Growing up, I always had a great affinity for art. Especially as I got older, I have felt more of an inclination towards different arts and how they are able to tell such grand stories and hold so much history, while only being a painting, poem, piece of clothing, and so on. However, even from a young age, I was always incredibly cognizant of the fact that a lot of the art I would see in exhibits told drastically different stories than the ones I grew up with. Seldom would I see praise be given to artists who looked like myself with stories that reflect the ones I and others of Mexican descent have lived.
It is for this reason that the Intercambios: Art, Stories, & Comunidad exhibit in the Center for Design and Material Culture almost immediately caught my attention. With just the simple fact that the name was in Spanish, I was already intrigued. Stepping into the exhibit, I became strangely aware that traditional Mexican art is seldom put on display like this to be appreciated. Despite having taken art-centered courses and attending art events, traditional Mexican artwork is hardly mentioned in them. It is incredibly impactful to be able to see my own people’s heritage and artistic work on display as I have never had the chance before to learn about art from my own culture. Surely, there are many well-established Mexican and Latinx artists that get their art acknowledged, but to have these historical forms of Mexican arts be honored in an exhibit for themselves, is more uncommon. However, it is not simply the person behind the art that matters, but the stories that they tell, as well. These pieces tell many stories and speak of many cultural traditions that are common grounds for Mexicans. However, this is not to say that the Mexican experience can be completely illustrated by a single series or exhibit. There are an abundance of different art forms, stories, and customs that come from Mexico. There is a plethora of unique artistic perspectives, voices, and knowledge that come from Mexico and other Latin countries that simply need a platform, just as Intercambios provided.
It is for these reasons that when I got the opportunity to talk to one of Intercambios’s artists, Miriam Campos Cornelio, it left a great impression on me. While speaking to her, I got the chance to hear about the backstory of her various pieces. I thought her piece, Cempacuchil, that she did in collaboration with fellow artists, Carolyn Kallenborn and Rodrigo Hernandez, did a phenomenal job at highlighting, appreciating Mexican culture and our customs, in this case, El Dia de los Muertos. This artwork consists of three long cloths. On all three, the base is a metallic-like dark blue-violet and have lighter blue-violet shell shapes flowing in the back. The middle section of each piece consist of a milti-colored base and over it, a cempacuchil in one of three growth stages is sewn on. When talking about this piece, she also taught my friend and I how to use some traditional sewing techniques that she had learned from her mother and her grandmother, which she had used on Cempacuchil.
I thought her story behind her San Antonino Castillo Velasco piece in the Migration series was incredibly profound. As Miriam and I discussed the role she played in the creation of the piece, techniques used, and the meaning behind the shawl, she showed my friend and I one of the simpler, up-and-under sewing techniques she relied on. She used this method to create some of the colorful detailing inside the small people shown going up along the center of the off-white shawl. She emphasized the important message that the series was meant to depict. Regardless of how far one is from our country of origin, we still have our culture and customs that we bring with us everywhere; it is crucial to bring these traditions with us through our cooking, celebrations, art, and in any form possible. We also talked about how it is all too common of an experience for one’s relatives to move to the United States, and begin to either forget or reject where it is they came from. This, she explained, is what the Migration series was meant to highlight. This was a topic that I feel is relatable to many different groups of people, but is not illustrated in art as much.
Seeing an exhibit that is able to bring together many different stories and art pieces of Mexican culture from many different places in a way that makes the audience, especially those from the community, feel as if their art is fully being represented and not simply displayed, and was genuinely inspiring. This was especially impactful for me as someone who is interested in the work of art curation, specifically the curation of Latinx art. I hope to see more exploration and appreciation of Latinx art in the future as well as the exchange of our art.
Danitza Rodriguez Jimenez is currently a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is majoring in International Studies and plans to get certificates in Art History and Chican@ & Latin@ Studies. Danitza has had an interest in the arts for most of her life, mainly having a passion for acrylic painting and charcoal drawing with an emphasis on Latiné voices and artwork. Danitza appreciates all types of art and is mainly eager in gaining experience in the art curation field, which she hopes to pursue as a career in the future. To align with her interests in art, Danitza started working as a gallery assistant at the Center for Design and Material Culture in the School of Human Ecology this semester. This semester (Spring 2022) she mainly helps welcome guests into the exhibits and also assists with installing and taking down the art pieces.