'El Maiz Es Nuestra Vida/Maize Is Our Life'

This touring show is so rich in history and beauty, you can get lost in the maize

'Siuakoatl' by Maria Ezcurra
'Siuakoatl' by Maria Ezcurra

'El Maíz Es Nuestra Vida/Maize Is Our Life'

Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River, 974-3770, www.cityofaustin.org/macc

Through June 5

The yellows, the reds, the browns, the almost-whites – the colors staggered and adjacent like tiny tiles in a linear mosaic of row upon row upon edible row where corn is the ancient and enduring base of nourishment.

The Mexican American Cultural Center is currently hosting a traveling art show, "El Maíz Es Nuestra Vida/Maize Is Our Life," exploring the theme of Mexico's native maize seeds. The cavernous upstairs gallery is filled with contemporary works by a diversity of artists, curated by Claudia Zapata, a UT-degreed art historian. Paintings, photos (enormous, stunning photos), installations, even sculpture is represented here.

You can get lost in the maize. So much history entangled with this grass domesticated by indigenous peoples in prehistoric Mesoamerica, so many cultural ramifications and resonances. So many possibilities for use and abuse in these more radically alterable times. Much of the long, glorious history of the plant is covered in this exhibition, a few of the more sinister possibilities are touched upon.

Liliana Wilson's traditional portrait of a young girl holding a basket of corn is rendered with the artist's trademark Prismacolor delicacy, the colors building up through mark after mark, in maizelike hues, the way a farm's verdant field is built up of separate plants expertly arranged.

Emilia Sandoval has arranged color photos of the vast variety of available seeds, sprouting in the bottom of dozens of petri dishes; the photos in En el Laboratorio are circular and placed in the bottoms of the actual dishes, mounted like so many transparent kernels on the bright white wall.

Christa Klinckwort's sculpture features an ear of corn perfectly rendered in glazed ceramics, suspended from the ceiling by a long cord, moving like a pendulum through a bowl of dried corn seed scattered atop rich red earth on a brass plate far below.

The potential calamities of genetic manipulation of natural food sources are illustrated vividly by Ana Gomez's depiction of MON863, an artificial maize variant. The illustration resembles machine-simplified rows of a cornfield, black upon black, the rows twisting and turning at perfect angles near the print's center, forming the shape of a death's-head skull with the patented name below.

When maize was first introduced into other farming systems than those used by the traditional Native American population, Wikipedia tells us, it was generally welcomed with enthusiasm for its productivity. This current exhibition at the MACC can be welcomed with enthusiasm for its productivity, too, but also for its beauty, its historical impact, the aesthetically rich education provided to all who come to explore the maize without which so much would be lost.

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El Maiz Es Nuestra Vida, Mexican American Cultural Center, Claudia Zapata, Liliana Wilson, Emilia Sandoval, Christa Klinckwort, Ana Gomez, Maize Is Our Life

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