Things That Matter

Artwork Created By Detained Teenagers Are On Display In El Paso In An Exhibit Called ‘Uncaged Art’

Between June 2018 and January 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services detained more than 6,000 teenagers from Central and South America in a tent city 40 miles south of El Paso. It was called the Tornillo Children’s Detention camp and was the largest detention center for children in the United States. While detained there, the teenagers, aged 13-17, were asked to participate in a social studies project to create art that reminded them of their home. Their art was on display around the tent city until a story by The New York Times shined a light on the teens’ paltry living conditions, and the government shut the facility down in January 2019.

As Tornillo Children’s Detention Camp was being shut down, workers trashed nearly all of the 400 pieces of art. However, one priest and several community organizations came together and were able to save 29 of the pieces.

Father Rafael Garcia, a Jesuit Priest, was one of the few outside visitors allowed into the camp.

Credit: Sacred Heart Church, El Paso, TX / Facebook

“It is hard to describe the mood there; some kids were very glum and sad, others had no expression,” Father Garcia told NBC News. “Then there were others interacting like normal kids.” The artwork was on display until January 2019, when the U.S. government decided to close the camp. As officers were tossing the artwork, Garcia asked for permission to redistribute the art to others who may want it.

“If I hadn’t been there, and received permission to keep some of the pieces, it probably would have all been thrown in the dumpster,” Garcia said.

With the artwork in hand, Garcia called Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Ph.D., University of El Paso Texas Professor and co-founder of El Paso’s Museo Urbano.

Credit: Borderzine Reporting across fronteras / YouTube

Leyva would go to the Tornillo Children’s Detention Center on her days off to visit with the kids. Garcia knew that she co-founded El Paso’s community museum known for preserving borderland history. Garcia wanted the museum and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to protect the artwork. They did one better and put all the art on display at UTEP’s Centennial Museum. 

Father Garcia sees the final outcome–an exhibit featuring their work–as “a ray of light from a grim experience.”

Credit: UTEP

The Museum website describes the exhibit as reflective of “the resiliency, talent, and creativity of young men and women who trekked 2,000 miles from their homes in Central America to reach the United States.” The exhibit, titled ‘Uncaged Art,’ “provides us with a window into the personal world of migrant children whose visions and voices have often been left out of mainstream media accounts,” reads the website.

Still, the art is on display behind a chain-link fence, to remind visitors of the conditions the young artists were in at the time.

Credit: Borderzine Reporting across fronteras / YouTube

The social studies teachers allowed the students four days to create the art and allowed them to create individually or in groups. There were no other instructions other than to think of their home. Those instructions resulted in an array of mixed media art including dresses, sculptures and hundreds of drawings and sketches. Then, “camp officials” judged the art and selected their perceived best works to display around the camp.

Human rights attorney, Camilo Pérez-Bustillo thinks that the camp released the artwork as a PR stunt to look good.

Credit: UTEP

Pérez-Bustillo had interviewed about 30 children from the camp and believes the artwork was essentially curated by the facility. “I think they released it to look good,” Pérez-Bustillo told The Texas Observer. “They had so much negative publicity at the end from the national media, especially after news reports that their employees did not have to submit to FBI checks, they decided to shut it down and cut their losses.”  

For now, we don’t know the faces behind the artwork.

Credit: UTEP

In June 2018, Beto O’Rourke led hundreds of protesters to the tent city demanding humane conditions for the ever-expanding tent city. Temperatures were over 100 degrees while the children were living in tents. A DHS spokesperson told the public that the tents were air-conditioned. Some of the children told an attorney that the worst part of the facility was never knowing when they’d get out. Some kids would keep track of the days that passed by scribbling numbers on their forearms.

Still, the government’s response to the problem was to loosen the strict requirements for sponsorships. All of the children are now sponsored by people around the country.

Wherever they are, we hope that they see their artwork is cherished by our community.

Credit: “tornillo art” Digital Image. Texas Observer. 23 August 2019.

We know that the symbol of the quetzal bird created in this artwork is a symbol of freedom for Guatemala. In the words of one of the artists, as told by The Texas Observer, “The quetzal cannot be caged or it will die of sadness.”

READ: Texas Detention Officer Charged With Sexual Assault Of An Undocumented Mother’s Child

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If You Call Yourself A Frida Kahlo Fan Then You Should Be Following These Five Artists

Culture

If You Call Yourself A Frida Kahlo Fan Then You Should Be Following These Five Artists

Bettman Archives / Getty Images

So many of us have been moved the art of the late Frida Kahlo. Even in death she’s gone on to inspire entire generations with her Surrealist self-portraits, lush depictions of plant and animal life, and magical realist tableaux. Not to mention her incredible life story.

She also inspired future generations of artists, many of whom are alive today creating beautiful works of art. These are just a few of the artists who have similar techniques, subjects, and styles to Frida Kahlo that you’ll definitely love if you’re a fan of Frida Kahlo.

Maria Fragoso – Mexico City

Credit: Teach Me Sweet Things / Theirry Goldberg Gallery

Influenced by the style and narratives of Mexican surrealists and muralists, Maria Fragoso creates work that celebrates her Mexican culture, while also addressing notions of gender expression and queer identity. Her brightly colored canvases offer voyeuristic glimpses into intimate moments, with subjects engaging in acts that seem at once seductive and mischievous—often while gazing directly out at the viewer.

Recently featured in Forbes’s “30 Under 30” in the “Art and Style” category, the 25-year-old artist is quickly rising to prominence. Born and raised in Mexico City, Fragoso moved to Baltimore in 2015 to pursue her BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art. While in school, Fragoso was the recipient of the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship at the Yale Norfolk School of Art. Since graduating, she has completed residencies at Palazzo Monti and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

Nadia Waheed – Austin, Texas

Credit: Message from Janus / Mindy Solomon Gallery

Born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, Austin, Texas–based artist Nadia Waheed explores notions of relocation, displacement, and vulnerability in her work. Her life-size figurative paintings are both allegorical and autobiographical—the female figures represent her own lived experiences, as well as the multifaceted identities of all women.

Rodeo Tapaya – Philippines

Credit: Nowhere Man / A3 Art Agency

Rodel Tapaya paints dreamlike, narrative works based on myths and folklore from his native Philippines. Drawing parallels between age-old fables and current events, Tapaya reimagines mythical tales by incorporating fragments of the present. “In some way, I realize that old stories are not just metaphors. I can find connections with contemporary time,” Tapaya said in a 2017 interview with the National Gallery of Australia. “It’s like the myths are poetic narrations of the present.”

While the content of Tapaya’s work is inspired by Filipino culture, his style and literary-based practice is heavily influenced by Mexican muralists and Surrealist painters such as José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and, of course, Frida Kahlo. Often working at a large scale, Tapaya has been commissioned to create several site-specific murals, including one for Art Fair Philippines in February 2020.

Leonor Fini – Buenos Aires

Credit: Les Aveugles / Weinstein Gallery

Long overlooked in favor of male Surrealists, Leonor Fini, a contemporary of Kahlo, was a pioneering 20th-century force. Known for having lived boldly, Fini is recognized for her unconventional lifestyle, theatrical personality, and avant-garde fashion sense. Born in Buenos Aires in 1907, Fini was raised by her mother in Trieste, Italy. She taught herself to paint and first exhibited her work at the age of 17.

Fini had one of her first solo exhibitions at age 25 with a Parisian gallery directed by Christian Dior. Her work was then included in the groundbreaking exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism” at MoMA in 1936, while at the same time she had her first New York exhibition with Julien Levy Gallery. Today, Fini’s work is represented in many major public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Tate Modern in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

Ramon Alejandro – Miami

Credit: Eternal Life / Latino Art Core

José Ramón Díaz Alejandro, better known as Ramon Alejandro, paints idyllic still lifes of tropical fruits set in ethereal landscapes. The surrealistic compositions have a similar spirit to Kahlo’s less iconic but equally masterful still-life works

Coming from a long lineage of artists, Alejandro grew up with the artworks of his great-grandfather, grandfather, and uncle adorning the walls of his childhood home. After growing up in Havana, Alejandro was sent to live in Argentina in 1960 amidst political turmoil in Cuba, and has continued to live in exile since then.

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Yes, Someone Created An Actual Honest To God 108-Foot Vulva Statue In Brazil

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Yes, Someone Created An Actual Honest To God 108-Foot Vulva Statue In Brazil

BUDA MENDES / GETTY IMAGES

There’s no denying the fact that the female form, and it’s bits, in particular, have inspired artwork the world over. Tarsila do Amaral was inspired by it. Frida Kahlo and artists like Zilia Sánchez and Marta Minujín too. Women’s bodies are inspired and so they inspire. Still, a recent unveiling of vulva artwork has become so controversial and made people so besides themselves that it seems many have forgotten these truths about our bodies.

Over the weekend, Brazilian visual artist Juliana Notari revealed her latest sculptureDiva, on a hillside at Usina del Arte. The art park is located in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco and is described by Notari as “a massive vulva / wound excavation.”

The massive sculpture created on the hillside located in northeastern Brazil features a bright pink vulva and has fueled what is being described as a cultural war.

Notari created Diva, a colorful 108-foot concrete and resin sculpture on the site of a former sugar mill. The mill was converted into an open-air museum in Pernambuco state. Last week, when Notari debuted the installation she revealed it was meant to depict both a vulva and a wound while questioning the relationship between nature and culture in a “phallocentric and anthropocentric society.”

“These issues have become increasingly urgent today,” Notari wrote in a post shared to her Facebook page which was shared alongside a series of photos of the sculpture. According to NBC, it took a team of 20 artisans 11 months to build the entire concept.

No surprise, the piece of art sparked a wave of controversy on social media, with critics and supports debating its message and significance.

Over 25,000 users have commented on Notari’s Facebook post so far including leftists and conservatives. On the far-right, supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro have also been vocal about their views of the product.

“With all due respect, I did not like it. Imagine me walking with my young daughters in this park and them asking … Daddy, what is this? What will I answer?” one user wrote in the Facebook section of the post.

“With all due respect, you can teach your daughters not to be ashamed of their own genitals,” a woman replied.

Olavo de Carvalho, an advisor to Bolsonaro, vulgarly criticized the piece on Twitter.

Notari, whose previous work has been displayed at various galleries explained on her Facebook page that she created the piece to comment on gender issues in general.

“In Diva, I use art to dialogue with…gender issues from a female perspective combined with a cosmopocentric and anthropocentric western society,” Notari shared on her post to Facebook. “Currently these issues have become increasingly urgent. After all, it is by changing perspective of our relationship between humans and nonhuman, that will allow us to live longer on that planet and in a less unequal and catastrophic society.”

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