Retablo de Imágenes y Memorias
Retablo de Imágenes y Memorias is a multimedia installation composed of works in glass, embroidered drawings, and handmade, embroidered shoes on either side of an altar wall. These objects are presented in and around appropriated forms of the retablo, one of the most powerful tools of colonization, to tell the contemporary immigrant story in visual form. Originally experienced as multimedia altar screens, retablos were placed on the back walls of Catholic churches behind the altar table. They are often composed of paintings and sculptures of biblical figures. During colonization, the church introduced the retablo in the Americas understanding that the visual characteristics of the altars were an excellent tool to aid in the visual communication and indoctrination of native peoples to Catholicism. This colonization destabilized the natives’ world and set the stage for political and economic problems that plague their homelands in the twenty-first century. With time, the retablo was appropriated by the natives throughout Latin America to tell their cultural stories and became a symbol of transcendent, native resistance.
One side of the altar wall is faced by an installation of children’s shoes cast in glass. The shoes signify multiple generations of immigrants’ children who are the keepers of their ancestors’ memories of courage, sacrifice, loss, hope, and the transcendent dream to live harmonious, fruitful, dignified lives. Facing the retablo, the shoes bear witness to a grid of stylized niches. Referencing the lockers in The Pima County Office of Medical Examiner storage facility, each niche holds everyday objects, cast in glass that are facsimiles of items found with the remains of immigrants who have passed away in the Sonoran desert. By presenting these common objects I offer the viewer an opportunity to find similarities between themselves and the immigrants thereby recognizing their humanity.
The other side of the retablo includes seven embroidered portrait drawings and pairs of handmade canvas shoes, made to honor the children who have passed away while in U.S. detention centers. The handmade canvas shoes with embroidered insoles use photographs of them, their families, and hometowns as reference. The embroidered portrait drawings are stitched on water-soluble fabric, allowing for a fragile yet determined appearance that recaptures the spiritual essence of the immigrant.
This work honors the memory of immigrants and celebrates their strengths and perseverance. It brings attention to the necessity of providing humanitarian relief with dignity and respect to asylum seekers. Furthermore, it challenges viewers to have empathy and face their own opinions of immigrants while simultaneously experiencing being the other. My work is informed by my experience as an immigrant. As a former child seeking asylum in this country, as an immigrant of native ancestry to the Americas, I see my reflection and my family’s reflection in most of the immigrants that reach the southern border.
glass, handmade shoes, embroidered drawings, wood, screen-print embroidery