The Association of American Cultures Conference Sunday, Jul 22 2007 

I want to thank James Early, Director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Smithsonian for inviting me and the Western States Arts Federation, under the direction of Anthony Radich, for hosting The Association of American Culture’s (TAAC) Open Dialogue XI: Global Connections to Cultural Democracy Conference. This amazing gathering took place from July 12 through 15 at the Magnolia Hotel in Denver.

Some of the highlights of the conference for me were the first open dialogue held on Thursday, July 12. Justin Laing, Program Officer for the Heinz Endowment, and I facilitated the discussion and were able to get the crowd to share their views and expectations of the conference. By opening up with this dialogue the TAAC reaffirmed their belief in engaging in a participatory democratic process. After this dialogue we had a better sense of topics that would be selected for the following two days.

Doudou Dienne
Doudou Dienne, Photo courtesy: http://www.ciranda.net

The other highlight for Thursday was the keynote address by Doudou Dienne, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance for the High Commission on Human Rights. Mr. Dienne was originally born in Senegal and now lives in Paris with his family. He spoke eloquently on the history of racism and slave trade. He reminded us that diversity was first used by scientist and intellectuals to divide and categorize, but also with the development of inferiority theories to offer some form of validity to the enslavement of Black and Brown people all over the world. He urged us to move past the notion of promoting cultural diversity because it is simply a fact of life. Most of us live in diverse communities. His message was centered around cultural democracy.

He went on to define culture based on three values: Aesthetic, the multisensory expressions such as visual art, textiles, music, food, etc.; Ethical, the right and wrong based on the culture; and Human value which is intrinsic to all groups.

Tabassum Haleem
Tabassum Haleem, Director, Organization of Islamic Speakers Midwest.
Photo Courtesy: mtfellows.uchicago.edu

On Friday, July 13, we had open dialogues as well as a symposium covering four different areas. The presentations by Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto and Tabbassum Haleem during the Changing Culture Scapes session were both very enriching. Dr. Ybarra-Frausto is such a great storyteller, my favorite story was the “Cup of Coffee and Cake”. He reminded us about the changes in language and culture from one generation to the next and about the challenges immigrants face when beginning a new life in this country. Tabassum Haleem offered her insight as Muslim American living in a post 9/11 era. I appreciated her honesty and willingness to share about her family and Islam. She ended her presentation with a beautiful, oft-repeated verse from the Qu’ran. Chapter 49, verse 13 states:

“O Mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come together and know each other (not so you despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things.”

Sangeeta Isvaran
Sangeeta Isvaran. Photo Courtesy: narthaki.com

My other two favorite presenters were Sangeeta Isvaran, a dancer, choreographer and activist from Chennai, India, and Gabriella Gomez-Mont, independent curator and writer from Mexico City. Sangeeta goes all over the world and does workshops with displaced or often times abused children and youth. She uses dance as a form of empowerment. Gabriella Gomez-Mont, a member of Laboratorio Curatorial 060 works with contemporary artists in Mexico City and she shared with us three of the projects they recently worked on. James Early described the work as a visual insurgency and I would agree with his remarks. The curatorial group blends the boundaries between curator, artist and activist. Visually it was the most exciting work presented at the conference.

I feel blessed to have been there and met such wonderful people who are all working towards protecting and promoting cultural democracy. It is empowering and reassuring when faced with adversity or isolation to know that there are others out there who care and who are slowly but surely making a huge difference in the world.

Please visit the The Association of American Cultures website for more information on this conference, membership information and upcoming events. You may also visit Western States Art Federation for specific conference details.

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We remember Ricardo Favela Wednesday, Jul 18 2007 

Favela

It is with great sadness that I am posting this news. Professor Ricardo Favela from California State University Sacramento passed away on Sunday, July 15, 2007. He was the one who introduced me to the medium of serigraphy and I feel very indebted to him. Chicano and Latino printmaking is an area that I will be specializing in for curatorial work. I will always thank Professor Favela for planting that seed. This represents a great loss for the department of Art and Art History as well as our students as he was the only Chicano professor in the department. He leaves a great legacy not only as an arts activist with the Royal Chicano Air Force and the founding of the Barrio Arts Program, but thanks to his leadership and vision the California Multi-Ethnic Archives at UC Santa Barbara house the largest collection of Royal Chicano Air Force serigraph posters.
Message received…

Dear friends,

I write this letter with great sadness to inform you that our beloved
teacher Ricardo Favela died on Sunday, July 15, 2007 in Dinuba,
California of a heart attack. Favela was a great person, a great
father and a great teacher and friend. Favela was a humble man that
fought for civil rights with his artwork and community activism.
Ricardo Favela was a founder of the Rebel Chicano Art Front aka the
Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF). The RCAF is a Chicano artist
collective founded in Sacramento, California in 1969. Favela and the
RCAF Supported the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) during the Civil
Rights Movement. Ricardo was a faculty member at the California State
University, Sacramento’s Art Department were he taught printmaking and
Barrio Art for over 10 years. Favela’s students will miss him dearly
and through the use of serigraphy, they will keep his vision of
community empowerment alive.

His memory and legacy will live through his wife Clara Cid and their
children Margarita, Florentina, Manuel and Rosita.

Here are the details of his funeral:

Rosary: Wednesday at 6pm
Dopkins Funeral Chapel, 189 South J Street, Dinuba, CA 93618

Mass: Thursday at 10am
Dopkins Funeral Chapel, 189 South J Street, Dinuba, CA 93618

Internment will follow at the Smith Mountain Cementary

A memorial will be held on Friday, July 21 at the Toyroom Gallery (907 K Street) in Sacramento. For more information, please call 916-446-1400 or visit toyroomgallery.com

Ericson & Ziegler: America Starts Here Thursday, Mar 29 2007 

Feed and Seed (Heisey Farm), an artwork by Mel Ziegler and Kate Ericson, is composed of seed bags encased in Plexiglas sandblasted with the type of crop and the number of acres sown. It is very easy to walk by the piece and miss the underlying message. In formal aesthetics, it could be compared to the objectification of a soup can by Andy Warhol, but the purpose of this project goes beyond the formal qualities of art. Ericson and Ziegler use their power as image-makers to show the value of small farm labor, by taking an everyday object and inserting into the public sphere. Feed and Seed discusses the relationship between real world economics and the art market.

feed and seed

The work was realized in 1990 through a series of collaborations with seven farmers. The artists subsidized 10 percent of the seed cost in exchange for the empty seed bags. After the work was sold at a New York gallery, the artists donated the proceeds to the farmers in order to continue to assist them in their vital labor. This work speaks of the importance of farming in America. Agriculture was a way of life for many Americans and due to globalization of the markets, it is a dying trend. Many American farmers are struggling to keep their farms open and others have had to abandon farming and work in a different industry. In contrast to the traditional notions of public art, Feed and Seed takes a quotidian object and by encasing it and displaying it in a public space, it assigns a greater value to the process of farming.

Since 1985, Ericson and Ziegler worked as an artistic team exploring the unnoticed aspects of public life.* In Feed and Seed, they bring the public’s attention to the crucial role of the small American farmer and the cycles of food production. By writing the number of acres sown with the seed, Ericson and Ziegler make a direct reference to the farmland, which is iconic of American culture.

Furthermore, their project serves to illustrate the contrast between real world economics and the voracious art market. Jeanne Claire van Ryzin states, “While many artists of the era directed their energies toward feeding a marketplace-driven art world hungry in equal parts for big, splashy paintings and the singular egos behind them, Ericson and Ziegler worked as a team, often involving people and places far outside the art milieu.”** Their choice to expose the struggle of small farmers demonstrates the artists were endowed with a sense of social responsibility. The practical exchange between artist, farmer and art market indicated a direct critique on the shallowness of the all-consuming art market and the role of the artist as a mediator.

In conclusion, Feed and Seed challenges our notions of the art market by contrasting it with real world economics. By focusing on an object of farm labor, Ericson and Ziegler remind us of the importance of American communities and the changing industries around them. Their work effectively demonstrates the notion that artists are citizens and that they carry the responsibility of voicing the concerns of communities.

On view through May 6 @ the Austin Museum of Art.

* Berry, Ian and Bill Arning. “America Starts Here.” Gallery Guide, Austin Museum of Art 2007.
** Ryzin, Jeanne Claire van. “Advocating not-so-permanent public art.” Austin American-Statesman 11 March 2007.

Helio Oiticica: The Body of Color Wednesday, Mar 28 2007 

I saw this exhibit on March 2nd, but its taken me quite a bit of time to process the work. I was fortunate enough to take a curators tour with Dr. Mari Carmen Ramirez, which on its own, made me star-struck and speechless.

Bolide B02 Box Bólide 02 “Platónico”. 1963

During her introduction, she mentioned that Oiticica was very anti-institutional and that he never wanted to sell his work. Only one of his hundreds of series, Metaesquemas, was ever sold. He came from a well-to-do family, his father was an entomologist and his grandfather was a published anarchist. The family was very supportive of Oiticica’s work.

Not only was Oiticica obsessive and prolific in his artistic production, but he was also a theoretician and kept numerous journals and writings throughout his career. I thought what a dream that would be, even if exhausting, for a curator/historian to come across such rich work and the extensive writing. It is estimated that the Projeto Helio Oiticica of Rio de Janeiro owns approximately 95% of Oiticica’s life production.

The exhibit begins with Oiticica’s geometrical work in Grupo Frente, where he begins his studies on the vibration of color. He is deeply influenced by Mondrian, particularly Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, which was shown at the first Sao Paulo Biennial. From this he moves on to the period of the Metaesquemas. Oiticica is extremely methodical and always works in a series. In the making of the Metaesquemas he begins to use the mirror effect in the composition. His use of gouache renders incredibly vibrant colors. There is a sense of impeccable perfection in the work. During this series he abandons the use of the grid and his geometrical figures seem to float in space.

metaesquema Metaesquema 1958

Oiticica was a self-taught artist who mastered through repetition. He was very well read and was influenced by many philosophers, one of them being Henri Bergson. After exhausting all possibilities on a two-dimensional plane, his work turns three-dimensional, leading up to his environments. The environments are installations in which the viewer goes through a maze-like structure and through the reflection of light is bathed in color. It is important to note that Oiticica considered himself an inventor, and he explored color as a scientist would.

The exhibit ends with his Parangole series. As an anti-institutional artist, Oiticica begins to use viewer participation in his work. The Parangoles are hand-made capes, where he uses fabric, plastic, and other materials to reflect light. Their purpose is to shield and protect the person who wears them. As a member of the Samba School of Mangueira, he used samba dancers to demonstrate color in rhythm.

Dr. Ramirez mentioned that it took five years to conceptualize, research and produce this exhibition. It is an excellent overview of the progression of Oiticica’s work and his meticulous exploration of color. I hope some of you will have a chance to see it this weekend.

On view through April 1st @ Museum of Fine Arts Houston. This exhibition will travel to the Tate Modern, June 7-September 23, 2007.

Global Connections to Cultural Democracy Friday, Mar 16 2007 

I am participating this year as a panelist in this Dialogue and I would like to encourage emerging arts leaders to attend…

Open Dialogue XI: Global Connections to Cultural Democracy – Denver, July 12-15

The conference is a biennial convening of arts organizations and artists from communities of color and their supporters in America. The Association of American Cultures is working with WESTAF to produce the gathering this year.

Who should attend?
* Emerging and established leaders of color working in arts, culture and other creative industries
* Professionals interested in ethnicity and its impact on the arts and cultural policy

Stimulate both sides of your brain!
* Network with younger and seasoned community leaders
* Influence and reposition policy issues
* Explore contemporary national and global topics related to the arts

Engage in meaningful dialogue on:
* Progress and challenges for arts organizations in communities of color
* Changing demographics, global migration and the influence of these factors on a new generation of leaders

Conference Program Advisor:
James Early, Director of Cultural Heritage Policy, Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution

More info visit: http://www.westaf.org/taac2007

William Kentridge: Weighing and Wanting Thursday, Oct 26 2006 

Finally, I return to the art scene. After three or four months of intense wedding planning, not to mention the actual wedding, it is nice to return to the comfort of art. On view through November at the Austin Museum of Art is a must see show by South African artist William Kentridge. It was a wonderful treat to visit the show this weekend.

kentridge drawing

Weighing and Wanting is a story of a wealthy man who made his riches from the mining industry in South Africa. He is a troubled soul, a memory plagued by guilt, emptyness and sadness. Kentridge tells the story of this fictional character through a collection of life size charcoal drawings and an animated film which traces the sequence of the life of the drawings. The short film is a theatrical narration. It slowly and methodically highlights the drawing/creative process that Kentridge follows. He draws and then erases, retraces forms and finds connections through line that lead him to sequences.

It is difficult to ignore the history and brutality that South Africans have witnessed when viewing the work of a South African artist. Kentridge makes no attempt to persuade the viewer through political stance. There is nothing didactic or absolute about his work, on the contrary, he leaves so much open to interpretation. It is a little bit unsettling, but also intriguing.

I was so intrigued about his view of South Africa that I did some more research and found this article published a few years ago. Enjoy…

The following article is taken from Interview Magazine, May 22, 2001:

William Kentridge: 12 African Greats Speak Freely About Their Continent

“I live in Johannesburg. All the places I’ve lived are within a four or five-kilometer radius of each other. Like most South African Jews, my grandparents and great grandparents came from Lithuania at the turn of the century. I grew up in a liberal family with politically involved parents who were lawyers. I can’t remember a stage where I was not aware of living in an unnatural place. There was so much dinner table conversation about the inequities of the society we were living in–that was a kind of daily bread and butter. This is not unique, but it was less than common in white society. There was always a sense growing up of living in a society that was waiting to become an adult, to change. During the 1970s and ’80s that seemed completely intractable, and it’s that sense of waiting–which existed throughout my childhood–that had been a false expectation. Then when the transformation came in 1989 through 1994, this was a kind of vindication of all those expectations of childhood.

I think one of the exciting things about South Africa after this transformation from apartheid is that it has an open-ended future. Being objective, I don’t know how one’s going to solve the enormous problems facing South Africa. The largest problem is how to deal with the AIDS epidemic. Both in terms of medicine–how do we stop so many people dying and how do we look after people who are ill–but, also, how do we deal with a bruised society left in the wake of the epidemic? If life becomes so dispensable, if people die with such little cause, so easily, what is the status one puts on the value of life, on long-term projects, on a sense of the future, on a sense of beneficent fate? All those things get thrown out of kilter.

One misconception about Africa would be that it’s a uniform, unified category, that you can talk about Africa in a meaningful way. That implies that Africans, whether they are in Egypt or Tunisia or Togo or South Africa, are people that can be talked about as if they were not identical, but certainly similar enough. So that would be the first misconception. The second misconception would be that societies in Africa are essentially pre-modern. It’s about understanding the ongoing clash between different kinds of modernization. If you look at 99 percent of the conflict throughout Africa, it has to do with conflicts over modernization; who owns resources and who has access to them, who is able to transform their lives from rural peasantry to an urban society.”

– William Kentridge

NAT 21 @ Arthouse Sunday, Jul 9 2006 

nat banner

The New American Talent exhibit at the Arthouse curated by Aimee Chang from the Orange County Museum of Art was a bit disappointing. It felt like your average MFA exhibition full of emptiness and suburban angst. I understand that curating a juried national exhibition for emerging artists is a daunting task and is very much limited by those artists that actually apply to be in the show. Many young emerging artists with excellent work do not seek out to participate in these juried shows or perhaps were not prepared professionally for the business side of promoting their work. I have often come across emerging artists who do not know how to prepare an artist resume and an artist statement. I think professional development and basic business skills is something that is very much lacking from the curriculum in most art departments across the country.

Nevertheless, there are still some outstanding artists that make it worth the trip to the Arthouse. Among those works is Enubus #2 by Neil Bernstein, a delicate hanging vintage horse wrapped in a gauze-like fashion and dipped into resin with World Trade Center ash. The work represents memory, absence and loss. Despite the fact that the work was not displayed properly, the lighting was off and it was placed next to a large steel and Plexiglas standing sculpture, it still drew you in and it reminded me a bit of Dario Robleto’s memory-work which incorporates bones and human hair. Karen Liebowitz, another Los Angeles-based artist, masterfully executed an impressive Baroque-like painting, Reviving the Bird. In a time where contemporary work is less involved with process and more involved with concept, it was refreshing to see this exuberant piece.

Another surprise was Phil Chang, an artist based out of Los Angeles. His piece Mayumi Leaving a Fingernail Imprint, Echo Park, Los Angeles was a beautiful and intriguing portrait. I have to say his model was excellent, almost iconic. Chang, an MFA graduate from Cal Arts had an impressive resume with international exhibits, among those El Salvador, of all places. High Five, a hybrid work proposed by Hunter Cross, was very promising. The work involved covering 5 rooftops in downtown Austin in a fuchsia color tarp. Then Google Satellite Maps would take a snapshot of the buildings and it would remain online for users to enjoy till the next Satellite photo is updated. The tarps would be a temporary installation till the photos is taken and then the project would exist on the Internet for some time. I like the real-life photos combined with the capability of satellite imagery. It’s a very original idea. Last but not least, I enjoyed the mixed media on plexi by Jonas Criscoe, an MFA from RISD and now an Austinite.

I didn’t get a chance to see the video art at this exhibit. The work was displayed on TVs that were placed lower than eye level and in parts of the gallery where it didn’t comfortably allow for leisure watching, since my neck isn’t well after getting whiplash a couple of weeks ago I decided to pass on these, but I did notice many of the video artists were from New York.

Justice for All? @ Lombardi Gallery Friday, May 12 2006 

The recent politically charged exhibit Justice for All? at Gallery Lombardi was a juried exhibition. The jurors consisted of Annette Carlozzi, Lora Reynolds and Malaquias Montoya. As soon as I saw the announcement, I knew I would have to go see it since I am a big fan of Malaquias’ work.

The exhibit was an artistic reflection on the death penalty. The call to artists was very succesful and entries came in from all over the country as well as some international entries. On the evening of May 11th, Annette Carlozzi gave a walk-through tour of the exhibition.

I was impressed to find out that some of the work had been done by inmates in Texas. Some pieces were pretty raw in the technical sense, many of these artists had no formal training, but they had lived through this experience and their voice was very powerful. A couple of the pieces that really moved me the most dealt with a death row inmate’s last dinner request before execution. Some of the things they asked for were kind of funny, there was a guy that asked for 27 tacos. Many asked for ice cream, steak, french fries. I wondered what I would ask for as a last meal. There was a very dark and almost depressing tone to this exhibit. I certainly felt different when I left the gallery, I actually felt like crying.

After the tour, I had a chance to talk with Annette Carlozzi about the curatorial aspects of the exhibit. About her career path as a curator and her work at the Blanton. She was very encouraging about continuing my work as an emerging independent curator, and also reiterated the importance of art history in contemporary curatorial work. For more info on the death penalty in Texas, please visit the Texas Moratorium Network.

Presente Perfecto @ Volitant Gallery Sunday, Apr 30 2006 

On the corner of 4th and Congress, I witnessed for several weeks the making of a new art gallery in Austin: Volitant. They started by renovating the interior, added movable walls, high ceilings and a lovely marble floor. A couple of days ago, I finally had the chance to go and visit their opening exhibit, and I was thrilled to find out it was a contemporary Latin American art exhibit.

Presente Perfecto curated by Juan Puntes, founder & director of Whitebox in NY, was a refreshing look at some of the work being produced in Latin America. In an age when people are begining to discuss the term Post-Latin American art, I felt that Puntes offered an interesting curatorial approach to this exhibit. It was not based on identities relating to geography and place, but the overall connections in culture and communication that this group of artists explores.

As one approaches the gallery with its window store front, you get the impression of walking into a boutique. Leather-like coats, hand bags and high-heeled shoes are on display, but a closer look reveals nipples, hair follicles and even references to penuses. Nicola Constantino toys with the idea of bringing the interior to the exterior world. The approach of encountering nudity as an everyday object is revolutionary in terms of the sexual taboos that still exist in parts of Latin America.

constantino

Constantino's other piece Savon de Corps is self-reflexive, quiet, and a breakthrough for the artist. The installation is setup like a marketing campaign for this new soap (Soap of the body). It includes a video projection of a commercial, and a sampling station with the actual soap, which is shaped in the form of a torso and bottom. The soap was made from the fat of the artist, after undergoing liposuction. It is a critical commentaty on our perceptions of beauty, the role of the media in shaping this perception and the utter physicality of what we designate as ugly. The fat is transformed into a function that also serves beauty. The artist is demonstrating the full cycle. I can't imagine how liberating it would be to create a work of art such as this. Her use of fat as a medium, also brought memories of Joseph Beuys.

I also enjoyed the Pop Latino photography series by Marcos Lopez. It was a funny, yet artistic way of challenging the stereotypical Latino male: the soccer player, beer drinker, cigarette smoker, with a glorified penus. The photographs felt staged, but comfortable and almost film-like. There was so much personality in each of the characters.

Not every piece featured in the show was a winner, but overall the exhibit was very well-crafted. Everything was perfectly present and optimisim resounded in the room.

Beauty is Disarming: Christo & Jeanne Claude @ The Paramount Friday, Mar 31 2006 

I had such a great time last night at the Christo & Jeanne-Claude lecture. They are both now 70 years old, having been born on the same day, and their energy and passion was inspiring. Jeanne-Claude surprised me as a witty and humorous character. She was sort of in the background for so many years and is now finally getting the recognition she deserves as an integral part of the artistic team. I loved the way they interacted, they are a charming couple.

C & J photo
Christo led us through a 40 minute slide presentation in which he described the process of their work. He discussed materials, research, engineering, location, funding and the incredible amount of time and money it takes to realize such monumental works, like the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin. Jeanne-Claude would tell funny anecdotes in between slides. The slide ended with the a full detailed description of their current project that is being developed for the Arkansas River in Colorado, just north of Denver.

After the slide show we had an intermission and were able to write down questions we would like to ask the artists. I was thrilled when I heard them read aloud my question and actually said hello and looked for me in the audience. I asked “What effect does your work aim to have on humans?” And the question was taken very seriously, Jeanne-Claude said that the work they did was for their own pleasure and if others liked it, that was just a plus. She had an interesting analogy, when a parent walks their child down the street and someone stops and says what a beautiful child that is, the parent feel good about it, but the parent did not create the child with the intention that it would please someone. The most moving part of her response for me was when she stated, “Beauty is disarming”, she was referring to the effect the work has on the viewer and how their projects have never been vandalized.

I am of the philosophy that art is a selfless act, done for the benefit of all of us. So her initial response struck me as selfish, but later I understood that they depend on the viewers and their memory of a beautiful fleeting moment. She said their favorite quote is “Once upon a time”.

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