If You Lived Here: the Historic Barry Farm Settlement

Archaeological artifacts from Historic Barry Farm on display at the Anacostia Community Museum, 2017

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Historic Barry Farm, the Museum presents a display of unique household items from the late-19th to mid-20th centuries. These items were excavated by urban archaeologists at the site of the Anacostia Metro Station in 1981.

Back in 1867, the Freedmen’s Bureau purchased 375 acres of land from Juliana Barry to create a settlement where freed slaves and free blacks could build their homes. The lots ranged in price from $125-$300 which had to be paid in instalments over two years. Lumber for the construction of a basic 14×24-foot house was also available for purchase. In order to pay for their new land, families held down jobs in the city during the day, and at night they crossed the river to build their homes. Over time, this post-bellum African-American community grew to include not only homes, but also schools, churches, and thriving businesses.

Porcelain Box from Historic Barry Farm, 1991.0064.0008

The objects on display in the exhibit illustrate a flourishing middle-class neighborhood. Some of the items were locally made, others imported, some mass-produced, and others hand-crafted. Of particular interest, the late 19th-century porcelain trinket box is stamped on the bottom with ‘Victoria Carlsbad Austria,’ showing that the neighborhood’s ladies favored elegant, European-made boxes for storing their treasured items. Another object, the stoneware crock bottle of ginger beer, suggests a preference for non-alcoholic beverages during Prohibition. The bottle was produced between 1910-1914 by the Washington Bottling Company once located at 465 Stafford Alley, SW, in Washington, D.C.

Beverage Bottle from Historic Barry Farm, 1991.0064.0005

The display complements an outdoor art installation titled “If You Lived Here,” created by Washington, D.C. artist Peter Krsko. The structure encourages us to reflect on how we live − in the house, the home, and the broader community across 150 years of shared history.

“If You Lived Here” Art Installation by Peter Krsko & Pink Line Project, outside the Anacostia Community Museum, 2017

Please join us for programming through July 2nd! More information is at https://www.ifyoulivedheredc.com/events/

This project was developed in collaboration with The Pink Line Project + Citizen Innovation Lab, the DC Preservation Office, and with funding from the DC Office of Planning and the Kresge Foundation.

For further information on the area’s history, check out:
http://cdi.anacostia.si.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Portia-James-EOR-Article.pdf

Flashback Friday: Good Hope Road

 

Commercial buildings and traffic along Good Hope Road in 1975.   Learn more here.

#FlashbackFriday

An Immigrant’s Journey: Cornelio Campos and Gateways

Cornelio Campos

 During the research process prior to the opening of Gateways/Portales, I had the pleasure of meeting with the artist Cornelio Campos his Durham, North Carolina home-studio several times. I got to sit among his vibrant paintings and works-in-progress, and learn about this soft-spoken artist’s journey. Born in Cherán, Mexico, he arrived in the United States in 1989, moving first to Los Angeles where he worked in construction. Eventually he moved to North Carolina in 1992 after hearing of better job prospects from a cousin. He moved to Epson, North Carolina, where he did farmwork. He later transitioned into landscaping and moved to Durham. He currently works as an alarm installation specialist in addition to being a well-known artist in North Carolina. He has been featured in many group and independent shows, as well as community events throughout the state.

In 2015, the archives at the Durham County Library accessioned and are continuing to build Campos’ archive. His papers include correspondence, sketches, purchase invoices, institutional partnerships, his many exhibitions, as well as commissions, including one for noted Chilean author Isabel Allende. The archive details the depth of his artistic career in addition to his importance in the state of North Carolina as a whole.

Campos’ personal experience of coming to the United States and to Durham in particular, is that of other Latinxs in the region. Many Latinxs started coming to North Carolina in the 1990s, drawn by the promise of work and money. Like Campos, many became farmworkers. In March of 2016, Dr. Ariana Curtis conducted a video interview with Campos for the Anacostia Community Museum’s Gateways/Portales exhibition. During his interview Campos lamented how incredibly taxing farmwork was, and how few people understand what difficult, back-breaking work it is. “No one told me how hard coming to the United States would be.”

Like Campos, many Latinxs found steadier, non-seasonal work, and ended up making Durham their home. The Southeastern United States is currently experiencing some of the largest Latinx population growth in the country. This growth, particularly in urban centers like Durham, is challenging and changing the black-white binary that has dominated the Southeastern United States for decades. Campos’ painting Realidad Norteña (the Reality of the North) helps document that change, as well as confronting viewers with the realities of the immigrant experience.

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Realidad Norteña by Cornelio Campos, 2016 Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 

Campos’ body of work visualizes and examines both the geographic and cultural borders between Latinxs and the larger United States population. Like the “Big Three” Mexican Muralists before him, (Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros , and Jose Clemente Orozco), his large scale paintings feature workers and the marginalized as subjects, with social justice as their themes. Campos aims to visualize the dangers and difficulties that people experience not only in crossing the border into the United States, but the severe circumstances that lead to such a decision. Realidad Norteña (the Reality of the North) was painted after Campos became a United States citizen; he describes it as his most personal, autobiographical piece.

The central image of the painting is a female figure that fuses the Virgin of Guadalupe, symbol of Mexico on the left, and the Statue of Liberty on the right, in a rising sun. The rays of the brown Virgin’s mandala mirror the blonde Statue of Liberty’s crown. In the center of the female figure’s chest is a hybrid seal that combines the U.S.’s bald eagle and Mexico’s emblem of a golden eagle devouring a rattlesnake. The eagle stands on a combination of Mexico’s prickly pear cactus and the U.S. olive branch. Spanning the female figure and bridging the two halves is a monarch butterfly, symbol of migration. Beneath the monarch is an orange lily blended with a white flowering dogwood blossom, state flower of North Carolina; the stem of the flower is stylized barbed wire that bisects the bottom of the painting.

On the left of the picture plane, Campos has depicted a mother and child seated in an arid, barren Mexican landscape which merges with the steps of a Pre-Columbian temple. On the right is a segmented landscape, divided from the Mexican side by the barbed wire. In the segment closest to the wire is a desert littered with bones and a faceless, contorted figure, waist-deep in the sand, gazing up at the U.S. flag. Just beyond the flag is a verdant, lush field, tended by hunched farmworkers.

During a September 2016 visit to Campos’ home, he brought out a faded cardboard box. When he lifted the lid I gasped when I saw the contents: the boots he wore as a farmworker when he first came to North Carolina. He then brought out a small, tissue-thin envelope which held his ticket from his journey from Mexico to the U.S.  Both the boots and ticket stub are displayed together in the introductory section of Gateways/Portales. The dusty, weathered boots add an even greater weight to Realidad Norteña, hung just across the gallery.

The exhibition, "Gateways/Portales," curated by Dr. Ariana Curtis at the Anacostia Community Museum from December 5, 2016 - August 6, 2017. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Instituion

Campos’ boots and ticket from Mexico are on display in the introduction of Gateways/Portales

In his video interview for the Gateways/Portales exhibition, which will be part of the ACM permanent collection, Campos discussed how people on opposite ends of the political spectrum have reacted to his work. Shrugging and smiling, Campos noted that he received an intense amount of anti-immigrant backlash when the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill bought and displayed his work, but despite the negative feedback, he was pleased that his art was sparking discussion. He says he sees his work as a form of visual documentation, and as he says, “cultural diplomacy”. In addition to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Campos has worked with several institutions throughout the state including Duke University, Johnston Community College, Peace College, North Carolina State University, and Smithsonian affiliate North Carolina Museum of History to try and educate and create a dialogue between the Latinx and the non-Latinx communities.

Realidad Norteña has recently been acquired by ACM, and will be on display as part of the Gateways/Portales exhibition, on view until August 6, 2017.

[this post is written by Elena Muñoz]

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Elena C. MunozElena C. Muñoz received her MA in Art History from Rutgers University, and her BA in Art History from Fordham University. Her primary research interest is teasing out the African influences in Latin American
and Latino art. She is also fascinated with the evolution and uses of Marian imagery in the Americas. In 2014, she was a recipient of the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies fellowship, working with the Teodoro Vidal Collection at the Lunder Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currently she is a research assistant at the Anacostia Community Museum, working on the exhibition Gateways/Portales, which examines Latino im/migration in the D.C. Metro Area, Baltimore, the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

cornelio-campos-in-studioCornelio Campos is a self-trained painter from Cheran, Michoacan,Mexico who now resides in Durham, North Carolina. He has been painting since childhood, although the strong themes present in many of his paintings did not surface until he became an American citizen as an adult. His earlier works show a Mexican folkloric influence, whereas his more recent works are quite contextual, mixing ancient and modern styles, themes and images. Campos paints with a passion for educating others, primarily on the migrant experience, and for sharing the customs and culture of his people, Purepecha from Cherán. His work has been shown at exhibits throughout North Carolina, including Duke and UNC – Chapel Hill, where some of his pieces are permanently on display.

Book Review: Public Housing, Urban Development in Byker by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen at the Anacostia Community Museum Library

But now you don’t care if your neighbor looks at ye. She might have fifty watches and she’ll not give you the time . . .  ” – Byker by Sirrka-Liisa Konttinen

Published in 1985, and representing over 12 years of work by Finnish photographer Sirrka-Liisa Konttinen, who lived in this working-class community in Newcastle for 7 years, Byker depicts the last days of this public housing development before it was razed in the 1970s to make room for a world-famous architect’s design, the Byker Wall Estate by Ralph Erskine and home to 9,500 people.

Here in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8, the community of Barry Farm is facing similar issues of relocation and development and there are a few local photographers working in those communities producing work, but none of whom I am aware actually live there while engaging in such a dedicated documentation of this community specificity as exemplified in Byker. Her focus and persistence in following this now very different community is remarkable.

The Anacostia Community Museum is lucky to own a second-hand copy annotated by an original Byker resident.  How wonderful it is to see his/her inscriptions under some of the photographs confirming the veracity of Ms. Konttinen’s portrayal of the Byker spirit.

Perhaps most significantly for us, Byker serves as a cautionary tale in the breaking up and restructuring a community.   Much as the Barry Farm Community was bifurcated by the building of Suitland Parkway in the 1940’s, and then further overwhelmed by the relocation of the majority of public housing to east of the Anacostia River in the 1960s, so is the United Kingdom facing a second wave of public housing redevelopment, though Byker Wall is being spared this time, as the original Byker was not in the 1970s.

Despite the authorities best efforts at engaging the community and encouraging participation – architect Erskine famously set up shop in a defunct funeral parlor in the Byker community hosting open hours for residents  – less than 20 percent of the original Byker residents returned after the new Byker Wall had been erected.

“Over 17,000 people lived in Byker at the start of the redevelopment. Fewer than 20% of them were living in the New Byker in 1976. One is only left to speculate what would have happened had the policy not been to retain the community, ” Peter Malpass wrote in a commission by the Department of the Environment quoted in the afterword in Byker

Through Ms. Konttinen’s work in Byker we can see the effects of the forces of neighborhood change and renewal on one specific populace.  In the photographer’s follow-up work in Byker Revisited, the viewer gets more of a sense that isolation and dislocation have taken hold over Byker, even as the subjects of her camera’s gaze become more multicultural and diverse.

To see this book in person as well as browse other titles in our growing urban community photography book collection, you can come to the Anacostia Museum Library (let us know that you are coming and we will pull the book for you), more information on how to contact us and hours is available here.

More resources on neighborhood change and Byker:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/21/byker-wall-newcastles-noble-failure-of-an-estate-a-history-of-cities-in-50-buildings-day-41

See more of Sirrka-Liiisa Konttinen’s work here:

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/bringing-color-to-newcastle/?_r=0

http://www.amber-online.com/collection/byker/

http://www.amber-online.com/collection/byker-revisited/

December 12th – La Virgen de Guadalupe

On this day in 1531 the Virgin of Guadalupe was said to have appeared in Mexico to an indigenous man, Juan Diego.

The dark-skinned Guadalupe is often interpreted as a coming together of Spanish and indigenous cultures in Mexico. Her name, Guadalupe is the Spanish pronunciation of the Nahuatl name Coatlaxopeuh, a Mesoamerican fertility goddess. Her appearance to an indigenous man in the New World further rooted Guadalupe to the specificity of this place.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a powerful religious and cultural icon for Mexico and Mexican-Americans. Her green mantle and golden mandala are readily recognizable to people outside of those groups. She is not only a visualization of faith, but also a symbol of nationalism, cultural pride, and resistance for those in Mexico and beyond its national borders.

 

demographics-mexican

Of the four areas explored in Gateways/Portales, Mexicans are the dominant Latinx group in Baltimore, Raleigh-Durham, and Charlotte. In Washington, D.C. metro area, Mexicans are second to Salvadorans. As a result of Mexican migrations throughout the US and the power of her imagery, Guadalupe appears in various iterations throughout the Gateways/Portales exhibition.

 

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She is representative of Mexico in Cornelio Campos’ autobiographical painting Realidad Norteña in “Social Justice & Civil Rights”.

 

 

 

madre-protectora-baltimore-tile

She is reimagined as an armed millennial in Rosalia Torres-Weiner’s  Madre Protectora displayed in “Making Home and Constructing Communities”.

 

 

virgin-de-guadalupe-mexico-2

Displayed beneath Torres-Weiner’s painting is a photograph of the altar dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Baltimore’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.

 

 

altar

Artist Gabriela Lujan placed a candle emblazoned with the Virgin’s image on the Day of the Dead altar in the “Festival as Community Empowerment” section.

 

eversoll_diablo_sm

High in the festival portal is an image of a diablo dancer resting on the base of an handmade altar for the Virgin after a performance in Durham, NC on her feast day.

 

 

La Virgin de Guadalupe was declared the patroness for the entire Continental Americas by the Catholic Church in 1945. Though she is most often associated with Mexico and Mexican-American culture, she was not specifically designated as the patroness for Mexico until 2002.  Guadalupe acts as a sort of cultural glue in the U.S., with her imagery and associated ceremonies being transplanted, creating a sense of community and solidarity among her devotees in Mexico and beyond.  December 12th marks the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States!

 

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Gateways is open! Through the lenses of social justice, constructing communities, and festivals as community empowerment, the exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latinx migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

 

 

written with Elena C. Muñoz, research/curatorial assistant for the Gateways exhibition. 

Blended Families – Gateways and Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day in Panama!

Most people know that I am Panamanian. Orgullosamente! Only some people know, however, that my father is Panamanian and my mother is African-American. Interestingly, this did not factor into Gateways until a meeting with Charlotte based artist Nico Amortegui.

Nico, born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, has lived and worked in the United States since the late 1990s. He is quick to say, one of the main reasons he is here and that he lives in Charlotte is his wife and two daughters.

Early in our exhibition stages when I was deciding what the salient themes were and how they would be represented, I met with Nico in his studio.  We discussed some of his recent work, the growing population of Latinx in Charlotte, Latin American vs Latinx, and the restrictive focus on Latin Americans/Latinxs. THAT was the inspiration for his piece in GatewaysHe wanted to create a piece that focused on Latinxs, but one that included space for his wife – who is not Latina- and his children.

An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants Nico Amortegui, 2016 Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants
Nico Amortegui, 2016
Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 

When his work was in process I referred to it as “blended families” but Nico’s original piece created for the Gateways exhibition is called An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants.   In his words,

It is based on the fact that when we talk about Latinos we blur out the Americans (United States) that have embrace the Latino culture and have made it part of their life.

This beautiful work is in the “Making Home, Constructing Communities” section of the exhibition, but the message resonates throughout the whole exhibition. When we fight for social justice and civil rights, when we build networks, when we celebrate our communities we do not do this alone. It is never ONLY the Latinx community and it is never only FOR Latinx communities.

This is the story of millions of families in the United States, including mine. So in the spirit of this piece, I say Happy Panamanian Mother’s Day to my mom who has embraced the culture and made it part of our lives. Although my mother is African-American, she has a big Panamanian family is mother to Panamanian children so …

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little me sleeping on my mother in New York

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my mom and me at the Bridging the Americas Opening, 2015

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la familia en Panama, 2009

 

 

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM!!! 

 

Gateways is open! Through the lenses of social justice, constructing communities, and festivals as community empowerment, the exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latinx migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

East of the Anacostia River Takeout Tour

Show me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.

– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century French writer, is credited with being one of the founders of the gastronomic essay. As the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us it is worthwhile to think about our own food culture.  A prominent symbol of the season is the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, which manifests the wealth of the harvest.

However, in many areas of this country, like D.C.’s wards located east of the Anacostia River, food insecurity is confronted on a daily basis.  One of our most basic human needs, access to healthy, nutritional foods is a foundational ingredient towards total well-being.  Yet, food hardship is a daily reality for many Americans.

We took a brief tour of the east of the Anacostia breadbasket: the takeout restaurants (and a couple sit-down ones too) that have defined eating in Wards 7 & 8.

Wards 7 & 8 do have some sit-down restaurants. Busboys & Poets is moving into historic Anacostia.  Uniontown Bar & Grill has survived an ignominious beginning, to become an engaging spot in the community.  Cheers offers some of the best crabmeat-smothered french fries this side of the Chesapeake Bay. Yet wider access to decent grocery stores and healthy food offerings remains elusive for many residents in D.C.’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.

Local archivist and historian Jerry A. McCoy has collected a few relics from the days when a sit-down restaurant east of the Anacostia was perhaps more commonplace:

Hong Kong Restaurant advertisement. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

Hong Kong Restaurant advertisement. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

The Hong Kong Restaurant operated on Nichols Avenue S.E., what is known today as Martin Luther King Jr. Ave S.E.  in Congress Heights, just down the street from the Hong Kong carryout featured in the video. Tucker’s Restaurant, advertisement below, was located just across the Souza Bridge from Capitol Hill.

Tucker's Restaurant, Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

Tucker’s Restaurant, Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

Foodways change as cultural mores do.  As we break bread this Thanksgiving, we might take a moment to reflect on something many of us take for granted, that access to healthy foods in one of the richest countries in the world is not a privilege to be taken lightly.

 

 

Sullivan Family: Service through the Generations

americanLegion

In honor of Veteran’s Day, the Museum is showcasing the Sullivan Family Collection. Several generations of Sullivans served the country by joining the armed forces or otherwise aiding in military efforts.

Many of the Museum’s holdings relate to family history and community life. Photographs, documents, treasured heirlooms and the accompanying stories reveal the lives of men and women whose efforts contributed to shaping history.

Almost a century ago, Theodore M. Sullivan enlisted in the U.S. army to fight in World War I. His Enlistment Record lists his character as “excellent,” and indicates that he was involved in the battle at Verdun, France. Several photographs show him in uniform. Mr. Sullivan was awarded the Purple Heart medal for military merit for eleven different wounds he sustained while fighting in Europe in 1918.

SullivanPurpleHeart

In subsequent years, Mr. Sullivan was active in the James E. Walker Post 26 of the American Legion, a wartime veterans’ organization formed in 1919. In this photograph, he is pictured in the middle, third from the top, during a visit of his Post to Washington, DC in 1940.

Other members of the Sullivan family continued a tradition of service for many decades. Theodore’s half-sister, Sadie Thompson, served in the Boston Chapter of the American Red Cross for over half a century, and all of Theodore’s sons enlisted in the armed forces during World War II. Edwin joined the U.S. Navy, while Earle entered the Tuskegee Institution’s program for training the first African American military pilots, now known as the “Tuskegee Airmen.” He was well into his training before his untimely death at the end of 1943.

The display will be on view through November 16, 2016.

SullivanIMG_9244b

Happy Birthday, Celia Cruz!

Born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, the Queen of Salsa is better known as Celia Cruz.

The importance and significance of this music legend cannot be understated. She is represented all over the Smithsonian including the National Museum of American History  , National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Postal Museum , Smithsonian Folkways, and the National Portrait Gallery.

Every museum has a unique mission and thus interpretation of history and culture. The Anacostia Community Museum’s mission focuses on urban history and culture. The next exhibition to open will be Gateways.

Gateways  explores the triumphs and struggles of Latino migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

Visitors to the upcoming Gateways exhibition will see an urban interpretation of the icon.  M. Tony Peralta, a child of Dominican immigrants, was born and raised in the uptown neighborhood of Washington Heights, NY.  Being raised in New York during the hip-hop generation greatly influenced him and his work.

What does Celia Cruz have to do with Gateways?

The ubiquity of Dominican salons might surprise you. Indeed you can find them all over the U.S, including the Gateways metro areas of Washington DC, Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC. Rolos are iconic in Dominican salons and Celia Cruz is everyday music. Celia Cruz is a music icon and rolos are an everyday item.  Peralta’s work blurs the lines of the iconic and the everyday giving us:

CeliaBlog

Celia con Rolos, 2015 M. Tony Peralta NY, New York

 

The exhibition will boast the 37″ x 42″ canvas rather than this poster version. But enjoy this preview! You can hear Tony talk about this piece and his work when Gateways opens December 5th.

New Acquisition! Guadalupe has a gun

The following post is by Elena C. Muñoz, research/curatorial assistant for the Gateways exhibition. 

Happy Latinx Heritage Month! 

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When we met with Rosalia Torres-Weiner  in March of 2016, she was one of the artists-in-residence at Latin American Contemporary Art Projects (LaCa) in Charlotte. Wearing colorful and elaborately decorated cowboy boots, she greeted us with a big smile and hugs before sitting us down in her brightly decorated studio-space. Her space at LaCa was decorated with large paper flowers, Calaveras, panels from her children’s story “the Magic Kite” which had just been turned into a play by the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, and of course, her vibrant, patterned paintings.

High on the front wall of her studio, she had painted, “I AM AN ARTIVIST AND I BELIEVE IN ACTIVISM THROUGH MY ART.”

Rosalie Torres-Weiner's Charlotte, NC studio in March 2016

Rosalie Torres-Weiner’s Charlotte, NC studio in March 2016

While sitting and chatting, Torres-Weiner’s passion for social justice and making the invisibles visible, particularly children, is evident. Throughout our visit, her “artivism” and community engagement manifested itself through our conversation, and of course through the paintings that were displayed throughout the studio.

Many of Torres-Weiner’s pieces deal with the complexities of the United States immigration system as well as the injustices and dangers immigrants often face. Some of her work sheds subtle light on the plight of immigrants in the United States, but some of her pieces are far more overt. One piece in particular that is direct in its handling of the hazards of immigration and crossing the southern U.S. border is Madre Protectora.

 

Madre Protectora 


 This piece is a reimagining of the patroness of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe. The standard representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe is of a young, brown-skinned woman, hands clasped in prayer and eyes cast downward. Typically she is shown standing atop a crescent moon held by a cherub and encircled by a golden mandala.Torres-Weiner’s version of the Virgin has morphed from a static, passive depiction of holy femininity into one of vigilant agency.

Madre Protectora by Rosalia Torres-Weiner. Collection of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Madre Protectora by Rosalia Torres-Weiner. Collection of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Instead of being clasped in prayer, her hands clutch a three-dimensional AK-47 constructed of wood, one finger on the trigger. A small, golden pocket watch dangles from her trigger finger, which in Torres-Weiner’s words, “indicates that over time, this situation will change”. Though her dark eyes are still averted from the viewer’s gaze, they are raised and alert, searching for any sign of danger.

The crescent moon and cherub are replaced by a blood red banner proclaiming her new moniker of “Madre Protectora”. Her golden mandala is supplanted by pink hibiscus flowers and stylized white dots, which according to the artist are, “one thousand points of loss. Each dot representing a life lost on the border.” The painting is recessed within a blood red wooden frame, with four lines of plastic barbed wire encasing the bottom of the piece, representative of the U.S.-Mexico border. Behind the wire are three red figures: the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and a pope.

I have always been obsessed with the devotion to, and various depictions of the Virgin Mary, particularly in Latin America and by Latino artists. The fact that a woman, (and oftentimes a non-white woman) was such a potent instrument of conversion during colonization, and can still command such power, zeal, and national pride is incredible to me. That being said, when we walked in to Torres-Weiner’s studio, I was immediately drawn to this armed Virgin. Madre Protectora follows a tradition of Mexican-American and Chican@ artists not only depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe, but of depicting her as one of active, maternal protection, central to the immigration experience.

Like many Catholic saints, the Virgin of Guadalupe is regularly prayed to for help and protection. Here, Torres-Weiner has imbued her with a hyper-vigilance that speaks to the extreme anxiety and desperation that often comes with the experience of crossing the border. Torres-Weiner is confronting the life-threatening circumstances that people often face when they come to the United States, whether it’s during the journey, or once they reach their destination.

The artist writes, “The Guadalupe, portrayed as a young millennial is armed with an AK-47 to show that faith can be as strong as the challenges that we face (deportations, narco-terrorism, economic disparity).”

 

Gateways opens to the public on December 5, 2016.  The exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latino migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

Elena C. MunozElena Muñoz received her MA in Art History from Rutgers University, and her BA in Art History from Fordham University. Her primary research interest is teasing out the African influences in Latin American
and Latino art. She is also fascinated with the evolution and uses of Marian imagery in the Americas. In 2014, she was a recipient of the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies fellowship, working with the Teodoro Vidal Collection at the Lunder Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currently she is a research assistant at the Anacostia Community Museum, working on the upcoming exhibition Gateways, which examines Latino im/migration in the D.C. Metro Area, Baltimore, the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Rosalia y Madre Protectora

Rosalia Torres-Weiner with Madre Protectora

Rosalia Torres-Weiner is a self-taught artist-activist who has lived and worked in Charlotte since 1992. Born in Mexico City, Mexico, she came to the United States in 1985. After working in the hospitality industry, she gradually turned to a career as an artist. She initially worked as a flight attendant; after painting murals in her children’s rooms, her neighbors commissioned her to paint murals in their homes. She launched her company Home Art Designs in 2001, painting murals in residential as well as commercial properties. In 2010, she pivoted and began to focus primarily on using her art as activism for the Latino community. She started the Papalote Project, (the Kite Project) using art as therapy for local children who were suffering from the loss of a parent due to deportation. She continues to produce socially conscious and community-engaging work from her studios in Charlotte, NC.

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