Latin American artists celebrated in Red Bank art show

DETOUR Gallery
May 5, 2017 8:54PM

In an untitled painting, Cuban artist Esteban Jimenez Guerra depicts the Statue of Liberty cradling a small child. Swaths of deep blue paint rush across a pale background, illuminating the two subjects in their tender embrace. This piece speaks to Lady Liberty’s welcoming presence, and the words of Emma Lazarus in her poem "The New Colossus": "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Detour Gallery presents "Re-America," a group exhibition featuring works from Caribbean and South American artists, as well as Latin American artists living in the United States. Paintings, mixed media and sculptures range from figurative to abstract. The show was curated by Julia Rivera, a Puerto Rican artist from Freehold.

Esteban Jimenez Guerra: Untitled, 2014 (Mixed Media on Canvas 48 x 42 inches)

Participating artists include Guerra and Rivera, as well as Alejandro Diaz-Ayala, Ismael Frigerio, Jose Tola, Mar Marin Leal, Javier Mayoral, Juan Manuel Hernandez-Fuentes, Yuni Pavon Gomez and Yunierki Felix Hodelin.

As immigration becomes an increasingly contentious topic in the United States, the artists in “Re-America” work against the taboo, contributing art that reveals vulnerability and pride. Though many of the works are politically charged, the exhibition represents more than a critical dialogue. Rather, it presents a shared language of artistic expression, and celebrates the rich cultural heritage of its artists.

The title of the exhibition, according to Rivera, is a call for redefinition of American art traditions.

Julia Rivera: Sign Of Time, 2017 (Mixed Media and oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches)

"I think the show is something special," she said. "It represents what America is all about: People immigrating here, bringing their own culture, and sharing it with others."

Yunierki Felix Hodelin: To Be Or Not To Be The King Of The Swamp, 2015 (Mixed Media on Canvas, 57 x 48 inches)

Yunierki Felix Hodelin: Forbidden Fruit, 2015 (Mixed Media on Canvas, 59 x 51 inches)

Different generations, cultures and artistic styles come together for this unified message, and Detour aims to display the beauty in their diversity. Rivera compares the exhibition to adobo, a Latino spice mixture that combines arrays of distinct flavors.

What also separates these artists are the ways in which assimilation has affected their individual notions of pride, identity and culture. Guerra and Ismael Frigerio both take similar approaches in their depictions of the human body. Specific features are either blurred or absent in their paintings, symbolizing ambiguity and anonymity. This reflects the archetype of a stranger in a strange land.

Mar Marin Leal: Artista Y Pintura (Artist And Painting), 2014 (Oil on canvas 28.74 x 23.62 inches)

"The experience these artists are having here, and comparing their culture with this culture, sometimes it can be a shock," Rivera said. "Everyone is expressing that in different ways."

Some works in the exhibition involve origins of indigenous cultures. Mar Marin Leal and Alejandro Diaz-Alaya depict Native American chiefs in their own styles. While Leal’s representation is hyper-real and devotional, Diaz-Ayala’s deconstruction blends elements of collage with classical realism to create a satire on American colonialism.

Rivera’s contributions to the show focus on her particular worldview. A recurring theme is female empowerment, and she portrays this by turning stereotypes on their heads. This is accomplished literally in some cases, as in her painting titled "Greca," which depicts an upside-down kettle atop a pretty woman’s head. Other works portray worried faces of people she sees on subways in New York. Different body types and races are represented here, showing Rivera’s empathetic approach to universal concern.

Some artists in "Re-America" take a more visceral and impulsive approach, as opposed to meticulous calculation. Primitivism and expressionism are explored in a diptych painting by Jose Tola, an established artist who lives in Lima, Peru. His colorful abstract work pulls apart figurative shapes, creating an erratic scene that is at once grotesque and sublime.

Esteban Jimenez Guerra: Selfie, 2014 (Mixed Media on Canvas, 20 x 16 inches)

Esteban Jimenez Guerra: Selfie, 2014 (Mixed Media on Canvas, 20 x 16 inches)

Esteban Jimenez Guerra: Selfie, 2014 (Mixed Media on Canvas, 20 x 16 inches)

Despite serious themes, there is a lightness to the exhibition. This is perhaps due to a pervasive sense of unity among the artists. Rivera emphasizes the integrity of the exhibition as a whole, and its ability to redefine American art without adhering to trends.

"This is not copied, and this is not art that is in fashion," she said. "No, this is art that comes from the heart to the canvas. It is a story."

Jose Tola: Untitled, 2014 (Oil on canvas 65.75 x 117.25 inches / Diptych)

- Article by Billy Anania @billyanania

Asbury Park Press

DETOUR Gallery