Summer exhibitions now on view at Ballroom Marfa
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Summer exhibitions now on view at Ballroom Marfa
Installation view, Li(sa E.) Harris, unlit: sof landin, 2023; Maria Chávez, Absorption Sculpture: The Orange Show, #5 & #8, 2023. May 24–September 16, 2023, Ballroom Marfa. Courtesy of the artists and Ballroom Marfa. Photo by Makenzie Goodman.

MARFA, TX.- Tongues of Fire, currently on view at Ballroom Marfa, is a group exhibition of artworks reflecting on language that has been suppressed, silenced, or obscured. Featured artists include Jorge Méndez Blake, Jesse Chun, Adriana Corral, JJJJJerome Ellis, and Nakai Flotte.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by Chicana cultural theorist, writer, and poet Gloria Anzaldúa and her essay Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers (1981). Anzaldúa urges artists to “write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire.” While her rallying cry was to women artists of color, who were often pushed to the margins of culture, it still resonates widely today. Artists continue to use language, including their artistic languages, as acts of creativity, resistance, and power.

As these artists demonstrate, the dominant languages and prevalent ways of speaking in our culture(s) should be questioned. The unconsidered, exiguous, and uncommon languages carry more urgency with the insistence of their letters, words, and phrases that must be uttered to remain alive. Not only is there an urgency to speak, there is also a need to listen. In order to communicate, there is a speaker and a listener. Thus, the act of sharing truths, stories, and ideas is a form of societal communion.

The works brought together in Tongues of Fire compel us to read between the lines, and to peer into cracks—as seen in hidden poems tucked into the walls of Jorge Méndez Blake’s monumental brick sculpture. Jesse Chun looks at the history of the Blackwell School, Marfa’s formerly segregated institution that banned students from speaking Spanish. In memory of their silence, viewers may ruminate on the absence of language in Chun’s video installation and drawings. Transmissions of thoughts and emotion still find a way to rise and communicate, if we are open to receiving them. JJJJJerome Ellis invites us to attune our bodies to new ways of listening through his music, poetry, and photographs. Ellis’s own experience of disfluency is transformed in his works, no longer silenced and suppressed but thriving and celebrated.

Control of language, of the tongue, is the control of people and bodies. Through the histories of colonization and imperialism, languages were systematically dispossessed—or continue to be. Nakai Flotte’s installation, with recordings and texts of the Lipan Apache, insists on the vitality of the community’s language and its resistance to erasure. Language as speech acts may also protect. Adriana Corral’s prints and outdoor installation feature the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written after the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust, to challenge us to continue to protect the rights of fellow human beings. Words have no currency or elicit any action without mutual agreement on what they signify, and a shared responsibility to value those meanings.

Through new rituals of reading, seeing, and listening, as the artists in Tongues of Fire present, languages are also shown to evolve. These artworks speak to us—with tongues ablaze, as Anzaldúa would wish—and remind us how to be alive. They are a testament to the potential for advocacy, humor, wonder, and pleasure we all may find through language.

Tongues of Fire is organized by Daisy Nam, Ballroom Marfa, Executive Director and Curator, with Alexann Susholtz, Curatorial and Exhibitions Assistant.

Ballroom Marfa

Founded in 2003 by Virginia Lebermann and Fairfax Dorn, Ballroom Marfa is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a dynamic, contemporary cultural arts space housed in a converted dancehall that dates to 1927. Ballroom Marfa’s mission is to serve international, national, regional, and local arts communities and support the work of both emerging and recognized artists working across all media: visual arts, film, music, and performance.

May 24–September 16, 2023

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