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Timely immigration exhibition at MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana
Miguel Luciano, DREAMer kites; Felipe, Julio, Marcos, and Sonia, 2013.

SAN JOSE, CA.- MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana presents De Esperanza y De Locura/Of Hope and Madness from August 28 to October 26, 2013. This group exhibition presents the work of Latino artists who deal with migration and immigration issues understood as flights of both hope and insanity. Work by Latino artists Erika Harrsch, Miguel Luciano, Esperanza Mayobre, Omar Pimienta, Favianna Rodriguez, and Judi Werthein

De Esperanza y De Locura/Of Hope and Madness is a group exhibition that includes kites bearing the images of undocumented youth, an installation of migratory monarch butterflies representing Dream Act activists, butterfly kites made of enlarged paper money, fictitious passports, customized tennis shoes for crossing the border, candles of the Santa de la Esperanza, and an immigration “Wheel of Fortune” game. Several works convey hope and an uplifting feeling that events will turn out for the best, while other works point towards the almost irrational leap of fate one needs to take in order to migrate in search of a better life with no results ensured. All the works embody strategies for representing the anticipation and aspiration of the migrant: an almost unreal effort towards creating one’s own reality.

Several artists in the exhibition use flying, in the likeness of butterflies and kites, as a metaphor for migration—a sort of movement and journey that includes physics and chemistry notions of matter under constant transformation and therefore depleted of socio-political connotations. Migration is part of the nature of living organisms such as the monarch butterfly. “The symbol of the monarch butterfly has been adopted by various migrant rights organizations, artists, and lovers of justice. … I was drawn to the butterfly because of the transformative nature of this creature. The monarch butterfly represents the beauty of migration and the right that living beings have to freely move,” explains Favianna Rodriguez, an Oakland-based artist and activist. Her installation at MACLA features dozens of hanging butterflies whose wing interiors portray images of those who are affected by record-breaking deportations. With her Migration is Beautiful installation, Rodriguez aims “to inspire and challenge people to reimagine migration as something beautiful and natural. The butterfly celebrates the resiliency, courage, and determination of migrants in the face of injustice and xenophobia.”

Also related to youth under the threat of deportation, the DREAMer Kites presented by Brooklyn-based Miguel Luciano are part of a project he realized November 2012 in Washington, DC. This project makes reference to the Dream Act, a bill introduced in 2001 that would allow for undocumented children to obtain conditional permanent residency. Reintroduced and still pending resolution, it would enable teens 15 and under to eventually drive, work, travel, and apply for student loans and federal work-study programs in the United States. Luciano gathered a group of undocumented students and encouraged them to fly hand-built kites decorated with life-sized self-portraits. “As each kite soared in the sky above the White House and the Washington Monument, each youth appeared to be flying or hovering in the sky among these symbols of American power and freedom,” explained Julie Chae, a curator and art advisor who attended the event. The kites are about the dreams of these youth: the dream of flying and freedom, the American Dream and the dream of having an education. Luciano’s kites allow the students to engage in a poetic comment regarding their status while also providing an image of their seemingly unlimited potential.

Inspired by both butterflies and kites, Brooklyn-based Erika Harrsch’s butterfly-like Currency Kites have a different take. Made with enlarged paper currency imagery, they are a reflection on the migratory status of money whose value is based precisely on its interchange and transfer. The actual paper has no intrinsic value; it’s the paper bill in constant motion and circulation that is the real asset. And yet, in our current financial system, money can also easily lose its value and even disappear—fly away—as witnessed in our recent economic recession. The precariousness and extinction of money currencies are also addressed in the Harrsch work Papilonumismia Ephemerae Europeae (Eurospecimens), a collection of 24 paper butterflies cut out from paper money and displayed in entomology boxes. Each butterfly represents a European currency that got replaced by the euro. As each country’s own currency became extinct, Harrsch recuperated unique samples and treated them as precious specimens to be safeguarded for posterity and for future scientific study of the current global economic cataclysm.

Similarly to Rodriguez and continuously inspired by the natural migration of the monarch butterfly across the northern hemisphere of our continent, Harrsch also presents a series of works that include a passport flaunting on its cover an emblem of this butterfly representing the North American countries (Mexico, United States and Canada). The passports are part of the installation and accompanying performance (to take place September 6 and 7, 2013 at MACLA) titled United States of North America, a project in which the artist envisions a borderless North America similar to NAFTA yet, in this case, actually providing equal social, political and economic benefits to all citizens of these regions. The interactive installation includes an office setting with a fortune wheel titled United States of North America Fortune Passport Wheel, passport application forms and other promotional materials. Visitors to the gallery are encouraged to participate in the lottery Wheel of Fortune game by filling the application forms and spinning the wheel to determine their citizenry fate, which includes the provocative possibility of landing on illegal alien status, regardless of where the visitor was born.

Also working with passports as prime material for his art, Tijuana-based Omar Pimienta presents a series of expired passports that he exchanges for new ones he created and calls the Passporte Libre, which grants the holder citizenship to Colonia Libertad (Freedom Neighborhood) in Tijuana. The expired passports are stamped and get incorporated into the Archive of Ciudadanía Libre (Archive of Free Citizenship), part of which is on display at MACLA. Transition has defined Colonia Libertad, together with being the change indicator of Mexican migration and Mexican labor in the United States. A land of constant transition and passage, Ciudad Libertad’s name attests to its own fluid nature and the Pasaporte Libre speaks to that space of transit and expands its influence to guarantee the beholder free movement along the entire earth's surface, including land, water and air.

Brooklyn-based Esperanza Mayobre takes the passport notion to metaphysical realms. For MACLA, she is presenting a series of candles with the image of Santa Esperanza (Saint Hope), a virgin she created holding a US passport, green card and money in one hand and a flower bouquet in the other. The virgin’s face is that of the artist and protects the evicted immigrants. Esperanza is using her name and tapping into her own experience to represent the hopes, insanity, and request for compassion of those who migrate. Other works in this exhibition include her polemic floor mat, Welcome to de Yunaited Estai, which purposefully misspells the intentional Latino mispronunciation. Funny to some and offensive to others, this floor mat may very well be pointing to the fact that Latinos and a specific accent and pronunciation of several words will be more prevalent by 2043 when the minority becomes a majority in this country. It also acknowledges that the United States is by nature a “nation of immigrants,” as stated by John F. Kennedy in his 1954 book of the same title in which he elaborated on the importance immigration has played in American history. In that context, Mayobre’s Immigrant of the Month, a framed white space, acts as an homage to the hardworking immigrant seldom acknowledged and is also a send-up on corporation strategies to motivate their employees to work harder.

Also to welcome those crossing the border into the United States, Miami-based Judi Werthein designed tennis shoes called Brinco (Jump) for the 2006 In-Site San Diego project. She gave away the sneakers to individuals across the border in Tijuana shelters and sold pairs in high-end boutiques in California and New York. Embroidered with an American Eagle on the toe and an Aztec Eagle on the heel, the sneakers include a map, a compass and a flashlight for those who cross at night, and stored inside are Tylenol painkillers “because many people get injured during crossing,” Werthein says. The shoes’ label states “this product was manufactured in China under a minimum wage of $42 a month working 12-hour days.” By addressing global trade and inequity, Werthein, as well as Rodriguez, point fingers at corporate America for eliminating middle class jobs in the United States and express their concern at misgiven opinions linking immigration with the lack of jobs for United States citizens.

Artists in this exhibition understand migration as something natural and searching for a better life as part of the human condition. The struggle is a basic human right and should be treated as such.

Jose Antonio Vargas asks a rhetorical question: “Has humanity ever built a border that could withstand human will?”

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Timely immigration exhibition at MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana

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