Arts & Entertainment

CentAm artist joins with immigrants in Miami wooden figure project

Miami, Nov 24 (EFE).- Studio Lenca, a Salvadoran artist living in London, next week in Miami will present a big show featuring wooden figures of 20 immigrants created in collaboration with other flesh-and-blood migrants to “amplify the voice” of people who feel compelled to leave their homelands.

“I’m an immigrant artist and this project is very important to me,” Studio Lenca, whose real name is Jose Campos, told EFE, in discussing his works in which he explores notions of identity in contemporary society through his representations of Latino figures.

Born in El Salvador, during that country’s 1979-1992 civil war, when he was five years old his mother brought him to the United States, where he lived with her as an “illegal” until they could regularize their status.

“My mom still continues to clean houses in San Francisco,” he said in an interview at a house owned by the Fountainhead Residency organization, which provides support to artists, as he was putting the finishing touches on the suit he will wear at the inauguration of his “Chisme” (Gossip) show.

The 20 brightly colored carvings on thin wood will be on display at a space devoted to Special Projects at the Untitled art fair, one of those that will open its doors next week in Miami as satellite shows to the well-known Art Basel fair, celebrating its 20th year in 2022.

Studio Lenca created “Chisme” in collaboration with 20 Central American and Mexican immigrants working in housecleaning, construction and agriculture and who are “fighting for better working conditions” with the help of the We Count organization.

The figures of immigrants at the show, in contrast to the real immigrants, are not looking to pass unnoticed by society but rather to attract attention.

Taking inspiration from the outfits of Salvadoran folklore dancers known as “historiantes,” Studio Lenda painted the jackets and pants of his carved immigrant figures with vibrant colors and attention-getting big white polka dots on a green background.

The figures, who are displayed as a “chaotic group,” also feature big hats, because – Studio Lenca says – hats imply “taking up space” and that is what he’s trying to do with this work: have the immigrants occupy areas where they have not been in evidence before and making themselves seen and heard.

In fact, during his interview with EFE, he wore a black hat with a wide flat brim.

On the backs of each of these die-cut figures is where the real immigrants have left their own artistic marks and signatures.

There, they have drawn and painted plants as a symbol of “something that grows” and their placement on the backs of the wooden figures is a “metaphor” for the fact that the immigrants are a bulwark in the lives of the citizens of the country to which they emigrate, Studio Lenca said.

When asked by EFE about the reaction of his collaborators upon seeing the work brought to fruition, he responded that “they’re thrilled to participate in something big” and want to attend the art fair, and so they will accompany him to the inauguration and there will present a performance he has prepared.

After presenting “Chisme” at the Untitled fair, the work will be shown at the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons, in New York state, and later at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.

Studio Lenca spent a month in El Salvador earlier this year to become acquainted with local museums and artists there, and he told EFE that although he has his roots in the Central American nation he does not identify completely with it.

“I’m neither from here nor from there,” he said, echoing the title of another of his expositions at the Untitled fair – “Neither from here, nor from there” – in which he also displays about 20 paintings on the subject of immigration but in a different style.

The exposition is being presented by Y.ES Contemporary with the support of Gallery Red, of Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

The artist said that he selected the word “Studio” as his artistic name because it alludes to something collective and he wants his works to contain not only his own voice but also those of others.

In the United Kingdom, where he began his career as a sculptor after having trained as a dancer in the US and obtaining a master’s degree from London’s Goldsmiths University, he worked on some of his artistic projects with immigrant children who had crossed the English Channel.

“(British) society labels them the same,” he said in comparing them with the undocumented migrants in the US. “I don’t see much difference.”

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