Paredes also sculpted in response to changes in our food chain; her untitled piece consists of small, blown glass bowels filled with different varieties of dried corn kernels and then mounted on a long piece of wood. One origin myth of Mexicans is that people were born from corn, indeed, corn was a wildly cultivated staple crop of the Americas, pounded into mesa, from which tortillas are made. In the past twenty years, genetically modified corn has cross pollinated with the heirloom strains of corn. By placing corn kernels behind glass, Paredes interjects the possibility that these varietals may be completely replaced by the genetically modified corn.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Images from Cerca de la Cerca

Cerca de la Cerca, a photography exhibition by Maria Teresa Fernandez, showed at USC earlier this year. I blogged about it in April. Fernandez recently sent me some photographs to include. Enjoy!

Children from Tijuana looking across the border
Caressing her Grandson
Banner: Crosses on the US Map
Alter for Day of the Dead
Three Fences--Friendship Park is Closed
Two Crosses with Offerings of Flowers
Immigrants waiting to cross

Notes from Maria Teresa Fernandez

Since viewing Maria Teresa Fernandez's photo exhibit, Cerca de la Cerca, we've been trading e-mails, she has shared some of her thoughts on her work and her experiences.

Fernandez grew up in San Luis Potsi, Mexico, but now lives in San Diego, where the border fence looms large for her. She has photographed it from both sides, and documented its transformation from a single fence to a heavily guarded, well-lit dual walls. She immigrated to San Diego with her family in 1991, and from that date, she has never ceased to tell her children that they must value the huge opportunity that they had and to try to keep the best of both worlds in their lives.

Fernandez has studies Art History as well as photography and has shown her work in Oaxaca., Gudalajara, Mexicali, Tijuana, San Diego, L.A., and New York, among others.

In the small town that she grew up in, Fenandez was aware of the natural borders of the surrounding desert and imposing mountains, yet was always aware of how people's imaginations went far beyond these geographical limits. In the same way, when she encountered the man-made border that divides the U.S. from Mexico, she saw how it traverses across the lives of people living on the border, and was intrigued with how inhabitants have turned the southern side into a canvass upon which they can paint their hopes, dreams, despairs and angers.

For Fernandez, photography gives her a way to describe through light and color, and she began to photograph the border fence in 2000, inspired by the necessarily creative way of life of Tijuana inhabitants. She photographed houses made of materials discarded by North Americans and maquiladoras, and discovered homes made of refrigerator doors, garage doors, aluminum siding, old cartons, tires, packaging, and whatever else could be salvaged to create walls and roofs.

Fernandez began this project in black and white, which resulted in very dramatic artistic shots, but she soon realized that she needed to work in color, if she wanted to show the depth of color, the variety of textures and the subtle differences from one material to the next in the construction materials of the houses. She also decided to work in color when she began documenting the artist works being constructed on the border wall, as well as to distinguish between the different paints peeling off the fence and the general disintegration of the wall: the corrosion, the oxidation, the yellowing color that is, to Fernandez, the very color of Tijuana earth that, at some points, covered the fence. In these places, the fence seemed to become a part of the earth, mixed in with the land as if it were only a simple scar.

This has changed in the past years as U.S. national security has increased, but Fernandez has continued her work documenting the the reconstruction and installation of a new wall across the Tijuana-San Diego border. "This double fence is a profanity to the countryside, it has changed the way people think: without respect to nature of the most difficult and dangerous goal of would-be immigrants. In a certain manner, the fence has been successful. Each day I encounter people who wish to cross, not only those from the south, but those who have been deported for their efforts to cross. I always feel a great affinity to each person. I share what they feel and it makes me very sad that I have no power to do anything for them. In seeing them close to the fence, shadowed by it, waiting for the opportune moment to cross, I think on each individual history, and what they have left behind in their town or city.

"Migration is a natural phenomena, and it has been converted into a huge problem in many countries in the world. We need to understand the situation and the powerful countries need to give a hand to those that need it: everybody needs to help out everybody.

"And this is how nine years of following both projects have gone, always giving me more information to continue with them. Both projects grow and develop, reproducing and I hope that over all of the fence, I am able to document its fall and to watch it die."

Playa de Tijuana

Thursday, June 18, 2009


BorderOUT, a collaborative of queer immigrant artists, performed at SOMArts as part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Collectively, the serise of individual performances challenged the constraints of the traditions and cultures that these immigrants carried into the US. While some of the performances were original works and others were traditional, each of them questioned both how to break open the restraints of the original culture while honoring it, and remake the traditions into something new.

Maria Machetes, a singer from Uruapan, Mexico, sang Los Mandados, a ranchera famously sung by Vicent Fernandez. Los Mandados tells the story of a Mexican migrant that keeps attempting to cross the border, getting caught by la migra and sent back to Mexico. The song honors many of the famous crossing points and paired cities that straddle the border and the tenacious spirit of the migrant.

Machetes sang a cappella, in front of a screening of an International Workers' Day protest march that took place earlier this year in San Francisco. The march brought the lyrics, which ran in English translation along the bottom of the screen, to life by humanizing the people that attempt to cross the border and the workers that do make it across.

Machetes used the sheer range of her voice to imbue Los Mandados with the desperate struggle metered by tenacious hope of migrants.

While Machetes kept her performance to the border crossing, other artists played more with the intangible borders of culture, gender and sexual identity.

Colombian Soul performed a folkloric scene in which the men and women have clearly defined roles and dress. In the BorderOUT rendition though, some men dressed as women and played the female roles and women as men, playing their roles. It gave the sense that the individuals chose the roles that they would like to play. By doing this, Colombian Soul clearly challenged traditional gender roles even while performing traditionally.

Las Krudas Cubensi do in real life what Colombian Soul did onstage. These female hiphop artists could hardly find an audience in the male-dominated Cuban music scene but have a strong following here. The trio have taken many of the staple traditions of rap, hophop and reaggaeton and made them their own. One of the most successful acts of the nights, Las Krudas brought the audience to its feet with their infectious energy.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

For the Mesa Eleven

Beginning on February 2, 2009, when a woman found a bone sticking out of the ground on a mesa in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the remains of women keep being found. As of yet, no one has come to any answers about how many women were killed, why these women were killed and how they came to be buried in the desert.

Mica Valdez, an Oakland based writer, remembers the women with her poem, ¨Take these Flowers.¨

half circle brick wall Albuquerque sky

              red headbands tied around foreheads

            color of life

      childhood teddy bears gold

      cardboard framed photos

      with marker

      plastic pink flowers shake


      stinging wet eyes

      tears fall

        down lined red-earth cheeks

        a father wearing flannel long sleeve mourns

        behind black mirrors

            smoking copal rises

              from lacquer stone

      boy blows conch toward Las Sandias

        names are called out

      Michelle Valdez

      Cinnamon Elk

            eleven lost Indias

      found in the desert Mesa

        prayer songs and petals lift up and around

          Recibe estas flores

          Con gusto y anhelo

          que son escalones

que llegan al cielo