Current exhibitions of the Centro de Artes – Trinitonian

Hernandez and Montelongo share their Latinx experiences in the United States through works of art

Samuel Damon

Tapestries on display at the Centro de Artes Gallery

On the eastern corner of downtown’s historic Market Square is the Centro de Artes, a beautiful two-story art gallery dedicated to sharing the Latin American experience through artists and works latinos. Admission is free Wednesday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and new art installations rotate every few months. The two current exhibitions are: “La Visa Negra 2.5: Tendiendo los Trapitos al Sol” by Leila Hernandez and “The Euphoric Dance of the Unconquered Spirit” by Elizabeth Jiménez Montelongo.

Once visitors register in the lobby, they are ushered into the darkness of the first floor, where Hernandez’s “La Visa Negra 2.5: Tendiendo los Trapitos al Sol” awaits them. Translating “The Black Visa 2.5: Hanging the Laundry in the Sun”, the exhibition is an amalgamation of narratives that intertwine the liminal space between two countries and their cultures. Using a wide variety of recycled materials, including old quilts, tablecloths, tarps, thrift store clothing, cinder blocks and even Cheeto bags, Hernandez weaves visitors through the trials, tragedies and triumphs of the people “of the black visa”.

As the exhibit explains, for those without the money or the legal means, the term “Visa Negra” is the satirical password for the only “paperwork” needed to cross the Rio Grande and enter the United States.

Divided into three major pieces, “La Visa Negra” begins with a piece titled “Kokonetlatok” (Sleeping at Work), which consists of paintings of children who have been lost, stolen, detained or killed trying to cross. Giving faces to these thousands of “faceless” children, he reminds visitors that many are still in detention cells across the country.
In his second piece, ‘Tapestries’, Hernandez informs visitors of the meaning of the second half of the exhibition’s title, ‘Tendiendo los Trapitos al Sol’ (Linen hanging in the sun). The hanging laundry is a metaphor for the old phrase “airing out your dirty laundry”, or discussing matters that many would prefer to remain silent about. The interwoven tapestries sewn on flowers with federales (Border Patrol), barbed wire and border fences that dwarf small silhouettes.

The third piece, “Los Labores”, celebrates those who endure the passage of the Visa Negra to work for a better life. The entire exhibition builds layer upon layer of meaning, inundating the visitor, much like the currents of the Rio Grande. Set in a city where 53 migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer in June, this timely exhibit highlights the experiences of many immigrants who die, suffer and survive with resilience the Visa Negra experience.
Moving to the floor of the second exhibition, visitors go up to the

ightness with “The Euphoric Dance of the Undefeated Spirit” by Montelongo featuring the dazzling color and energy of Mexican dancers. Known locally as “Mexico” and colonially labeled as the “Aztecs”, the Mexikas once commanded the “Aztec” empire and built the legendary city of Tenochtitlan.

In 1521, a band of a few hundred conquistadors in alliance with the Tlaxcaltecs led by Hernán Cortés destroyed the Mexican kingdom along with the city of Tenochtitlan. At its peak, the Mexikas created one of the most advanced civilizations on the planet. Five hundred years later, their people and culture still number more than 1.5 million people who speak the native language, Nahautl, and countless others who have Mexican ancestry in their blood.

In the paintings of Montelongo, we find the Mexika dancing on brightly colored oil paintings. No amount of written description can adequately convey the life and energy these pieces render.
The pieces originally began as photographs of Mexican dancers from the San Francisco Bay Area which Montelongo then rendered onto canvas by “applying paint with a palette knife with heavy impasto”. Montelongo explains that they were created in “recognition of living culture keepers who preserve and practice Indigenous traditions in the 21st century, across social and political boundaries.” The work is a celebration of “mental liberation and honors our aboriginal ancestors”.

Although the exhibitions are distinct works, made by distinct artists with distinct intentions, they work in tandem with the visitor. Curating the two exhibits deliberately gives visitors a visceral sense of duality – one highlighting the freedom of movement and the other highlighting the pain of its absence. It’s a thoughtful and fantastic way to spend an hour in the shade of downtown.

Julia P. Cluff