A last-minute loss of venue put local writer, curator and PhD Alicia Inez Guzmán in a bit of a pickle. She'd already been collaborating with a quartet of New Mexico artists for the upcoming exhibit Where Are You, and they just needed a place to hang the show. That's when Jonathan Boyd and Vital Spaces stepped in to offer up the space at 310 Johnson St.—and the show goes on.
Guzmán (full disclosure, a former SFR contributor who now works for New Mexico Magazine) created Cafecito with her partner, Cease Martinez. It's meant to spur community engagement, provide opportunities for artists of color and tackle social and political issues through arts and aesthetics. Where Are You is its first show, with an assist from a $5,000 Fulcrum Fund grant and a performance from DJ Anjo, and Guzmán says that the collective could evolve in any number of ways from here. For now, it'll focus on the ideas of sense of place and land.
"Land has always been on my radar," Guzmán tells SFR. "It's just a part of me, so when I put this show together, I was looking at a new generation of artists who are talking land—land use, politics and landscape—in a new way. Together, I think, they create a dialogue."
In a way, the link with Vital Spaces feeds that idea; Boyd created the organization to provide temporary studio and exhibition space for artists in otherwise vacant or inaccessible buildings; Cafecito Collective and artists Diego Medina, Vicente Telles, Dakota Mace and Daisy Quezada are set to inhabit that space for a brief span of time.
"In a city that is gentrifying," Guzmán says, "real estate is at a premium, and it's one way to [put our] stamp on Santa Fe, even if it's temporary."
Thus, if Where Are You is a dialogue, each artist represents a snippet of the conversation.
Albuquerque's Telles says he was intrigued by the concept of borders and migration as they apply to the concept of land. He examines these by way of multimedia pieces featuring paint and textiles.
"The idea is there are people out there taking the lives of these migrants by pouring out water, stabbing the water jugs," Telles tells SFR, referring to Border Patrol agents' actions to negate the work of organizations like No More Deaths, which leave water for migrants in the deserts. "There's ugliness in the midst of the beauty, and if you paint it real dark, put it in a situation where it's more real, you allow the person to ingest the message."
Telles says he sourced fabrics from Guatemala and other countries for use in his pieces, and adds, "I try to incorporate where the migrants are coming from—sing their beauty instead of hearing they're monsters in such a dehumanizing way."
Fellow exhibitor Quezada put her focus on a similar concern, albeit in a different medium. Mainly, Quezada's contributions come in the form of porcelain renditions of articles of clothing, though she is also bringing to the exhibition soil from the US-Mexico border, which she refers to as "blow dirt."
"I have … earth that blows around between the two countries," Quezada says."It's very soft, it's very grainy, but heavy as well and with this terra cotta color. It's stunning."
- Daisy Quezada says her porcelain garments are meant to hold onto “the histories of us, our bodies, as we move.”
As for the ceramic versions of textiles, Quezada explains they're "like a
memory holding onto the state of a person—garments and clothing holding onto the history of us, our bodies as we move; pieces have their own identities."
Where Are You has clear political undertones, and Guzmán's curation
interweaves the themes. With the concept of stolen land in a place like New Mexico, even the idea of home becomes political. Artist Mace (Diné), for example, focuses on traditional Navajo symbolism, but
reinterpreted with cyanotypes, a printing process similar to photography.
"It's a different way of approaching how most people assume Native Americans make weaving," Mace says, "and it's important for me that people have the opportunity to be invited into understanding Navajo culture a little better; a deeper way, more sensory."
Mace creates everything by hand, from the fibrous papers on which she prints to the dyes which she makes from indigo plants sent by an artist friend from Oaxaca, Mexico.
"It's more complicated, a bit harder than indigo you'd buy online, but my intention is that it has such a strong connection to Indigenous groups," she explains. "The most recent news is that Peruvian indigo outdates Egyptian indigo by 5,000 years—it's native to the Americas, to the people who use it, it's a huge part of weaving culture."
For Where Are You, Mace focuses on four designs that appear regularly throughout Navajo weaving; the cardinal elements, sure, but, she says, "if you know a little bit about Navajo culture, we have four sacred directions, four mountains, sets of fours—I do look at the Navajo landscape as a form of inspiration, that connection of going back to the idea of home, the way memories exist within certain places."
It's a similar tale for Medina (Rarámuri), who hails from Las Cruces but now calls Santa Fe home, only his contributions in colored pencil focus more on identity and roots.
"I want to weave together facets about how identity is directly connected to landscape," he says. "A lot of my work is based on connections and where I'm from through color, plants and landscape
One piece features a portrait of Medina's uncle, who still lives in the old family home in Las Cruces built by Medina's grandfather before New Mexico was a state. There's a pop art angle among a bright and cheery set of colors that contrast the serious look on his subject's face. It's all at once immediately accessible, but haunting and challenging.
Medina says it's all part of his ongoing practice, that these ideas of self and place are irrevocably linked to his work.
"I think it's the artist's responsibility to know how to feel and to help people feel," he says. "Artists know how to take these things and give [viewers] a choice that isn't inherently there."
It's an apt statement for the show as a whole, and a near-perfect point to make about Cafecito Collective's ultimate goal.
"It's so difficult to find a space to talk about land," Guzmán says, "but I think about how urgently the conversation needs to be had."
Where Are You Opening
6-9 pm Saturday July 20. Free.
Vital Spaces, 310 Johnson St.