in review: Young Latinx Artists 23, "Beyond Walls, Between Gates, Under Bridges"

Alejandro Macias,  Puro Pinche Republicano  (2017)

Alejandro Macias, Puro Pinche Republicano (2017)

Young Latinx Artists 23: Beyond Walls, Between Gates, Under Bridges is the 23rd installment of this exhibition, which takes place annually at Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum. This year’s exhibit asked up-and-coming Latinx artists and curators to consider and explore the border between the U.S. and Mexico, a flashpoint for so much contemporary political sorrow and strife. As someone whose family made the trip from Mexico to the U.S., I could feel this show exude tremendous fortitude and tenderness. My heart was heavy, but I felt grateful that a space was provided for these narratives to be unfolded for the public, especially during this crucial time.

Entering the exhibit, the first work I encountered was an Alejandro Macias piece that made me feel an eerie, otherworldly stress. Puro Pinche Republicano is a portrait of a figure rendered with a life-like polo shirt and MAGA cap; these objects are the only elements of the piece that exist solidly and without pushback. Macias’s subject is rendered in flat 2D stripes, wearing the stripes of the Mexican flag across each bicep, which may suggest that the figure is assured that they are dominant of their own and other areas/cultures of the world. I thought this piece might set the tone for the rest of the exhibit, but the other works were not as brusque.

I next encountered Juan Mora’s trio of prints: Futura Nave Espacial Maya del 2012, ¿Me voy o Me Quedo?, and Asi Como Voy, Asi Llego. In these fantasy portraits, with so many striations across the entire frame and the positions of the figures, there is an overwhelming sense of strain. The images’ subjects question themselves and undergo opposing forces—past and future, native and non-native culture objects and symbols, the geographic north and south. The figures’ singular desire to propel themselves out of their current lives screams that they face high stress levels from simply existing in certain situations.

A second Macias portrait alludes to the artist’s efforts to describe the struggle of holding two identities or bending toward ‘Americanization’—there is a terrible violence in the figure pulling on a white mask atop their darker face. The subject’s body is almost a radioactive yellow and might suggest how the subject feels they are seen by others who don’t have their same background or physical form. The white mask doesn’t glow, but is rendered normally or as expected, and the hair attached to the mask is perfectly neat. The figure’s shirt is airbrushed on the canvas and set flatly, tidily atop the figure’s body, corroborating this eerie feeling of needing to blend in seamlessly.

These first few pieces underscore the feelings of the entire show: high strain and anxiety, while keeping fast a will of steel.

Andrew Ordonez,  Luggage  (2017) and  Luggage II  (2017)

Andrew Ordonez, Luggage (2017) and Luggage II (2017)

Other highlights of the exhibit include Abel Saucedo’s Tunnel Runner series, Andrew Ordonez’s Luggage sculpture series, Jose Villanueva’s Wake living room installation, and Natalia Rocafuerte’s Home Is Where My Papers Are. Rocafuerte told Mexic-Arte that she feels “very privileged to have legal documentation” while knowing that “it’s still a very difficult process and a lot of sacrifice goes into that experience,” evidenced in her large collages that incorporate her childhood legal documents. She designed a “LAW STAY AWAY” prayer candle and used copies of her documents as a cardboard puzzle and doormat, forcing the viewer to experience a familiar action—entering and moving through a home interior—as weighted, with the nagging thought of having to be on top of one’s paperwork at all times, or else.

Ana Treviño’s El Otro Lado voices her experience as being Mexican-American, never fully belonging to one side of the Border, and feeling intense pangs therein. Her video piece aptly bookends the exhibit, as its message of longing to fit in and being unable to can be heard ricocheting throughout the gallery space in most of the other works. Hopefully, even if viewers can’t personally relate to the visual or emotional aspects of the exhibit, they will get a better sense of the humanity of the artists, and of so many whose lives have been inexorably altered in the crossing of a single symbolic line.

Young Latinx Artists 23 is on display at Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum through August 26, 2018.

—Elizabeth Campos