Arts + Culture

Fowler Museum exhibition explores human side of Mexican migration

Mexican immigration to the United States has become one of the defining elements in the sociopolitical landscape of the nation, and especially California. The Fowler Museum at UCLA's upcoming exhibition "Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos/ Faces Seen, Hearts Unknown: The Human Landscape of Mexican Migration" explores that migratory experience through the lens of Chicano and Mexican visual arts.
Featuring paintings, works on paper, photographs, video and installations, the bilingual exhibition, which runs from Oct. 5 through Dec. 28, examines the struggles and visions of Mexican migrants, as well as the ways in which their spiritual practices are engaged during difficult journeys. 
In works dating from the 1970s to the present, more than 40 artists — including Maria Elena Castro, Felipe Ehrenberg, Gronk, Salomn Huerta, Mag, Delilah Montoya, Malaquas Montoya, Victor Ochoa and Patssi Valdz — consider themes of journeys, boundaries and barriers, urban landscapes and human geographies, and the negotiation of identities.
The title phrase "Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos" is taken from one of the most popular dichos (sayings or proverbs) in Mexico and Mexican/Chicano communities in the U.S. It translates as "faces seen, hearts unknown" and refers to superficial judgments made about people based solely on appearances. The dicho cautions that in order to truly know a person or community, one needs genuine access to their emotions. As such, this exhibition seeks to facilitate deep, human contact with the heart of Mexican migration to the United States.
The exhibition opens with an introduction to the general theme of the journey and explores the everyday and mythical experiences of people immersed in migratory experiences. Cristina Shallcross' installation of votives covered with harsh scenes of border crossings provokes consideration of the meanings of migrants' votive petitions for safe passage. Also in this section is Malaquas Montoya's iconic serigraph "Undocumented," in which the image of a person is crisscrossed by barbed wire, a direct reference to the walls, fences and wire mesh that divide Mexico from the U.S. Humor comes into play as well, particularly in the work of comics creator Lalo Alcarz, whose daily syndicated strip "La Cucaracha" provides a pop culture outlet for the expression and consideration of issues pertaining to Mexican migration.
The next section touches on the barriers and limits — physical, social, cultural and geopolitical — found along migratory routes. Ricardo Duffy's silkscreen "The New Order" casts George Washington as the symbol of the U.S. experience, while popular imagery such as the Marlboro cigarette logo, highway warning signs featuring silhouettes of undocumented immigrants running across a road, and a Western landscape littered with skulls depict a not-so-glorious American culture.
The works in the exhibition's "Human Geographies" section explore the transformations of migrants' cultural values, institutions and symbols. Everyday objects emerge as points of entry into a personal geography marked as much by the trauma of the crossing as by faith in a prosperous and peaceful future. "War of the Worlds: Mexified vs. Americanized," a new mixed-media installation created by Maria Elena Castro for the Fowler's presentation is a metaphorical manifestation of two cultures and the clash of colliding identities and perceptions.
In "Negotiating Identity," artists including Alejandro Almanza, Esperanza Gama and Maceo Montoya examine the fragmentation, dislocation and rearticulation of old identities into new and complex ones.
In the final section, visitors enter the realm of memory, where artists consider how individuals understand their past while positively moving into the future. Here, six photographs from Dulce Pinzn's whimsical yet poignant series "La verdadera historia de los superhroes" (The True Story of Superheroes) depict comic-book protagonists and masked Mexican luchadores (wrestlers) in the most common of circumstances — washing clothes in a laundromat, unpacking boxes of vegetables in New York and working as doormen.
Additional Information
"Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos" is drawn from the collection of Gilberto Crdenas, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and is curated by Amelia Malagamba-Anstegui, professor of Latino art history at Arizona State University.
The Crdenas collection is a promised gift to the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame and consists of more than 7,000 objects, including works on paper, paintings, three-dimensional works, photographs, video and retablos (small oil paintings, typically on tin, zinc, copper or wood).
The exhibition is organized by the Snite Museum of Art and the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Humana Foundation Endowment for American Art provided essential funding for the exhibition and catalog, which includes an essay by Amelia Malagamba-Anstegui and contributions by Gilberto Crdenas and others. The Los Angeles presentation is made possible through the generosity of the Donald B. Cordry Fund.
The Fowler Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and on Thursdays from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for $9 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310-825-4361 or visit
Screening and Q&A with filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez
"Mixed Feelings: San Diego/Tijuana" (2002, 30 min., color, English)
Thursday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m. 
Phillip Rodriguez's acclaimed documentary explores the landscape and architecture of the San Diego–Tijuana region through conversations with architects, planners and scholars from both cities. The film presents an innovative dialogue about the U.S.–Mexico border and also touches on the future impact Latino culture will have on American cities. A Q&A with Rodriguez will follow the screening.
Fowler OutSpoken Panel
Crossing Points: Art and La Frontera
Sunday, Nov. 8, 3–5 p.m.  
"Cara vemos, corazones no sabemos" curator Amelia Malagamba-Anstegui engages collector and professor of sociology Gilberto Crdenas and artists Rubn Ortiz-Torres, Maria Elena Castro and Malaquas Montoya in a conversation on the aesthetics and issues of fronterizo and Chicano art.
Fowler OutSpoken Lecture
Toms Ybarra-Frausto — Shifting Perspectives: Visual Culture and the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands  
Sunday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m.
Independent scholar Toms Ybarra-Frausto considers art and the changing nature of the immigration experience through the lens of "the archive and the repertoire" — a framework for understanding and transmitting cultural memory. This lecture examines the archive (written texts) and the repertoire (performative texts) in U.S.–Mexico border art and ultimately disputes the notion that border art is a manifestation of recent years.
Artist's Choice, Artist's Voice
Exhibition Tour with Maria Elena Castro 
Saturday, Nov. 22, 3 p.m.
Maria Elena Castro discusses her installation for "Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos" and works by other artists in the exhibition, exploring art as political strategy.
Kids in the Courtyard: Lucha Libre
Sunday, Dec. 7, 1–4 p.m. 
Lucha libre is a Mexican wrestling tradition characterized by acrobatic maneuvers and colorful masks. Wrestlers, or luchadores, are often admired by the fans as heroes. Their masks, and secret identities, may represent Aztec warriors, Christian saints or comic book superheroes, but they always fight for the common person. At this drop-in workshop, visitors can view artist Dulce Pinzn's photographic series "La verdadera historia de los superhroes" and make their own luchador masks from paper grocery bags. Luchadores from Lucha VaVoom will make a special guest appearance at this whimsical afternoon workshop.
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