Ten Artists Look South of the Border
Loft at Liz’s
By Genie Davis
through February 6, 2018
South of the Border at Loft at Liz’s is a stellar exhibition, curated by Isabel Rojas-Williams with the Loft’s own Liz Gordon. Part of the Participating Gallery Program of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the exhibition addresses not just the topic but the emotional resonance of immigration, vibrantly and graciously showing us that we are all immigrants, always and forever: traveling to a new land, bringing with us a sense of self that goes far beyond cultural assimilation or subjugation.
Featuring the work of ten artists, Lili Bernard, Marisa Caichiolo, Pablo Cristi, Joel García, Oscar Magallanes, Maja, Poli Marichal, Andres Montoya, Sandy Rodriguez, and Votan, the exhibition includes paintings, photographs, and mixed media works. Rojas sought artists whose ancestors come from different countries such as Argentina, Puerto Rico, Chile, Mexico, El Salvador and Cuba.
One powerful piece, “Ache Balseros,” comes from artist Lili Bernard. The encompassing oil on canvas work depicts the raft crisis of 1994, when Castro allowed residents of Cuba to leave the island. Cuba was Bernard’s birthplace. “As usual, I’ve codified the painting with symbolism pertaining to the Orishas, Yoruba deity,” Bernard relates. “Some fellow Cuban immigrants who were at the opening told me that they cried when they saw my painting. I cried too as I was making it. Though my family’s departure from the island was dramatic, we left when I was a toddler, we did not leave by raft; we left by plane.” But, she adds “I do however know some fellow Cubans who left the island by raft – they call these people Balseros. They told me how they were literally fighting, punching sharks on the way. Many Balseros suffered dehydration and become delirious and sick from it. Many died from it, got lost or eaten by sharks. Several Balseros with whom I’ve spoken about surviving the trip, speak of the important role that the Orishas played in their survival – hence the homage to the Orishas in my painting.” Vibrant and packed with images that really require repeated viewings to absorb, the work is a passionate tribute to an event, a people, and a spiritual practice. Was such a fraught journey worth the destination?
Adrián Gonzalez Morales presents a photo triptych of painful images that are an outgrowth of his Mexican heritage. Taken from personal experience, what he depicts here are images seen through the fencing at Friendship Park, a hardly friendly location that straddles San Diego and Tijuana. His “Fuck Your Borders” is a potent indictment of a fear-filled mentality that separates loved ones and builds animosity. His parents were deported in 2008; visiting them through the veil of wire mesh fencing was the inspiration behind his partially obscured images here.
The diminishment and exploitation of immigrants is the theme behind Argentine artist Marisa Caichiolo’s work “How Else Can I Serve You?” She has used her own hair to create an embroidery on serving items, shaping a potent metaphor for the abusive nature of the domestic roles to which many immigrants are consigned.
Originally from El Salvador, artist Voltan has created powerful dual images of a young woman: in one, she is proudly clad in native Mayan attire, in the other, she is contained and constrained in the uniform of a servant. The message here stings: the woman has given up her heritage and is demeaned in the process.
Sandy Rodriguez, a third-generation oil and water colorist, had to “learn to paint on mulberry and wild fig bark” to create her stunningly beautiful, richly detailed work, “Codex Rodriguez – Mondragón.” A map that is both spiritual and literal, it depicts conquest but reveals a living spirit that no map can divide or conquer. The pigments she uses were created from materials of the earth: minerals, flowers, berries. At the base of this magnificent piece, the materials she used to create it are displayed.
Of Chilean heritage, Pablo Cristi’s work is no less exhilarating. His “Paradise Lost” is a mix of acrylic, latex and spray paint on canvas. In the foreground: taco trucks. Behind them, fading into a mist, is a Mayan citadel. Framed by palm trees and spray-painted “graffiti,” the resonance of the image is profound. Cristi explores erasure, survival, and transformation in one sweeping canvas.
In the project room, an inclusive, incisive installation about DACA families offers revealing stories of six young men and women. We are drawn into their lives in a way that takes their stories from marginalized to center stage, with the vivid take-away that the best of us are Dreamers of one kind or another.
As politically potent and powerful as it is beautiful, Rojas and Gordon have curated a riveting, dimensional show that touches upon history, hope, and heritage. By including artists with a variety of cultural ancestries, the exhibition offers a passionate look at the universal nature of the immigrant experience as well as the universal nature of art.