Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Maletas Migrantes: Thinking Hemispheric Migration on the Continent

"Maletas Migrantes," a multi-artist project currently located in Philanthropy House, Brussels, explores themes of migration, memory, identity, and sometimes violence through the shared medium of the suitcase. Utilizing a (relatively) standardized texture and spatial plane, the works diverge widely in their mediums, styles, and approach.

The exhibit rationale states:

Maletas Migrantes (Migrant Suitcases) is a vessel that contains emotionally significant objects, whose crucial value is only evident when migrating-- memories, relationships, places, times and identities are inside a Maleta Migrante. Under the premise that all of us were, are or will be subjected to geographical, psychological or historical crossings, Maletas Migrantes represents a space of aesethetical and conceptual exploration, where a selected group of contemporary artist from Mexico on the geographical movements and emotional transitions of migrants, immigrants and transmigrants. The suitcases are a symbol of crossing, of a journey, and allow the artists to research the diversity of the migration process in the modern world, and appreciate the value of hte objects in the suitcase as they are moved from one place to another. The starting point of the Maletas Migrantes was Mexico City's Memory and Tolerance Museum, in 2012, were gathered together for the 50th anniversary of the Ford Foundation. The goal since this very first experience was to have teh suitcases traveling around the world, boosting the traveling cycle that those looking for a new place to settle go through [and] explaining the cycle of travel that those who are looking for a new place to settle experience....

Cristian Piñeda's "Movilidad Humana," is the first piece that one confronts, after reading a description, that, on the whole, offers a fairly abstract assessment of the experiences one may have as a migrant. In fact, violence is entirely absent from the rationale, and is made explicitly visible in "Movilidad Humana." In a bare wooden box that resembles a railway boxcar, a pair of converses rest, shoelaces extracted, and spattered in red, presumably a rendering a blood. "Human mobility," the piece gestures to the labor of walking, the vulnerability of migrant bodies, and the intense risk that is undergone in crossing the US-Mexican border.

Cristian Piñeda. "Movilidad Humana." Human Mobility. 2012. Acrylic paint, spraypaint on wood, shoes and t-shirt.
Alma Gálvez's work, "Esperanza" "Hope," further intensifies focus on the role that the train car plays in public imaginaries and discourses about immigration. A wooden box painted grey to resemble a train car, three-dimensional figures occupy the car, climbing upon it; running to it, sitting with legs dangled over the side of the roof, or lying flat on the roof, presumably napping. In this piece we are reminded of the affects involved in mobility, how spaces and objects of transport become objects and spaces of investment or attachment, in this case, optimism.

Alma Gálvez, "Esperanza" "Hope," 2012. Acrylic and carving on wood.
Such optimism is brutally rebuffed in the succeeding piece. Bayrol Piñeda's piece, "Esperanza Cindi Nero," "Hope without money," shows the passport image of a woman whose face bears the marks of brutality. The artist's statement suggests that it is symbolic of the violence that comes from drug trafficking between Mexico and the U.S., but one can also see evidence of the systemic violence facing women both within and as they cross borders.

Bayrol Piñeda's, "Esperanza Cindi Nero," "Hope without money," 2012. Acrylic paint on wood. 

Asymmetrical immigration is criticized by Valerio Gómez in his piece, "Bienvenido/No Pase," "Welcome/Do Not Pass," which criticizes Mexican immigration policies that say "welcome to European, the white, the rich, and the educated immigrant, but we say 'Do Not Enter' to the SOuth American, the brown, the poor, and the ignorant." 
Valerio Gómez, "Bienvenido/No Pase," "Welcome/Do Not Pass," 2012. Mixed medium.
 In "Migración Forzada," "Forced Migration," by Lorena Wolffer and María Renée Prudencio, a suitcase holds an ultrasound, postcard from the Maria Fund, clothes, tooth paste, birth certificate, and religious items, the viewer is positioned in an intimate space, witnessing the evidence of pregnancy, religious belief, and framed within the context of being "forced," pointing to bodies that have yet to appear across the border. 

Lorena Wolffer and María Renée Prudencio,"Migración Forzada," "Forced Migration,"2012. Mixed media.

Lorena Wolffer and María Renée Prudencio,"Migración Forzada," "Forced Migration,"2012. Mixed media.
Border crossing emerges as a social space of interchange and generosity in the piece, Colectivo a contrapelo, "La Multitud del ala contra el viento," The Multitude of the Wing against the wind, 2012. A collection of handwritten letters, which were solicited from people in Mexico and Argentina answering the question "what would you say to a migrant?" audio is provided from testimonies by Las Monarcas and Las Patronas. The former, The Queens, a grpup of Central American and Columbian women arriving in Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s who continue to meet at the Espacio Refugiados in teh Parque Ramón López Velarde. The latter, the Bosses, are a group of fifteen women who live next to the railway in Veracruz and have prepared and distributed food to those on La Bestia (the cargo train that runs from Chiapas to the US Border) for the last sixteen years.
Colectivo a contrapelo, "La Multitud del ala contra el viento," The Multitude of the Wing against the wind, 2012. Wooden crates, letters, and testimonies.

The piece is simple, letters taped inside the crate, with headphones attached, and because of the way the letters are taped, the texts are fragmented. The viewer can read: "Estoy tratando de esribirte algo transmitir fuerzas, confianza, fé, para que continúes tus sueños y tus espectivas en este enorme viaje...y no sé como hacer..." ""I am trying to write something that will transmit strength, confidence, and hope so that you can continue your dreams and your expectations on this enormous journey...and I don't know how to do so..." Another letter seeks to transmit love of country, faith in one's heritage, and to provide a tangible token to hold onto when customs, language, and identity are challenged.

A final piece which drew my attention was by Luis Ruiz, which was titled, "El Sueño Americano no es Propramente el Mexicano" (The American Dream is Not hte Mexican Dream."In the piece the wooden crate serves as a dioramic space where on the background an enlarged picture of a Mexican man picking green peppers is displayed. On the ground level is a three dimensional model home with manicured lawn. One one level, the piece recalls long standing exceptions in U.S. migration policy that allow for (temporary) migrant workers, policies that do not allow for full inclusion, and which, even when violated by exploitative agricultural agents, are not fulfilled. In this sense the American Dream, a myth of ownership, autonomy, liberty, is suspended and violated in picking fields. On another level, the almost romantic, ground level shot of a man engaging with nature stands in stark contrast to the almost aseptic house, lawn and hedges existing far away from a more fecund agricultural space.

Luis Ruiz, "El Sueño Americano no es Propramente el Mexicano" (The American Dream is Not the Mexican Dream."2012. Mixed Media. 
The themes that emerge in Maletas Migrantes are not new. But to be displayed on the continent that served as the primary driver of colonialism, a migration that one could argue set the stage for inequalities and economic disparities that drive contemporary migration, the works achieve new importance. Although the exhibition rationale elides the role of colonialism and the ubiquity of violence in migration itself as well as its surrounding debates in the Americas, it emerges in the works themselves as a persistent thread, calling on the spectator to attempt to imagine such dislocation, and even more importantly, to begin to craft a visual vocabulary for solidarity.

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