By: Roxane Ramos
An exhibit the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe explores the migration experience, a cornerstone of human history.
The gallery is small, but its name looms large: the Gallery of Conscience. It’s an experimental exhibition space, dedicated to folk art and social change, within Santa Fe’s renowned Museum of International Folk Art (MIFA). The current exhibition, on view through January 17, 2016, is entitled Between Two Worlds: Folk Artists Reflect on the Immigrant Experience, and it collects, in one room, a wide range of testimony in the form of art and interactive displays about the experiences of leaving one’s home, being left behind, and welcoming newcomers. In this participatory space, the artists, curators and visitors all have a say.
The exhibit is both educational and emotional. At the Kino Border Initiative’s fifth anniversary forum in January, Isabel Garcia, the director of the Pima County Legal Defender’s Office and co-chair of Derechos Humanos, pointed out the critical importance of learning about the history of migration, so pivotal to the development of civilization, agriculture, industry, economics, science and art, yet omitted from many school curricula. It’s easy to feel ourselves separate from this ever-present human phenomenon. But every one of us has a migration story in our personal or family stories, whether the nature of the migration was forced (as in the case of slavery), provoked (by violence or poverty in one’s homeland, for example), or voluntary (attending university in a foreign country and staying).
The MIFA exhibition removes this false “us/them” division by engaging visitors with inquiries and interactive tasks. “If you had to leave your home, and could only bring what you could carry, what would it be?” asks one sign, posted above an array of everyday objects, from a water bottle to a cat carrier. People are invited to write down what they would bring, and at other installations, consider what makes them feel at home (“I can smell my grandpa’s cooking.” “I can take my shoes off.”), identify their countries of origin, or draw favorite foods on paper plates. “Immigration brings up strong feelings, both personal and political,” said Dr. Suzanne Seriff, director of the Gallery of Conscience. As visitors grapple with those issues and emotions, the common thread of movement and migration in our individual and collective histories becomes progressively more apparent, and the displays encourage people to remember or reflect on what it’s like to make a home in a new, unfamiliar, possibly unfriendly place.
The exhibit includes handmade embroidery, carvings, paintings, drawings, and beadwork about immigrant journeys as well as a short documentary about the Native American experience of displacement, both historic and ongoing. A work of cut paper (papeles picados) by Catalina Delgado Trunk is particularly moving—Our Lady Of Guadalupe flanked by delicate roses with thorns and resplendent monarch butterflies, symbols of beauty, pain, growth, flight and transformation. It is dedicated to the undocumented Mexican migrants who worked and perished in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Pleasure and enchantment at the exquisite execution of the piece are replaced by shock and sorrow at the magnitude of loss that touched so many. The indelible image of Guadalupe combined with the fragile nature of the materials capture these conflicting sentiments perfectly.
The current debate about immigration reform in the U.S. and the increasing globalization of our world highlight the relevance and timeliness of MIFA’s exhibit. The artwork and visitor responses draw us into a dialogue about our shared experiences, how we define “home,” and how we locate it in the midst of all the movement and change. The exhibit’s title, Between Two Worlds, identifies a frequent conflict for many migrants. Where does one fit in? How can one strike a balance between embracing a new place and maintaining connections with the traditions and people left behind? Artist Catalina Delgado Trunk expresses it best in a quote posted by the gallery exit: “When I die, throw my ashes in the Rio Grande. The ashes will decide where I belong: Mexico or the United States.”
To Learn More: For more information about the Museum of International Folk Art’s exhibit, Between Two Worlds: Folk Artists Reflect on the Immigrant Experience, see: http://www.internationalfolkart.org/exhibitions/betweentwoworlds.html