Artists capture cultural connections -- Gazette.Net






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Vista: Contemporary Works by Latin American Artists
When: 9 a.m to 9 p.m. daily, to Nov. 25
Where: University of Maryland University College, Arts Program Gallery, Inn and Conference Center-lower level, 3501 University Boulevard East, Adelphi
Tickets: Free
For information: 301-985-7937,

Born in Colombia, contemporary artist Camilo Sanín moved with his father to the United States when he was 11, living in North Carolina and New Mexico before moving to Rockville for his last three years of high school.

Now 26, Sanín lives in Washington, D.C., and a month ago visited members of his family in Colombia.

Traveling between the two cultures sometimes evokes feelings of conflict that contribute to his identity as a person and as a professional artist.

“I’m playing with the ideas of inclusion and exclusion, about belonging and not belonging,” says Sanín about his art.

Sanín, who has a studio in Takoma Park, is one of 16 artists born in South America and living in the United States whose work is on display at the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi through Nov. 25.

The exhibit is called “Vista: Contemporary Works by Latin American Artists.” University College hosted a reception on Sunday that was attended by some of the artists, curators and the public.

Curators asked the artists, most of whom live in New York, to use mapping techniques as a starting point for exploring what it’s like to relocate from one culture to another.

“They use the process of mapping to explore the notion of identity and individuality coming from Latin America,” says Jodie Dinapoli, a curator from New York.

Images of the pieces are posted on UMUC’s website.

Dinapoli worked with curator Eva Mendoza Chandas, also from New York, and Brian Young, curator at the UMUC galleries, to assemble the exhibit — UMUC’s first featuring artists with ties to Latin America.

The idea for the exhibit originated with Bolivian-born René Sanjines, who manages the UMUC collections and lives in Bowie.

Sanjines says he proposed the idea because of the influence of Spanish-speaking people not only in the Washington area but in the whole country.

“They live in this country but are expressing themselves about their Latin roots,” he says about the makers of the 24 pieces in the exhibit, which include a broad range of materials and ideas.

Sanín earned arts degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park, and the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

He makes use of bold stripes, geometric shapes and colors in his abstract pieces, having been influenced by the D.C. painters of the Washington Color School of the 1960s.

Although still bound to members of his family in Colombia, Sanín says he uses his art to deal with the feelings of now living apart from them.

“I feel I need to reconnect each time,” he says about his visits to Colombia, to which he also returns to reacquaint himself with the country as a place.

“The light hits things differently,” he says about the variety of places where he’s lived and the influences they have on his artistic decisions.

Sanín says he sometimes uses dissonant colors in his pieces to create a feeling of tension.

“It’s about how you make a color belong and not belong in a space,” he says.

Artist and curator José Ruiz, who splits his time between D.C. and New York, uses different materials to convey the idea of relocation and identity.

He carved the word “Diaspora” into the textured surface of a black floor mat, which visitors to the gallery are free to walk on, over or around.

On the one hand the mat implies a welcome or homecoming, but on the other hand, the word “diaspora” — the movement of people away from their homeland — evokes the idea of leaving.

“It invites you to cross it and step over it, and to think about the word ‘diaspora’ and what that means,” says Dinapoli about the mat.

Also in the exhibit is Peruvian-born artist Elena Patiño, who moved to Washington, D.C., six years ago with her family.

A graduate of American University, she, like Sanín, also attended MICA in Baltimore, and like him also addresses the idea of relocation.

In her piece, “Color Migration,” she uses handmade felt-covered balls to convey the idea of accumulation.

Cool colors are grouped in one area of the wall-sized work, and warm colors in another, with a larger area in between showing a mix of both.

“It has to do with displacement, about a culture and absorbing another culture,” she says.

Patiño, who shares studio space with an artist from Hungary and another from Maryland on Antique Row in Kensington, says she feels boundaries between cultures are “getting erased more and more.”

During the process of creating “Color Migration,” Patiño says she also explored the idea of labor in the Third World.

“I hand-felted the balls and invited some of my friends [to do it with me], to get a sense of what it was like,” she says about factory and piece work done for low wages.

Also dealing with labor and income disparities is Peruvian-born artist and sculptor Cesar Cornejo, who currently teaches at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

In his three-dimensional piece, “Museomorphosis II,” he evokes the shantytowns of Puno, an impoverished city on the shores of Lake Titicaca not far from a tourist area.

The shantytown buildings in the exhibit, which are covered in silver foil, reflect on the surface of a curved mirror above the piece, evoking the billowing titanium roof of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain.

An activist as well as an artist, Cornejo says he has proposed creating a community-based museum that will involve the people in Puno.

Work already has started on repairing some of the rundown houses in exchange for exhibiting contemporary art in some of them, an idea designed to draw tourists and art collectors into the city and possibly spawn related small businesses.

“It’s to create a relationship and opportunities for exchanges between the very rich and very poor,” Cornejo says.

Meanwhile, New-York based Nicky Enright, who was born in Ecuador, takes on disparities in the world economy in his piece, “The Globo.”

On the wall are two framed artistic interpretations of a possible single world currency and between them on a pedestal is a real attaché case filled with packs of the prototypical bills.

“Why do we have a dollarized economy,” asks Enright, about Ecuador’s decision in 2000 to convert its currency from the sucre to the American dollar.

“And why are the majority of people in the world working for peanuts?”