I may be too young to remember when was the last time Boston experienced an exhibition that featured the work of Latino artists living in this city or its surrounding towns. I may also be too young to remember Grupo Ñ, an experimental but now dissolved Latino art collective from the 1980’s that became an instrumental force in Boston’s underground art scene.
“Close Distance,” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery is the first exhibition in nearly thirty years featuring the works of six emerging Boston area Latino artists “practicing across diverse media and national borders.” Curated by Liz Munsell, a local curator with DiscordiaFilms and a Curatorial Research Associate at the Museum of Fine Arts, “Close Distance” is engaging, provoking and riveting.
The exhibition is as culturally diverse and distinct as are the artistic vocabularies presented. From the site specific work of Daniela Rivera, a 2010 Foster Prize finalist to Raul Gonzalez III and others; religion, identity, pop culture, politics, and institutional oppression are all explored, commented upon and richly juxtaposed throughout the gallery and within individual works.
Vela Phelan’s site specific performance-installation Deviant Idols in the Black Divine, a work modeled after a temple and composed of “spiritual idols for a modern world” struck a chord with me. A performance artist, Mr. Phelan’s installation opened up a world of memories growing up in the Dominican Republic. Having experienced the mysticism and the commodization of Santeria and Voodoo practices on a personal level, this installation moved me in ways only the pulsating beats of African drums at a palo ceremony have.
Because of the spiritual relationship that evolves between the viewer and the artist, Mr. Phelan has decided to carry out a 5-part performance that will take place almost every Thursday at Mills Gallery. “What will happen is a bit unknown to me (and to him),” says curator Liz Munsell “but it will be a journey that takes us outside the gallery walls – physically and metaphysically.”
Referencing minimalism and the literal collapse of institutional spaces, Daniela Rivera’s Fatiga material allows for an exhilirating experience as juxtaposed with the dexterous, signature “self-taught” style drawings of Raul Gonzalez.
In the film Visión Doble (Double Vision), multimedia artist Anabel Vazquez Rodriguez juxtaposes paradise-like images of Puerto Rico with political demonstrations held in and around Boston’s Copley Square. The film is an autobiographical journey that transcends borders and cultural boundaries.
While Boston may not have a tightly knit Latino arts collective like New York, Los Angeles and Miami do, “Close Distance” gathers together local Boston artists who for the most part had known each other prior to this exhibition at Mills Gallery. “Because these artists are all floating in the same “alternative” spaces or artist institutions as other Bostonians,” says Ms. Munsell, “I would say that they have much common, including language and culture, that brings them together.”
With “Close Distance, I hoped to bring them together a bit more” says Ms. Munsell, whose approach to curating is not solely interesting on a formal or aesthetic level – but has social context or a theoretical framework as its backdrop. “I can already see that has happened in a major way, but the show has just begun!” she added. “Close Distance” is rich in talent and abundant in excellent work.
Artist and Curator Talk Wednesday, August 3 | 6 – 9pm
Performance with Artists Yassy Goldie and Bru Jø Wednesday, August 17 | 6 – 8pm
These artists’ work touches on the construction of cultural identity. Their guerrilla tactics have been known to simultaneously intrigue and disorient audiences.
Vela Phelan explores the duality “ego/spirituality” through objects and actions found in his performance-installation Deviant Idols of The Black Devine. In his words “a Quest to expand the Shadow my EGO CASTS,” this five-part performance will take place at Mills Gallery Thursdays July 21 & 28, August 11 & 25 at 7pm, and as part of the Artist/Curator talk on Wednesday, Aug 3rd.