Americans are deeply divided over how to handle immigration and an art exhibit in Albuquerque is working to bring new perspectives into the conversation.
"The U.S.-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination and Possibility" show at the 516 Arts gallery and the Albuquerque Museum depicts life, work and death along the border region in a raw and honest way.
You know Talavera art, right? It’s that flamboyant style of painted ceramics, dating back centuries in Mexico? It features complex, bright floral patterns.
In the piece titled “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” there’s a couple dozen Talavera-style vases each one with classic swirls of blue-on-white. But instead of pretty flowers, there are nude women, pistols and cannabis leaves. Each vase is displayed on a box of common Mexican exports.
Josie Lopez is a curator with 516 Arts.
"These are the objects, or the people’s bodies who’ve now been objectified, that are being trafficked across the border," Lopez said.
The air in the gallery feels thick with strife and struggle, and Lopez said these works bubbled up from ongoing conflicts at the border.
"We really wanted to focus on that duality, of both celebrating the creativity that exists there, but also understanding that there is real violence and fear in this current political moment," she said.
The exhibit was conceived before the 2016 election. But Lopez said time and an escalating political conflict over immigration have only made the message more potent, more relevant.
Most of the pieces allude to decades-old issues in both the U.S. and Mexico, like violence against women. Take an untitled installation of a frayed, white blouse dangling above a bed of dirt. At first glance, it looks like a blouse on a clothesline, but then you see the steel rod jutting through the sleeve, like an arm, keeping it suspended.
"You can look at that and really imagine that there was a body in that blouse," Lopez said.
The piece was created by Las Cruces native Daisy Quezada to represent women who were murdered on their way to work or home from their jobs at maquiladoras.
The clothes women make at these factories are usually shipped across the border and then sold for much more than what the workers were paid.
"We’re all benefiting from these young women’s work and in some cases, their sacrifice," Lopez said.
The exhibit originated in Los Angeles as part of a city-wide collaboration. And it had other community components to it, like special events. 516 Arts and the Albuquerque Museum plan to have an event when the exhibit closes next month, where people can delve deeper into the subject of immigration.
Lopez said it made sense to bring the exhibit here because it hits close to home.
"Here in Albuquerque we have a huge population of folks that are grappling with these issues on a daily basis," she said.
And for folks who don’t have that personal connection, the show can translate what it’s like for some people who do. Lopez said the exhibit fights against rhetoric that often stereotypes immigrants.
Altogether, the two-story building has pieces from more than 40 artists. You have to tilt your head back to take in the massive mandala that grabs your attention as you both enter and exit the exhibit.
"So this entire wall from floor to ceiling is close to 30 feet," Lopez said.
The mural’s golden trim shimmers in the sunlight. It was commissioned for 516 Arts by Mexican artist Curiot Tlalpazotl after a recent stay in India.
"It has seven different colors which represent seven different chakras," Lopez said.
Those colors glow from the seven petals of the mandala, each with a baby, curled up in utero. From the center of the mandala bloom several faces and meditating hands.
Lopez said Tlalpazotl wanted to get back to those universals that make us all human, that bring us together rather than pull us apart.
"The U.S.-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination and Possibility" will be on display at 516 Arts Downtown and at the Albuquerque Museum through April 14.