"At Home in the World" urges us to contemplate questions about belonging, inclusion, the “other” and the changing nature of “home.” Curator Claude Smith says, "The idea of the show started with citizenship. What constitutes a citizen and how the idea of being a refugee or 'illegal' complicates that."
Frontier Mentality: ‘At Home’ Reps Border Art
BY MEGAN KAMERICK
Artist Juna Rosales Muller first found the “shoes” on a trip to the border. They resembled dust mops or those booties used on fancy home tours to keep the floors clean. But for the migrants who use them, their purpose is life or death.
When crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, immigrants stay alive by obscuring their footprints in the treacherous desert terrain; these handmade “shoes” are a primitive anti-tracking tool that helps them avoid capture by authorities. Muller first discovered the shoes in 2012, and she says that’s when the reality of the border hit her.
“They give me a more real sense of the clandestine nature of these journeys, the lengths people go to in order to remain hidden,” Muller says, turning one over in her hands. “Some of them have seedpods on the [bottom], which I love. Someone took the trouble to sew these. There’s some craftsmanship involved.”
Muller is one of 14 artists in 516 ARTS as it starts its 10th year in downtown Albuquerque. The plans for “At Home In The World” began at least two years ago. But they couldn’t have been more prescient given what’s going on in New Mexico and the world these days.
Debates rage in the Roundhouse over REAL ID fixes. Meanwhile across the globe, desperate refugees board rickety boats and brave stormy seas between Turkey and Greece, taking such unimaginable risks that we can only conclude what they’re fleeing from is far worse. And in the presidential campaign, immigration and terrorism provide fodder for the extreme political rhetoric.
The show urges us to contemplate questions about belonging, inclusion, the “other” and the changing nature of “home.” The idea of the show started with citizenship, says curator Claude Smith.
“What constitutes a citizen and how the idea of being a refugee or ‘illegal’ complicates that,” he says.
The idea has evolved into exploring how culture and art create a sense of home, says Suzanne Sbarge, director of 516 ARTS.
Muller created an installation with the shoes, and replicas of them made from other discarded clothing with community members here. The Ojai, Calif., artist often uses these community “sewing bees” to create work, and create dialog along the way. Her first pieces used discarded clothing in a quilt reminiscent of the American flag. She also created a combination quilt/folklorico skirt with women in Agua Prieta, Mexico. What was one huge skirt became two separate pieces during the workshop in Mexico, with one staying there and the other with Muller, mirroring the experiences of so many families who are divided by the border. The series name, “Mending Patriotism,” embodies the idea of finding a more inclusive form of patriotism.
Muller worked on the installation underneath an enormous wreath of wooden branches created by Albuquerque artist Billy Joe Miller.
“I’ve always been drawn to wreaths,” he says. “I think the oval draws people in.”
The wild collection of piñon, juniper and sand sage came from around Cuba, N.M., and it has a sort of fairytale quality. Miller also found bones, skulls and rusted metal cans that make a smaller wreath. He used expended shotgun shells to create a twisted sort of ristra.
On an adjacent wall, greens crisscross and are dotted with cow skulls and other bones.
“I would normally stay away from the iconic cattle skulls, but I was thrilled to do it here because they’re so much a part of this place,” Miller says. “Ever since I lived here, I’ve walked into homes and there’s always some crazy piece of bone or a stick or rusted metal.”
He has also used his work in the International District listening to stories of refugees from places like Afghanistan and Vietnam to create altars with found objects.
California artist Judy Shintani explores Japanese internment camps during World War II with The Remembrance Shrine. She also has a piece that incorporates viewers’ responses.
The work of Polish photographer Josef Schulz focuses on abandoned border stations within Europe. They offer a refreshing reminder that so much changed so quickly in the European Union and borders became less important. However, the photos are also eerie. We’ve already seen countries throwing up barbed wire barriers in response to refugees flooding into Europe. Will these border checkpoints re-open soon?
With the the uproar around this year’s Academy Awards and the rise of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, the the work by Gonzalo Fuenmayor of Miami is particularly relevant. In “Going Bananas” the words take the place of the iconic Hollywood sign, complete with spotlights in the background. The charcoal work is so detailed they almost look like photos. He also riffs on the Columbia Studios logo with “Colombia.”
“Anthem” by Colombian artist Felipe Castelblanco promises to be the most jarring on a sonic level. It uses interactive turntables and various national anthems to engage viewers in an exploration of what is a nation. Visitors must move around the turntables to get the records to play, but then they must also negotiate space with one another. That mimics what he calls a “geopolitical tension” where one nation tends to overtake another one.
“I’m trying to think of sound as a material that can touch you,” he says.
Sin Huellas Collective, which includes Albuquerque artist Delilah Montoya, uses a story from a San Diego detention facility to highlight the plight of immigrant children and families incarcerated without due process in “Detention Nation.” But it’s just as relevant for New Mexico considering the site that just opened at Holloman AFB to house immigrant children from Central America.
Of course, the idea of border and belonging, or not belonging, has long been part of New Mexico, notes Arturo Sandoval in the show catalog.
“In New Mexico, borders have cross and crisscrossed communities for centuries,” Sandoval writes.
“At Home in the World” runs through April 16 at 516 Central SW and will include numerous presentations and events.
For more information, visit 516arts.org