Mexican Car Bombs were flowing freely at the Abrons Art Center’s gallery where the show El Regreso De Los Dinosaurios opened last Friday. The name of the drink, tequila infused margaritas with miniature Corona bottles dumped in, sums up both the artwork on the walls, the spirit of the crowd and the state of Mexico perfectly. The work includes a delicious combining of flavors, an explosive violence but also a passion for living vibrantly, in many colors.
Curated by Abrons’ General Manager Adrian Saldana, the show fills the space with the perfect combination of both bold and subtle modern art, from flashy videos playing on small monitors to a big representative painting using the eagle and cactus imagery of the Mexican flag, painted in sinister reds and blacks. Though the undercurrents of this show are political, the artwork stands alone in its beauty and the evening’s crowd was celebratory, not somber. As if the best way to meet suffering and injustice is by coming together as a community and celebrating what joins us.
I spoke with Saldana about the show. We discussed social media movements, politics and oppression in regards to art.
ROYAL YOUNG: Where did your inspiration for this show come from?
ADRIAN SALDANA: On July 1st, there was a pretty important presidential election in Mexico. Each presidential term is six years and in 2000, an opposition party had been voted into power, breaking a seventy-year reign of a quasi dictatorship of this political party called the Pri. They had for many years been associated with corruption and election fraud. In July, after twelve years, the Pri was voted back into power. Democracy in Mexico was a farce.
The way I saw it was (as) this very media savvy campaign. Media in Mexico is rather one sided. There are two main television broadcasters, Televisa and Teleazteca. Televisa is essentially a monopoly. They have been incredibly supportive of the Pri. The Guardian actually uncovered that the Pri had been paying Televisa for positive coverage. But this was an expose that came from the foreign press and wasn’t exactly surprising or shocking to the Mexican public.
YOUNG: How did all this media manipulation then inspire the art in the show?
SALDANA: When I had the opportunity to put the show together I found the first work by Amanda Valdez called “Good to be King” and in it is the very abstracted image of the eagle perched on top of the cactus, which is the Mexican flag. I was blown away by the image. To me it spoke to what’s behind the curtain in Mexican politics. It’s such a ubiquitous, nationalistic image but she gave it a dark almost sinister edge. To me, that recalled what is currently going on politically in Mexico.
Though Mexico doesn’t really have a history of any sustained political protest, one did emerge in the campaign season leading up to July 1st. The Pri presidential candidate was speaking at a private university in Mexico City and the student body amassed to heckle him. They called him out on crimes he had committed during his governorship. His response was to claim these students were actually protestors paid by his opponents.
That information was then what ended up on the cover of every newspaper. So there was a video made of 131 students who were there saying their name and holding up their student ID card. These were then amassed in a single video that went viral. It was a grass roots counter punch to the whole machine of the Pri. People really responded to it. Those students who were so radicalized and engaged spread this movement throughout other universities all over Mexico called Yo Soy Numero 132.
YOUNG: It seems like media is not just something that informed what pieces you picked for this show, but something that is being used by both Mexican political parties and people pretty heavily.
SALDANA: Absolutely. The Arab Spring and Occupy, people have a consciousness of the use of social media to get around mainstream television. Your voice won’t be heard through CNN or Televisa, so you can create a campaign online to express what you feel to be true.
YOUNG: How does it feel to see all this art inspired by these Mexican movements in a New York setting?
SALDANA: What’s interesting is that I wouldn’t say the work I assembled is political art. I was very careful not to seek out anything that was very didactic or with a concrete political slant. There is political art out there being made by Mexicans which is fantastic, but I didn’t want to presume what the artists in this show might feel politically. I wanted to have a much more nuanced presentation of work.
YOUNG: Do you think art needs opposition to exist? So much amazing art comes out of terrible times. When things are really great, what drives that creative force?
SALDANA: Even when a country is having good times, like in the ‘90s the United States had economic prosperity and things were looking really good but we were still co-existing with AIDS and discrimination. I don’t think we’re ever really in a moment where there isn’t a need for justice. We’re never in a place where there is no suffering. If opposition fuels art making, we’ll never be in a place where we can’t create.
YOUNG: [laughs] I don’t know whether that’s comforting or horrible.
SALDANA: [laughs] But that’s what the democratic and artistic process is all about. We’re constantly striving to be a more just society, to shape a society we hope for.
El Regreso De Los Dinosaurios features the work of Alejandro Almanza Pereda, Travis Boyer, Gabriela Alva Cal y Mayor, Ricardo Cid, Aurora Ixchel Pellizzi, GT Pellizzi, Amanda Valdez and will be on display through October 6th.