This is guest a post by MexiCali Biennial curator and project coordinator April Lillard Gomez.
During the COVID 19 lock down, the Library of Congress Hispanic Reading Room invited the MexiCali Biennial to interact with the library’s digital collections and archival materials to inform resources relating to Border Art. To date, this contemporary arts and culture organization, focused on the border region of California and Mexico, has created content for two Library of Congress Research Guides related to the borderlands — “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side): Border Art Histories of the MexiCali Biennial and “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side): Geographies, Boundaries, and Imaginations of Space. Additionally, Suzanne Schadl, Chief of the Latin American, Caribbean, and European Division and reference librarian and curator Catalina Gómez participated in a virtual panel discussion with border scholars and artists, hosted by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (SCMAH), to share their feedback on the collaborative projects. The research itself has been featured as part of a MexiCali Biennial exhibition titled Art, Actions, Exchanges at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Arts and Culture of the Riverside Art Museum (“the Cheech”), which highlighted artworks and archival materials from the MexiCali Biennial since its inception in 2006. Through these exchanges, biennial curators aim to connect points of interest within contemporary art with images housed in the library’s collections, showcasing creative ways to interact with and “mine” resources for educational purposes and also to portray how art can be used to reflect on the past and effect change.
The MexiCali Biennial continues its collaboration with the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress in an upcoming StoryMap contextualizing Land of Milk & Honey, a series of exhibitions which interrogate ideals of agriculture and foodways and the symbiotic relationship between California and Mexico. For the StoryMap, curators have selected four artists from the exhibition that were exhibited at “The Cheech”, a repository with strong holdings of Chicana/o/x art – much of which the museum’s namesake, actor-comedian Cheech Marin donated. The chosen artists’ works visually communicate their personal histories, connections, and experiences with topics around the Land of Milk & Honey, which was inspired by John Steinbeck’s views of California as a corrupted Eden. Researchers Samuel White and Daniel Velazquez then connected these concepts with digital resources available at the Library of Congress to identify historical patterns, bridging the past with the present. The StoryMap will serve as a visual study guide to the influences of border art, the relationships between neighboring countries, and the agricultural histories of California and Mexico, from an art historical perspective. The following will be featured in the StoryMap:
INSCRIBING “LOST” HISTORIES IN ISIDRO PÉREZ GARCÍA’S PENCAS DE MAGUEY
Artist Isidro Pérez García, an artist from Santa Ana, CA and Atotonilco El Grande, Hidalgo, México, utilizes the maguey (agave) plant as media. The StoryMap will describe the artists’ relationship to the plant as an ancestral and autobiographical bridge, by using the pencas (leaves) as a canvas, and the aguamiel (literal translation water honey), the primary ingredient in pulqué, in ceremonial performances. Researchers have selected images from the library to connect the historical and sacred importance of the maguey with Pérez García’s contemporary viewpoints.
HISTORIES UNEARTHED IN JESSICA WIMBLEY AND CHRIS CHRISTION’S UNAUTHORIZED HISTOGRAPHY OF CALIFORNIA
Chris Christion and Jessica Wimbley are interdisciplinary artists based in Sacramento, CA. The collaborators employed video collage to represent California’s histography, a term that can be used to represent interactive timelines – but is also defined as bodily tissue. The artists and curators are inspired by Audre Lorde’s concept of Biomythography, a style that weaves concepts of myth, history, and biography in epic narrative. Their video The Unauthorized Histography of California Vol. 2: Fieldnotes documents the historical moments in California’s history through the voice of Calafia (Califia), the colonial mythical queen of California. The duo draw connections between the gold rush, westward migration, housing discrimination, agricultural practices, entrepreneurship, and the Los Angeles riots. Researchers curated visual imagery from the Library depicting concepts within Wimbley and Christion’s video, including portraits of African American sharecroppers, wood engravings of mining operations, and even images of quilts, whose patterns are interlaced throughout the video.
FLOAT FOR RECLAMATION: CONCEPTUALIZING A COLLECTIVE VIRTUAL MEMORY
Shinpei Takeda is a visual artist and filmmaker born in Osaka, Japan and based in Tijuana, Mexico and Dusseldorf, Germany. His project for the Land of Milk & Honey included a multimedia sculpture and video spotlighting Japanese migrant communities along the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. Using virtual reality technologies, the artist collaborated with artist Devon Tsuno (Los Angeles, CA), architect Mino Kiyoto (Mexicali, MX), and lawyer Jessica Fernandez de Lara Harada (Michigan) in creating a digital “safe space” to reflect on their respective histories within the US and Mexico. The artwork is accompanied by visual resources collected from the library that address the resiliency and the shared and contrasting perspectives of the participants, including strong connections to agricultural communities within both countries.
RUBEN OCHOA’S COMIC CORRIDO DE TAMALES EL PRIMO: CELEBRATING THE CREATIVITY AND COMMUNITY OF LOS ANGELES TAMALEROS
Lastly, the upcoming StoryMap will discuss artist Ruben Ochoa’s celebration of vendedores ambulantes (street vendors) and their cultural and culinary significance in the broader Los Angeles region. Ochoa’s project consists of a collaborative street-legal tamalero cart wrapped in comic-book style imagery of vendors Juan and Luz Aguilar and their small business Tamales el Primo. The cart is a collaboration between the Ochoa, MexiCali Biennial curators, and Revolution Carts – a business that created the first Los Angeles City Sidewalk Vending compliant cart and was founded by Richard Gomez, Matt Geller, and Patrick Lennon. The StoryMap will describe a community-led reaction to a racially motivated verbal attack on Juan and how social media, street journalism and the general public rallied around the vendors, resulting in awareness of routine violence toward street vendors. Accompanying the cart were limited edition prints that Ochoa created as a fundraiser for an organization that advocates for street vendors in Los Angeles. For the StoryMap, researchers will connect concepts in Ochoa’s work to images within the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division, carrying on the legacy of street vendors in the region.
The MexiCali Biennial team wishes to thank Library of Congress Hispanic Reading Room staff, Catalina Gómez, Dani Thurber, Giselle Avilés and Suzanne Schadl for their continuing support and direction. We would also like to thank the featured artists for permitting the dissemination of their artworks as well as the student researchers Samuel White and Daniel Velazquez who enthusiastically worked on the project under the guidance of art historian Rosalia Romero.