This weekend, San Jose’s Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) says goodbye to its latest innovative exhibit, On Traditions & Repetition.
As it prepares to close, the artists have been reflecting on the exhibit’s themes and its interactions with the community and Latinx diaspora. All four artists were given free rein over their areas of the gallery, and all explored different elements of their unique cultural heritages.
Angela Arteritano’s web of ivory threads hangs against a matte black backdrop, drawing in museum-goers, who unwittingly become part of the multi-layered art piece that is part tactile, part visual and part performance art.
“It has to do a lot with migration and my perspective, being in exile, pretty much and how I relate back to my traditions,” Arteritano says. Her experience living in exile from her native Venezuela is one shared by many from Central and South America who have fled violence in their home countries.
In the past, Arteritano has felt constrained in gallery spaces that don’t accommodate performance art, or in theater spaces that don’t involve visual art or audience engagement. The MACLA exhibit, she says, has given her the freedom to explore themes in her own unique way, engaging with the audience as a means of building community.
“I’m trying to connect all of those disciplines together, but always involving my community,” she says.
Community was also the focus of Patty Botello’s piñata Tajín bottle and fruit vendor cart. Inspired by her childhood in L.A. and the interactions her father—who immigrated from Guanajuato, Mexico—had with fruit vendors and paleteros.
“I was thinking back to when I was younger and living in LA and how my dad would stop with the fruit vendor if we asked him to,” Botello says. “He just had this really beautiful interaction with the vendors, even though he didn’t know them.”
In creating a life-sized fruit cart, Botello encourages audience engagement by having the participant stand in the fruit vendor’s shoes. At the back of the cart, a miniature representation of a street vendor’s experience encourages the audience to think of what life is like for immigrant street vendors hit hard by the pandemic and by regulations many feel are discriminatory as well as racist attacks and robberies.
Carolina Cuevas, whose parents are from Cuba, created an interactive clay altar representing the community’s role in personal healing. A bag of clay invites participants to grab chunks and add their own sculpture to the altar.
“It was kind of scary to just sort of be like, ‘hey, grab clay and keep adding to this piece of work.’ I’ve never really done something like that before.”
Words written in a flowing script connect to adjacent walls. Based on a photo of her mother walking, the script outlines her mother in prayer the way that Cuevas and her family and community surrounded her mother with prayer while she was undergoing treatment for cancer.
Cuevas enjoys challenging the traditional roles of art and viewer.
“I’m starting very small but I want to work my way up because we are the ones that are going to change things.”
Jorge “J. Duh” Camaco is well known throughout San Jose for his signage. The majority of his area of the exhibit uses intense color and dream-like surrealism to explore his Nicaraguan heritage and visits to his parents’ home country.
“I’m no longer concerned about being palatable,” Camacho says.
Though his signage is more classically beautiful than subversive, Camacho says that when he clocks out of his day job, he’s still a night creature and a rebellious artist at heart. His largest piece in the exhibition is the phrase “Hopping Fences” behind a section of rusted chain link. The nod to his current work as an infinitely instagrammable signage artist is also an homage to his days of literally hopping fences to find skate spots or graffiti-worthy walls.
The piece also challenges the audience to let go and break a few rules, literally and figuratively.
“I want people to think about hopping fences,” he says.
MACLA, San Jose