"Yearning to Breathe Free"
March 8 - April 19, 2019
opening reception: Friday, March 8 (6-8pm)
The United States was born in racist genocide. A group of European men discovered that there were no white people on Turtle Island and thus slaughtered its non-white inhabitants and stole this land. They subsequently kidnapped Africans and forced them into the cruelest and most despicable form of labor exploitation, chattel slavery. Racism in the service of capitalist greed has been the engine behind the “progress” of America and its expansion and rise in power. Capitalism demands the exploitation of labor, and if someone must be subjugated, let it be the ‘Other’, the outsider, the alien, whether those persons be within our borders or in a land far away.
Segregation, Native American reservations, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Japanese internment camps are just some of the racist institutions that preceded today’s anti-immigration laws such as the zero-tolerance policy of family separation and the Muslim ban. Hierarchical systems of domination such as capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy are deeply embedded in the consciousness of America and entrenched in our cultural DNA.
The xenophobic and unjust policies of the Trump regime are a continuation of a long process of racial subordination and capitalist exploitation in the history of The United States. Trump’s denigration of immigrants is something that I take offense to personally, being an immigrant myself. These pieces depict both the cruelty of our nation and the struggle against its oppressive forces. The image of white serpent represents white supremacy in America.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus, 1883
(On a plaque mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty)
“During the 80s and into the early 90s, Peru was terrorized by a communist-Maoist-guerrilla-insurgency group called the Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path, or in Spanish, ‘Sendero Luminoso.’ They began an armed struggle against the State, killing tens of thousands of innocent people, ravaged the countryside in the sierra and made their way to the coastal capital, Lima, where my family lived.
I grew uRana Plaza in Savar: Death of a Thousand Workers, 2014p with constant blackouts (because the Senderistas would target and dynamite the electrical towers) and bombs that shook our house, waking me at night, as I screamed for my mom. My childhood mind had no knowledge or understanding of what was really going on in Peru, so all I knew was that Sendero were communists and communists were monsters because they bombed and killed people. Imagine my shock when I first read the communist manifesto as a teenager in the U.S. and found that this wasn't necessarily the case. My memories of Sendero's bombs and my childhood fear of communism are the seeds that led to my interests in political systems. My experience of moving to American suburbia was confusing because I was very safe, but miserable. Being a lesbian immigrant in the late 80s and early 90s in suburbia was awful. I also was slowly learning about the malevolence and violence of capitalism. I'm now anti-capitalist as I'm sure is obvious with paintings such as Rana Plaza in Savar: Death of a Thousand Workers (2014,).”
In 2011, Tafur’s paintings registered the breakneck pace at which the world changed around her. This was a year that began with the promise of democratic revolution in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and spiraled out of control: the Syrian Civil War began in March; the Obama administration killed Osama bin Laden in May; and Muammar Gaddafi was executed by Libyan rebel forces in October following an earlier NATO military intervention in the country. Simplistic narratives about good triumphing over evil no longer felt appropriate. And outside of Tunisia, the Arab Spring failed to deliver new democratic governments to North Africa and the Middle East. In particular, Egypt found itself caught between the harsh rule of a military junta and the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic fundamentalism.
The above-described events inspired Tafur’s “Revolution” (2011), an intricately surreal painting that coordinates the weightless hope of change with the crushing gravity of reality. The artist handicaps the canvas’ largest subject with a leg crutch. Nevertheless, this man — now sporting the idealized body of a Greek sculpture and the eye of a nightmarish cyclops — continues to protest. This distortion of the Egyptian rioter conveys the inability to parse progress from regress in the Arab Spring. What may initially look like change may lead to more of the dictatorial same. Similarly, the Tahrir Square protested never delivered on the new Egypt it had promised.
Tafur illustrates these dashed hopes compositionally, exploding the already fractured picture-plane with a nod to the precise geometries of Russian Suprematism.
Founded by Kazimir Malevich on the heels of 1917’s Russian Revolution, the artist wrote that “art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners. It wants to have nothing further to do with the object.” In that way, it was a cultural caesura that complimented Leninism’s break from the country’s czarist regime. Spiritually, it was a reinvention of Eastern Orthodox mysticism and iconography. Tafur draws parallels to Suprematism in “Revolution” as a gesture toward the failed revolutions of the past. And while her affinity for the avant-garde aesthetic is clear, the artist cannot help but notice its shortcomings in affecting real positive, political change.