The Crossroads Meet at Mexic-Arte Museum's "Intersección: Choque & Alivio"
The 25th edition of this showcase for early-career Latinx artists is a space for sharing our shock over this time and our humanity
The picture doesn't look like a crash. It shows a man in profile, his eyes closed and features relaxed as if he's asleep, against an orange background. Curiously, the man is upside down, with the top of his head just dipping into waves of water, and the water is yellow with waves that look the way they do in cartoons or as drawn by a child: bowllike curve rising to points on either side, side by side by side. Still, even with those unusual elements, the picture projects simplicity and tranquility.
Be assured, though, the crash is there. It's in the photorealistic rendering of the man smashing into the graphic representation of the water, the soft gray of the graphite hitting the bold yellow of the paint. It's in the flesh against water, man against nature – maybe even life against death. What if the figure isn't going into the water but is being pulled from it, his closed eyes and serene face those of a dead man? And what if that water is a river that runs between the U.S. and Mexico? Then maybe there is also the crash of cultures in this image.
The search for impact in this work – El Guajito, by artist Alejandro Macias – has to do with its inclusion in the exhibit "ELA 25: Intersección: Choque & Alivio/Intersection: Shock & Relief," opening this week at Mexic-Arte Museum. Dr. George Vargas, the museum's curator and director of programs, says that as he considered what this group show would be, "I wanted to have a theme that would relate to the times. And I thought, 'Well, what's going on is a lot of crashing, people crashing into each other. And what about artists? Well, they're doing the same thing in a different way: through their medium, through their aesthetic, through their approaches.'" The gallery would become a crossroads where these artistic variations would collide, revealing their differences but also their similarities. "All that hopefully appeals to the museumgoer, who will say, 'Oh, I relate to that. I feel that crash and relief.'"
The artists crashing into one another in "Choque & Alivio" have been to this intersección before, though not at the same time. They've all shown work in different editions of Mexic-Arte's "Young Latinx Artists" exhibition, an annual tradition begun in 1996 to showcase early-career Latinx artists. Over the years, "YLA" has provided critical exposure to hundreds of these artists, giving many their first chance to exhibit work in a major arts institution, and it's also served as a yearly look at the state of Latinx art from the next generation of its makers.
As a way of celebrating the program's milestone 25th edition, the museum is hosting an exhibit of all "YLA" alumni. Macias, for instance, was in "YLA 23: Beyond Walls, Between Gates, Under Bridges" in 2018, and among his colleagues returning for this exhibition there's at least one from each "YLA" show from 2011 to 2019. That makes "ELA 25" – "Young" has been replaced by "Emerging" – if not quite a reunion, then something of a homecoming.
Jose Villalobos feels it is. "It's a great site to come back to, Mexic-Arte," says the San Antonio transmedia artist. Three years ago, he made a memorable impression with Sin la "S," his installation for "YLA 22: ¡Ahora!" In it, a number of white cowboy hats, each with a curtain of long golden fringe dripping from its brim, were suspended throughout one gallery space over small mounds of earth. For this exhibition, Villalobos has constructed a round corral with a barbed wire fence encircling a large mound of dirt, over the center of which is suspended a rhinestone-encrusted saddle attached to ropes that are tied to cement-cast feet under the saddle and hands in the dirt crawling toward the fence. The visual impact of the installation, titled Los Pies Que Te Cargaron (The Feet That Carried You), is powerful, conveying a sense of family history crashing into generational differences, machismo crashing into queer identity, Latinx heritage into white racism. On Instagram, Villalobos describes this as "a very personal work with many layers to it," adding that he's "honored to be showing amongst great Latinx artists." The opportunity to create and show such a work in the midst of the pandemic is not lost on the artist. "That Mexic-Arte is able to hold this exhibition," he tells me, "that is a blessing."
Dr. Vargas concurs. "As Jose has said, it's amazing that we're doing this as a museum, bringing in all these artists, and then bringing in the people to celebrate the spirit of ELA and the power of art to bring all this together." He circles back to the metaphor that inspired the exhibit's title. "All of us are in that crash. We're in the same car, so to speak. We've crashed, and that's what happened to us. Some of us have not survived this crash, but most of us at least have, and so we're blessed to be able to put this show together and come to this intersection and talk about this, to share this experience that we're having, to note our differences but also our similarities, and note first of all that we're humans, and art humanizes this particular condition."
The "ELA 25" Artists
Michael Menchaca, San Antonio, YLA 16
Jellyfish Collective, El Paso, YLA 17
Michael Anthony García, Austin, YLA 18 (curator)
Suzy González, San Antonio, YLA 19
Hope Mora, Pecos, YLA 20
Hatziel Flores, Dallas, YLA 21
Ashley Mireles, San Antonio, YLA 22
Jose Villalobos, San Antonio, YLA 22
Alejandro Macias, Brownsville, YLA 23
Yareth Fernández, Austin, YLA 24
In addition to the indoor exhibition, three artists will create two murals on the museum's exterior walls as part of the museum's El Mero Muro program. One, by Austin artists Niz (YLA 17) and Sadé Lawson will celebrate the Latinx and Black experience of America while calling for equality, unity, creative change, and voting rights. The other, by El Paso artist Christin Apodaca, will address the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Austin's Latinx community.
“ELA 25: Intersección: Choque & Alivio/Intersection: Shock & Relief” runs Sept. 18-Nov. 22 at Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress. For more information, visit www.mexic-arte.org.