The notion of borders and boundaries is often an artificially constructed one. We draw physical borders and create emotional boundaries, but both can be easily erased or shattered because as humans, there is only so much that can divide us.
Given the contentious political rancor over immigration in the United States, the Mexican Cultural Institute offers a timely commentary on what divides — and ultimately unites — us in its newest exhibit, “Underlying Borders,” which combines the work of five artists who have experienced migration between Mexico and the U.S.
The artists tackle the issue of migration both literally and metaphorically, exploring and blurring concepts of identity, gender and nationalities.
Artist Alison Lee Schroeder, who was born in Washington, D.C., to a Colombian mother and grew up in a bicultural household, was the impetus behind the show. At 22, Schroeder moved to Mexico to study Spanish. It was there she met her husband, Gerardo Camargo, a fellow artist. The two lived in Mexico for 12 years and about four years ago moved to the U.S. and began attending events at the Mexican Cultural Institute.
The duo inquired about possibly showing their work there — and “Underlying Borders” was eventually born.
Schroeder said the exhibit aims to “show a few different perspectives from artists that have a strong connection with the U.S. and Mexico, who have had some experience of migration between the two countries.”
“The idea that we have of an immigrant is just an idea. When you meet a person and talk to an artist and they have a body of work, it’s all very specific to their human experience,” Schroeder added. “The mold or image we have in our mind initially quickly gets wiped away as we get to know that person.”
Schroeder uses parody and seemingly innocuous humor to challenge our stereotypes of identity, personal interpretation and the cultures to which we “belong.” For Schroeder, home is subjective and multifaceted.
Schroeder’s husband takes a more esoteric, abstract approach to his art, playing with the process of construction and destruction to reflect on both global events and everyday behaviors. Camargo takes otherwise mundane, discarded objects and repurposes them to give them meaning and depth with the goal of “generating an ambiguous correlation between urban and domestic environments,” according to exhibition materials.
Meanwhile, artist Felipe Baeza focuses on what he calls the “migrant fugitive body” through collage and printmaking. Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, he now lives and works between New Haven, Conn., and Brooklyn, N.Y. Baeza tackles issues of memory, migration and displacement to create what he calls a state of hybridity and “fugitivity.” The results are striking amalgamations of people and plants that seem to give life to the detached human bodies that history has rendered invisible and obsolete.
Thematically, the work of the other two artists is a bit of stretch given that it doesn’t directly with migration per se, but the pieces in and of themselves are interesting. Marela Zacarias is notable for a distinct, labor-intensive technique that merges sculpture and painting. She attaches wire screening to wooden supports or found objects and then applies layers of plaster to create undulating forms. Through sanding, polishing and painting, she creates sculptures with the characteristics of fabric, filled with movement. She then paints the sculptures with original patterns and geometric abstract shapes that are inspired by her research on the history of a particular place and its physical context, along with current events.
Meanwhile, Irene Clouthier’s sculptures deal specifically with the complexities of human relationships, including feelings of love, loneliness, despair and disappointment.
Schroeder said the diversity of work and the different perspectives that examine the issue of migration make for a fascinating display that’s hugely relevant to the times in which we live.
“We really like this idea and hope it can go far,” she told us. “I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen more of this idea. I think there’s a lot of potential for it to be explored more in the visual arts but also as an idea that we can explore as a society.”
Mexican Cultural Institute
2829 16th St., NW
For more information, please call (202) 728-1628 or visit www.instituteofmexicodc.org.
About the Author
Anna Gawel (@diplomatnews) is managing editor of The Washington Diplomat. Kate Oczypok (@OczyKate) is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.