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Turn off the Sun

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Hand-painted ceramic vessel, part of the installation, A Thin Line between Love and Hate (2005) by Eduardo Sarabia

Hand-painted ceramic vessel, part of the installation, A Thin Line between Love and Hate (2005) by Eduardo Sarabia

In conjunction with borders and labor, artist Liza Lou has recently developed a body of work that explores dark psychological spaces of violence and confinement. Security Fence (2005) is a full-scale, square structure of chain-link and razor wire. It took a year to complete the work with a group of 20 Zulu women in Durban, South Africa, creating the work with a collective spirit and a sense of human workmanship. Tiny glass beads cover the structure, even the nuts and bolts and the razor wire. The surface disrupts our perceptions of physical barriers and confined spaces. What should appear stark and brutal shimmers with a strange and sparkling coating. Once your focus extends beyond the surface, you realize that this is a cage; there is no gate, no way in or out, and those trapped inside would find no exit. Lou’s art is distinguished by the thousands of tiny beads that cover every inch of her life-sized sculptures and environments. Her most famous piece (1991-1996) is a full-scale kitchen, whose counters, cupboards, sink, dishes and even the gushing water are all picked out in beads. She has created a beaded trailer home and a backyard with beaded blades of grass, beaded portraits of all the U.S. presidents, and a beaded toilet bowl with beaded stains. Lou’s beads make the ordinary beautiful; the dull sparkle, along with the tedium and pain of her work, is a kind of martyrdom. 

Eduardo Sarabia’s installation, A Thin Line between Love and Hate (2005), on view at the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center, revolves around the themes of movement and borders. The artist mounts a display of mock contraband: a series of hand-painted ceramic vessels of various sizes are individually packed in boxes screen-printed with pictures describing the produce ostensibly inside – innocuous products like vegetables, fruits and cornstarch. At first glance, the vessels are indistinguishable from the blue-and-white talavera vases that tourists buy as souvenirs. However, rather than traditional floral and geometric motifs, these vases boast modern hieroglyphs of Mexican and norteño drug culture, such as marijuana leaves, guns, skulls, pin-up models, bottles of liquor, packs of cigarettes and animals that symbolize specific drugs: the rooster, marijuana; the goat, heroin; and the parrot, cocaine. Sarabia’s title makes reference not just to a physical border, but also to a dividing line in the identity of one who feels at once close to, and distant from, his cultural heritage. 

A Thin Line between Love and Hate is a great example of adaptation and the reclamation of cultural identity, and raises the question: “Is it possible to develop a new collaborative cultural identity between Mexico and the U.S.?” In spite of everything, we are more in need of each other than we think, while we continue to “fight the war on drugs” and continue to allow the export of guns to Mexico, which ultimately are being acquired by Mexican drug cartels. 

In his seminal 1995 book, Hybrid Cultures, cultural critic Garcia Canclini questions whether Latin America could compete in a global marketplace without losing its cultural identity. This question was an important turning point for the art market and art scene in Mexico. To a degree, Mexico in the mid- to late 1990s became a major player in the global economy, at least in the art market, partly on account of Fundación/Colección Jumex and its commitment to the art community in Mexico.

Fundación/Colección Jumex believes in diversity, not only in terms of support, but in the collection itself, acquiring not only works from Mexico as one might expect, but work representing more global sensibilities. After all, Mexican identity is more complex than others might think, so why limit yourself?

The exhibition, Turn Off the Sun, functions as a site-specific intervention within the current social climate of Arizona. Each of the works completely changes meaning and becomes differently charged once it lands at the ASU Art Museum. This “curatorial intervention” calls into question how these artworks can transcend their original objectives while reflecting and re-imagining the complex relations between the U.S. and Mexico.

Julio César Morales is a curator at the ASU Art Museum in Tempe. Thanks to Michel Blancsubé, Brittany Corrales and Heather Sealy Lineberry for their contributions to this article.

Turn off the Sun: Selections from la Colección Jumex is at the ASU Art Museum, 51 E. 10th Street, Tempe, through September 7, 2013. Admission to the exhibition is free. For more information, visit asuevents.asu.edu/turn-sun-selections-la-colecci%C3%B3n-jumex or call 480-965-0014

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