Here’s a look at three works in an Oak Cliff show exploring Mexican American identity at the border
The exhibition, which features the work of nine Texas women artists, explores the borderlands and the nature of being "in-between." It's open to the public at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center through Nov. 4.
When the founders of Dallas-based Nuestra Artist Collective – Karla García, Tina Medina and Eliana Miranda – came together a year ago, they started brainstorming about their first exhibition over late-night coffee chats.
Discussions about their Mexican American heritage and the lack of curated spaces for Chicana artists led them to their first exhibition "Fronteriza," which is now open to the public at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center through Nov. 4.
“We talked about the title "Fronteriza" and how it means not only being from the border…but we also talked about that fronteriza, or ‘of the border’, it can also mean the concept of nepantla, or the in-between aspect of identity, of being Mexican American and those experiences of multigenerational families,” García said.
The co-founder said "Fronteriza" is also a way to talk about the physical space of the border and its occupants through diverse perspectives of the eight Mexican American visual artists who are featured in the exhibition.
Nestled in the heart of Oak Cliff, the exhibition examines themes such as home and belonging, ecological migration and more through mediums such as video performance, sculpture and collage.
Here’s a look at three of the pieces that you can see at the exhibition:
“Dejar Atrás” — Eliana Miranda
In her piece “Dejar Atrás”, Miranda focuses on climate migrants who are forced to move due to ecological disasters.
Her work particularly centers on the Corridor Seco or Dry Corridor in Central America — which is highlighted in a map featured at the center of her work — where droughts, hurricanes and floods have forced many people to leave their homes.
“I made this piece because I wanted to kind of think about and comment on what's at jeopardy when people have to leave their homes because they become inhabitable,” she said. “I've had to think a lot about our relationship to the land and what that means for us, if we have to leave or how we relate to the land in terms of just our heritage and our culture and a lot of ways people relate to their land spiritually.”
Miranda said she intentionally selected vivid colors like pink, green, orange and yellow.
“The reason why I use it is as a way to kind of reflect the toxicity [like chemicals] that's being caused on the environment in those regions,” she said.
The black splattering across a fiery orange-yellow background brings back memories of Billie Eilish’s “all the good girls go to hell” music video which similarly reflects on the impact of environmental disaster and destruction.
Miranda also incorporates other key details like the “ugly and dominating” 3-D brown structure that surrounds her two paintings, which she said reflects the physical border as a barrier. And she chooses to leave just a haunting thick black outline of the children in her paintings.
“It's because for me, children are the symbol of the future,” she said. “So when we're thinking about these environmental disasters and it kind of makes you question whether we have a future.”
“Vida” — Karla García
García is personally familiar with the idea of navigating her identity along the U.S.-Mexico border. She was born and raised in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and then moved to El Paso when she was 13-years-old.
“I claim both cities across the border line as my home,” she said. “So the body of work that I make is rooted in that landscape being one.”
In “Vida”, she recreates a desert landscape with soil from her house and a cactus plant laid on a slip-covered table which represents the comfort of her home on either side of the border.
Her work centers around the cactus or nopal, which has deep cultural significance as a symbol of hope and endurance that is depicted on the Mexican flag and is part of the origin story of Aztec culture. García said she uses the nopal in her work as a reflection of humanity.
“Some of the cactus are kind of shriveled up and they speak of that nature of grief, but they keep growing as a way to talk about resilience, which is also inherent in the cactus plant,” she said. “So I find this beautiful metaphor of life experience, finding yourself through hard moments and continuing to grow despite that.”
In the same way that García picked up the discarded cactus from her front yard and watched it grow, she said its journey reflects the life of immigrants as they find ways to survive in a new country while displaced from home.
“Ancestra Poderosa de las Fronteras” — Tina Medina
Medina said much of her work is about feeling disconnected with her Mexican heritage and “trying to reconnect all those broken roots.”
Her parents grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and were encouraged to assimilate by not speaking Spanish. So Medina, who grew up in Lubbock, said she also didn’t grow up speaking Spanish and felt at once distanced from and drawn to her culture and heritage.
Her piece “Ancestra” is “about the idea of ancestors and what they've had to go through throughout history.”
While loosely based on Medina’s sister, the painting’s fuzzy features provide enough ambiguity to be universal. As Medina worked on the piece, which is nearly seven-feet-tall, she said the figure became a kind of goddess or spiritual entity as she climbed a ladder to adorn it with features such as the corn husks that form a wreath around its head.
“It was like going up and down and doing this, almost like a worship thing where I was like going up and it was a feat in a way to actually work on it,” she said.
Reams of paper stream down below the face, offering “glimpses of some meaning”: strands from old textbooks about immigration history and Mexican American migrant workers, photos of Mayan ruins, Christian pamphlets, silvery reflective cuts of warming blankets used in detention centers and even grocery store ads to pay homage to field workers.
Ultimately, Medina wants viewers who come to the exhibition to be able to reflect on the U.S.-Mexico border and how it impacts all Texans.
“I think a lot of people are affected by the border in Texas because it's so close to us,” she said. “We're bombarded with images and news about the border — it affects us on a daily basis. Sometimes we don't even think about it, but we all do have to come to terms with that at some point.”
Check out two events related to the exhibition:
- Dreamers Mercado - Oct. 15, 11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. The event will have "arts, books, remedies, teas, apparel, food and human rights information."
- Conchas y Conversaciones - Oct. 21, 6:30 p.m. -8:00 p.m. Stories and conversations about immigration with Claude and Maissa from Break Bread Break Borders.
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Got a tip? Email Elizabeth Myong at Emyong@KERA.org. You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter @Elizabeth_Myong.