REVIEW | Nexo / Nexus: Latin American Connections in the Midwest
April 14, 2016
Nexo / Nexus: Latin American Connections in the Midwest
DePaul Art Museum
The merging of two cultures within one individual is about far more than simple geography. While it certainly encompasses the actual space as well as notions of place, the intrinsic characteristics, mannerisms, language, etc. all lend themselves to the makeup of one’s identity. They are overt and subtle in both their imprint and expression, often fluctuating in importance as the physical body changes locations; invoking overwhelming feelings of nostalgia. Nexo / Nexus: Latin American Connections in the Midwest seeks to map the specific and dynamic space between the Midwest and Latin America; finding that it is, at times, collapsing into a narrow well between the two. The artists presented here have direct or familial connections to Latin America (Mexico, Cuba or Puerto Rico), but each also spent time here in the Midwest: either as a transitory or permanent stopping point, as a site of fruitful inspiration, and/or as a productive geographic nexus. Some works “demand acknowledgment of political disillusion, displacement, and alienation,” (though this was not as prevalent as I’d imagined), while others are described as introspective, “agents of belonging, renewal, and strength in the face of difference.” Those I found to be engaging reveal (or seek to reveal) the intricacies and entanglements of the complex relationships between people and place and more so, with one’s self. And they do so from a uniquely fresh viewpoint that only separation and distance can afford, whether that’s the Midwest (a link that fails to materialize other than in exhibition verbage) or otherwise.
Manilo que huye valla (Fleeing the Arena) by Bibiana Suárez is the knockout centerpiece of the exhibition – it, more than any other, commands attention (full image above, detail here). The bold citrus lime background and cropped imagery of the pelea de gallo (or cockfight) are quite arresting; the curtailed claw at the top right demanding I pause in front of its enormous page. Legalized cockfighting in Puerto Rico holds a wildly different regard than here in the US, it is simultaneously esteemed, aggressive, spirited and deadly. And, with little knowledge or experience of the activity or its cultural importance, it is easy as an American to find the image of cockfight rather cliché and, albeit, expected given the content. But Suárez utilizes this actual emblem as a metaphor for the internal struggle between her public and private, assimilated and acculturated selves. The two cocks, symbols of the identified self, battle for dominance on an oversized stage. I am witness to the intermission of the bout captured here, but I can visualize each as they jockey for position, tormenting the other in a tumultuous battle that only ends when one is dead. It's a poignant comment on the means to the end of how we define ourselves: how much does my background figure into that definition, does my overreaching culture (or cultures) determine who I am, and must one perish in order for the other to survive? Suárez tackles one of the eternal questions of who am I? with a bold blood bath – perhaps, a most genuine response for what is often a great internal struggle.
The other standout work is Gestuario I, a distinctive woodcut by Antonio Martorell, inspired by a comment he received in Mexico: “Only Puerto Ricans point with their lips.” Her presence is undeniable: the life size, shapely, opaquely black figure is proudly and provocatively posed on the page, luring me to come closer to hear her secrets. Martorell’s playful and distinctive representation of the power of the Latin American female, in spirit, attitude and body speaks to the notion that when bodies travel, people are able to share fresh perspectives on cultural differences in unspoken ways often unconsidered. Strikingly, he illustrates in a rather stark silhouette, just how much our actual bodies convey not only about our perspectives of ourselves, but also of where we come from.
Nexo / Nexus: Latin American Connections in the Midwest was organized by Bibiana Suàrez, DePaul Professor of Art and Vincent de Paul Professor of Art, Media, and Design; and Delia Cosentino, DePaul Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture on the occasion of the Latino Art Now! Conference and is open now through April 24 at DePaul Art Museum, located at 935 W Fullerton, Chicago, IL 60614. Artworks featured in this exhibition are drawn primarily from the DePaul Art Museum Collection, including works by José Bedia, José Bernal, Nicolás de Jesús, Hector Duarte, Felipe Ehrenberg, Nereida Garcia Ferraz, José Guerrero, Luis Jiménez, Maria Martínez-Cañas, Antonio Martorell, Angel Otero, and Bibiana Suárez. For more, visit: http://museums.depaul.edu/exhibitions For more about Bibiana Suárez, visit: http://bibianasuarez.comFor more about Antonio Martorell, visit: http://antoniomartorell.com/martorell.html
Images (from top to bottom): Bibiana Suárez, Manilo que huye valla (Fleeing the Arena), 1998, pastel on paper, collection of the DePaul Art Museum through an anonymous gift; Antonio Martorell, Gestuario I, 2002, woodcut on paper, courtesy of the artist