When the Albright-Knox Northland art museum announced their exhibition “Comunidades Visibles: The Materiality of Migration (La Materialidad de Migración)” curated by Andrea Alvarez, the premise emerged over the course of the exhibition as a clearly communicated, and community-oriented, concept. The show features works by artists Carolina Aranibar-Fernández, Esperanza Cortés, Raúl de Nieves, Patrick Martinez and Ronny Quevedo, all amassed for this exhibition, which remains on view through May 16 at the Albright-Knox Northland in Buffalo, NY. The exhibit focuses on highlighting works by First and Second-generation artists from the Latinx community based in the US, and presents materials in dialogue with lived histories and the effects of colonization. Of this tightly curated selection of artists, works forming highlights in this exhibition are installations by artist Esperanza Cortés, born in Colombia and based in New York City, which immediately catch the eye. Cortés investigates bodies and their accessories and frameworks in relation to both colonial legacies and gendered identities, and the sculptures she presents in this exhibition play with the evident and implied meanings of interiors and objects/material cultures. The compelling formal qualities present in the artist’s materials finds an echo in how the Latinx community encountering these works can respond to the installation art in visceral and personal ways.
Cortés’ work embraces an ambitious range of scales, with bejeweled chains reaching up to glorious heights while meticulously arranged glass beads adorn household furniture displayed just out of reach from museum guests. Cortés investigates how everyday objects from the home can be transformed, even transmuted, to communicate precious qualities of identity and memory. Nowhere is this embodiment of human identity indicated in the artist’s work more visibly than in her work La Cordobésa, depicted above. “As a former Afro latin dancer and teacher, I imbued La Cordobésa with body memory through the use of the embroidery from my dance ensembles,” reflects Cortés. “I then married these remnants with glass beads and glass pieces referencing the origins of European colonial interest. The upper chair given to me by the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans is from the 20th century, while the chair legs acquired in Utica are from the 18th century. The piece is a hybrid, a metaphor for the diversity of the people who make up the Americas.” The artist’s work demonstrates a nuanced and powerful approach to the various means of self-identifying that communities of color undergo, asserting that colonized peoples have the power to reclaim their own sense of self, their own voice and the ability to exact agency via their self-asserted identities.
Meanwhile, the artist’s grand gesture evident in her work Empire lays bare both the price, and costs, of colonization. While colonizing forces were happy to take existing wealth present in the regions they colonized, often taking these precious materials by force to remit back home to Europe, the costs of this perceived luxury had a marked toll on local communities in colonized regions of the globe, particularly the Caribbean, Central and South America. The glory of these beautiful gold chains in the artist’s sculpture undulate forth from the chandelier down to the floor below, underscoring the deep impact that this search for treasure has continued to exert on devastated communities: in the artist’s own words, “Imbued with the invaders’ narcissistic gains, the process of colonization extinguished societies, cultures, languages, species, environments and histories by way of plunder, pillage, and violence dressed as civilization.” With grand form, Cortés creates an impactful and eloquent statement in her installation works on view about the lingering legacies that have transformed these regions of the world, adopting an autobiographical lens which allows visitors new avenues for contemplation around colonization.
On view through this Sunday at Albright-Knox Northland, “Comunidades Visibles: The Materiality of Migration (La Materialidad de Migración)” is free and open to the public, and further details can be found on their website (link in exhibition title above.) Artist Esperanza Cortés is a Colombian-born contemporary multidisciplinary artist based in NYC. Cortés has exhibited in venues across the US, including Smack Mellon Gallery, Bronx Museum of Art, Queens Museum, El Museo Del Barrio, MoMA PS1 and Socrates Sculpture Park (all in NYC.) National exhibition venues include Turchin Center for The Visual Arts, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Neuberger Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Art Museum.