Here at Remezcla we’re all about discovering underground talent, which is why we love El Museo del Barrio‘s biennial exhibition series. Showcasing the most cutting-edge art produced by emerging Latino artists and artists of Latin American heritage living and working in New York, this exhibition consistently features new works by artists whose experimental, immediate approach to contemporary art is helping to shape the direction of the field.
This year, we were invited to meet the artists selected for inclusion in the biennial exhibition – called “Here is Where We Jump” – and to preview the visual overload of amazing prints, interactive installations, and breathtakingly beautiful work that will be opening to the general public this summer. We talked to some of the artists we’re excited about below:
KAITLYNN REDELL & SARA JIMENEZ
Provocative and innovative is what came to mind when I saw the work of Kaitlynn Redell and Sara Jimenez. Both ladies use photography, their bodies and fabric ‘suits’ to capture human interactions that are somewhere between the physical and the psychological – all while engaging viewers through a humanistic sense of connectedness.
Remezcla: In your presentation, you both mentioned a piece that has a correlation between life and immigration reform, can you explain with further detail the concept behind this piece?
Sara Jimenez: We were tying to get more specific just in terms of physical transformation of the site-specific that can be used as a metaphor for a kind of psychological space, but also for our piece to have a space history. So, we started talking about immigration and when both of our parents came here and what it was like for them when they first arrived. And so, from that concept, we also wanted to find a place in New York that has architecture and history that relates to this movement from one place to another. We also wanted to create a new suit that could be specific to that terrain. Both suits and space address identity and identity formation and the kind of inbetweeness of not being one thing or another – but existing in both.
You can see more of Kaitlynn Redell’s and Sara Jimenez’s work, in the clip below from “Negotiating Bounds,” 2012:
Now, when I came across Becky Franco’s work, I was completely fascinated to learn about her background and her incredible ability to create these enormous masterpieces in such a short amount of time. I was also impressed to discover that she was a pioneer in her field – she became the first female billboard painter of all time!
Remezcla: What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Becky: When I came from Cuba, I didn’t know any English. There were no programs for non-English speakers and I wasn’t doing very well in school at that point. But, during art class, one of my teachers took notice of my work and saw I had an aptitude for the arts. The staff tried to encourage my talents and asked me to do the scenery for a school play – that experience made me feel whole. It made me feel good about myself and I liked that feeling. That truly was the beginning of it all.
Remezcla: How did you get started painting billboards?
Becky: When I started it was the 1970s and it was during the time of the feminist movement, but I was very young and I had already been painting realist work largely because of other realist painters like Richard Estes and Chuck Close. And one day, I saw a program on PBS about billboard majors and how it was done by hand. I innocently at 22 had said, ‘I’m going to get a job doing that!’ They gave me a job but they [mostly men] wanted to show me how difficult it was – hoping I’d fail – but I succeeded because I had been painting big my entire life. They gave me the job; making me the first woman billboard painter of that time. I broke the union; it was local 230 Sign & Pictorial Display. Some of the men I worked with were not pleased; some even tried to get me fired – but some did take me under their wing. You had to be fast because it was a union job and so these large sized prints would have to be painted within 2 to 3 days. I painted for 15 years and I loved it.
Remezcla: Which pieces are going to be a part of this upcoming exhibition?
Becky: “The Interiors” will be a part of this exhibition. I think with realism everything has been painted through history and through the masters – so, I had to find something that I felt would be intrinsically mine. My house is a white canvas and I purchase items that I feel connected to. Kind of like Jacques Lacan [A French psychoanalyst] who talks about how the objects choose you – so, there’s an emotional connection between the object and the artist – and it does reveal a lot about me. I am exposed with these paintings. It reveals my tastes and what’s inside my subconscious.
Remezcla: During your presentation I noticed a fabulous piece entitled “Power Tools,” will that be a part of this exhibition as well?
Becky: I’m not sure but it’s a good painting because like I said in the presentation, makeup are kind of like power tools for women. I mean, without makeup, I’m nothing. Even my husband reacts to me in entirely different way when I have lipstick on. I will not walk out of my house without lipstick on. So, blush and lipstick are very important… even to a feminist.
Ingenuity is the best word to describe Risa Puno’s work. Her work is creative, interactive and gives you sense of nostalgia all wrapped up in a giant bubble gum wrapper. She’s a fascinating artist because her background isn’t even in the arts but rather medicine. She was studying to be an orthopedic spine surgeon, but then decided to pursue the arts instead. She describes the transition as not being all that far removed from her research in medicine, (more specifically scoliosis perpendicular) but I’ll let her explain those details a little better:
Remezcla: How did you get interested in the arts, and was the transition from medicine to the arts difficult?
Risa: The transition is actually more nature than you would think. I was going to be an orthopedic spine surgeon and my research was scoliosis perpendicular – that’s really all about structure – that’s very much a 3D disease. My sketches for my art pieces look a lot like my lab records and lab notes.
And to answer the second part of your question, I got started in regular sculpture first but I kept feeling that I wanted to connect more with people. I wanted more autonomy over my own viewing experience and I also wanted an exchange with my viewers. I started the concept of vending machines ’cause there’s a literal exchange. They [viewers] put money in and then I give them something – and so, that’s where it all really got started. It’s also a ‘live outside of the gallery’ experience where viewers can literally take this art piece with them.
Remezcla: In viewing your artwork it seems you play into childhood memories, would you agree?
Risa: My artwork definitely does something I gravitate towards and I think it’s because when you’re a kid you feel more free. You feel more free to think new things – you don’t feel so bound by social norms. And so, in letting people have that experience and letting them stay in that character state, it allows them to be more wiling to connect – and connect with things on a more personal level.
El Museo’s 7th Biennial Exhibition is being curated by Rocio Aranda-Alvarado and is set to make its official debut early this summer. El Museo is located at 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street, NYC 10029. For more information on official dates and RSVP information, you can visit: http://www.elmuseo.org/