Lucia Ortiz, a graduating Savannah College of Art and Design senior, collected diverse and imaginative entries, some bearing timely political subtexts, when she invited fellow SCAD students to submit artwork for her group exhibition entitled Nepantla: a space in between. The show opens tomorrow, Friday, June 3, and runs through Sunday, June 5, at Welmont, 1930 Montgomery St., Savannah.
The show, which was open to SCAD students in any major and working in any medium, features photographs, portraits, abstracts, and a couple of three-dimensional entries.
As curator, Ortiz conceived an exhibition that would address global concerns about immigration, identity, displacement and segregation as it “seeks to assess the boundaries—or borders—of political, social and cultural dichotomies that affect our everyday lives,” as she put it in a statement issued before the show’s late May entry deadline.
Ortiz, who is from Mexico City, explained that nepantla indicates being “in the middle” in Nahuatl, an ancient language of Aztec origin still used by some native populations of Mexico. For Aztecs colonized by Europeans, it expressed a sense of being caught between different cultures.
“Historically, it has also been identified with painful experiences, relating to a personal state of invisibility and displacement,” she said.
Some of the show’s strongest entries explore those intertwined themes by embedding the human form —all or part—in narrative contexts. “Strange”, by Ellen Manning, a cartoonish portrait of a red-headed young girl, includes a caption –“strange but not unkind” – that urges acceptance of those who are different.
More stylized realism appears in Sammy Amaya’s “Home is Where”, showing a perplexed-looking man who looks to be stitching looping red lines all over a big table map of the United States and Mexico, perhaps suggesting that he has traveled so endlessly in both countries that he now feels at home in neither.
Erico Ricardo’s “Life has not been easy so far” depicts a human hand at the bottom of the frame, with an opened handcuff above it, the denouement to an unwritten tale of imprisonment and liberation, whether literal or spiritual. In Jackie Moyer’s “Hurt Boy”, a young male, masterfully rendered in white lines on a dark background, holds a forearm over his face as if to stifle a cry of pain.
More complex narrative suggestions surround Vanessa Macias’s “Sad Girl”, a post-performance portrait of a raven-haired show-biz lady clutching congratulatory red roses to her chest and still wearing white clown makeup around her eyes. A classic R & B song, “The Tears of a Clown,” comes to mind, though any hints of heartbreak in her visage seem overlain with a mask of stoicism.
Ortiz, daughter of a Mexican father and a mother from Minnesota, said she enjoyed a comfortable bicultural and bilingual education and upbringing in Mexico City. But the relationship between the adjoining countries remains uneasy to many eyes amid lingering issues like immigration reform and poverty.
Nepantla, Ortiz said in a recent interview, is about bridging divides between countries and cultures.
“Discourse is the goal . . . for me, art has a political purpose … I’m very interested in printmaking as a social practice.” She plans to return to Mexico City and hopes to one day open her own print studio.
Ortiz charged no entrance fee to Nepantla exhibitors—crowdfunding covered expenses—though she did ask entrants to write short autobiographies of themselves. “I want to always be helping artists,” she said.