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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reflections on Immigration

Latino Arts’ ‘Ni De Aquí Ni De Allá’

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In Latino Arts’ current exhibition, “Ni De Aquí Ni De Allá” (“From Neither Here Nor There”), artist Raoul Deal explores the subject of Mexican immigration, along with the complex issues of assimilation, isolation and multiculturalism that accompany it. Interspersed with the artist’s large black-and-white woodcut prints is bilingual poetry by Ximena Sosa.

Committed to social justice and community art, Deal is a professor at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, and the artist-in-residence for the Cultures and Communities Program. “Ni De Aquí Ni De Allá” is informed by oral histories the artist collected from Milwaukee immigrants.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the exhibit is the impressive gamut of emotions and situations played out in Deal’s figural woodcuts. In Soneros, we find the smiling faces of a couple with a salsa guitar suspended overhead. In contrast to this cheerful celebration of family and traditional music, Immigration Reform depicts a man climbing a fence as a mother and child look on from the other side. Here the sheer weight of human suffering caused by current border control policies is palpable.

In the complex Shopkeeper, the subject is shown speaking animatedly, surrounded by symbols of both Mexico and the U.S. An exquisite verse by Sosa gives him voice through a series of statements beginning with “If you were to ask me…” This hypothetically phrased refrain seems to point to the tremendous knowledge and skill sets immigrants bring to America, which so often go unrealized and unrecognized in the jobs they perform after crossing the border.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a wall-sized multi-media installation also titled Immigration Reform. Woodcut images of skeletal hands flank immigration interview transcripts so long that they roll out onto the floor. Other objects, including a suitcase, purse and photographs surround the scrolls and a motion sensor triggers an audio feed of Spanish-speakers discussing their journeys. An overwhelming sensory feast, this piece brings home the enormity of all the issues addressed in the exhibition.

“Ni De Aquí Ni De Allá” is on display through June 7 at Latino Arts, 1028 S. Ninth St.

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