At Mexic-Arte Museum, 500 years of resistance, reaffirmation and resilience

The multi-generational swirl of creative expression on view in "MX 21" makes for a lively, surprising, and immensely engaging exhibition

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El Paso artist Angel Cabrales imagines a universe in which the Western Hemisphere averted colonization and indigenous people thrived. Cabrales envisions Mayathmaticians developing astronomical theorems while Olmchemists create new polymers and alloys and Zapotecknical engineers conceive of futuristic architecture.

The American Revolution fails, and a pan-Americas United Nations of Anahuac (UNA) forms in 1802, becoming a world super power. The UNA develops solar power in 1950 and makes renewable energy a priority. And in 1969, while in our universe astronaut Neil Armstrong takes a first moon walk, in Cabarles’ parallel world, an Aztechnonaut named Cuauhtémoc VIII makes one giant leap for indigenous mankind.

Detail of Angel Cabrales “Axihuical (El Paralelo),” which shows two timelines of a multiverse curving in parallel. Photo courtesy Mexic-Arte Museum

At Mexic-Arte Museum, Cabrales renders his multiverse as two timelines curving in parallel across 16 feet of laser-cut ceramic tiles that give the piece the look of a pre-Columbian codex.The world that creates the UNA is not a vision of what could have been, but, as Cabrales notes in his artist statement what is “currently happening in another universe.”

In a way, this multiverse characterizes “MX 21: Resistance, Reaffirmation & Resilience” the lively, surprising, and immensely engaging exhibition organized by Mexic-Arte Museum.

The show was conceived to dovetail with Mexico’s observation throughout 2021 of key historical events: The 1521 invasion by Spain and, three hundred years later, Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821.



Mexic-Arte packs a lot into the show, brilliantly mixing art and artifacts like early 20th-century prints from its permanent collection and 19th-century ceremonial masks with of-the-moment contemporary projects like an augmented reality installation by Mexico City-based cartoonist Nava that uses the graphic cultural legacy of the Aztecs. (You download the app via QR code to activate it).

The cartoon “Mictlantecuhtli” by Mexico City animator Nava activates when viewed through a specialized augmented reality app.

Work by artists rooted in the Chicano Movement — Delilah Montoya, Santa Barraza and Mexic-Are co-founder and executive director Sylvia Orozco — share the galleries with the emerging artist known as Kill Joy who explores a shared history of Spanish conquest embedded in her Mexican-Filipino heritage. And Bronx-based Yelena Rodriguez’ video portrait re-imagines of secret ceremony, enslaved Africans gathered and organized the first significant slave insurrection of the Haitian Revolution. 

An exhibition that tackles 500 years (and more) of complicated history could come off as ponderously didactic. Yes, there’s much you can learn from “MX 21: Resistance, Reaffirmation & Resilience” and the informational labels do get long, very long at times. Yet there’s a dynamic conversation that’s going on in the multi-generational swirl of creative expression on view.

Artists document, appropriate and retell stories and in the process they recover and reconstruct history. And all of those actions happen in “MX 21,” and a very necessary conversation continues.

Kingsville-based artist Santa Barraza frequently paints a contemporary take on Nepantla, a mythic “Land Between.” The term was first used by Nahuatl-speaking people of Mexico in the 16th century to describe their situation vis-à-vis the Spanish colonizers. Compositionally, Barraza’s paintings often use elements of a retablo or a Mesoamerican codex. Installation view at Mexic-Arte Museum, courtesy Mexic-Arte.
San Antonio artist Andy Villareal fuse past and present in large scale painted cut-outs of that interpret Mesoamerican symbology. Installation view at Mexic-Arte Museum. Photo: Sightlines.

 

Mexic-Arte Museum co-founder and executive director Sylvia Orozco made this painting in 1994: “Codex of the Pandemic/Codice de la Pandemia,” 1994. Oil on canvas, 64” x 43.” Diseases brought by European colonizers devastated the people of the Americas. When Cortés and his army began their campaign against the Aztecs in 1519, over 30 million people were living in Mexico. A century later, after a series of smallpox epidemics had decimated the indigenous population, it is estimated that as many as 90% of the population died.
Considering Mexc-Arte Museum’s location just blocks from the Texas State Capitol, Michael Menchaca created an installation that responds to conservative actions by Texas legislature in 2021 aimed at reversing the social progress made during previous Civil Rights movements. His animated digital drawings speaks to the exhibition’s themes of Xicanx resistance. Photo courtesy Mexic-Arte..

“MX 21: Resistance, Reaffirmation & Resilience” continues through Feb. 27, 2022 at Mexic-Arte, 419 Congress Ave. mexic-artemuseum.org


Jeanne Claire van Ryzinhttps://sightlinesmag.org
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.
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