Some might think how dare I to criticize an artist who has a piece at the Smithsonian. So take my views as humbly expressed and based on the experience of such art. Not as doctrine, but as testimony. Please!
There, at the port of entry, a sculpture in fiberglass displaying at its base Fiesta-Jarabe, by Luis Jiménez. The monumental couple is eight foot high, with a very unique air, though mostly overshadowed by its ugliness. The value, I guess, lies in the fact that someone had the idea to commission it to a border artist, Texan –an artist from the Californias would have been a better fit-.
In Mexico to dance a jarabe tapatío is a double meaning expression adding that of being dominant, or having seniority over a place or principle. The piece might have displayed that angle to stress garb. The monumental sculpture, nonetheless, in spite of being at the US side of the border, shows little of the glamour and grace expected of this side, given the harsh effects of the elements on the piece.
A Mexican saying calls for aging with dignity, a concept that seems to work both for real and allegoric characters. Cracked paint fading colors and the damaging effects of the sun make it difficult for the two people represented in such ugliness, to meet that standard.
The woman, having a firm hand set on her hip and an intended flirty look on her face, eyes on her partner, shows a wrinkled though muscular built. The salamander in her necklace underlines her somberness and her extremely thick lips, also chipped. Her blouse, originally bright yellow, lost its shade but not the prominent presence of her nipples, as monumental as the entire mass, and the topic of every conversation my curiosity picked up on. The statue offends rather that flatter the Sentri travelers.
More than the nipples, I took note of the stereotypical outlook of both female and male Mexican characters. The morral –satchel-, the cowboy boots, and the head hanging down, oppose the extreme garb shown by most rancheros, turning the sculpted male model into a frail version of a city, horseless cowboy. The woman, in turn, highlights the traits of a dark skinned and graceless woman, though the combination of the two is truly rare in real Mexican morenazas. Charming, discreet and well coordinated for dancing, these women were wrongly registered for eternity zero glamour, cocky, daring and bold. Oh well… taste is taste.
I don´t believe that statue favors men or women. Last, but not least, any investment in public art should contemplate maintenance. The first thing to budget would be restoration. Let’s dream a time when some research accompanies a commission, and some sense of local cultural tradition to stay clearly away from stereotype, as already described. If figurative art was the first choice, why not Polka or Chotis dancers, more appropriate to the time and context here represented. My suggestion, far from the motifs we see so frequently, leans more towards an open call to artists from the Californias; to trap the public with a history rich in characters and iconographic diversity; to bring the best art, selected from the finest, made out of materials and narratives bound to age gracefully, in the eyes of the pedestrians called to enjoy it.
Just two weeks ago I missed the city trees at the Bay Front, the result of a call by the Port’s Public Art Department. That is the kind of Project that would have been great at the Border. A wide submission of pieces exhibited temporarily wouldn’t have been bad in that entry point, as controversial as it is alive and buzzing.
It is never too late, says popular wisdom. And, please, no heavy brush painters to retouch the scrapped colors. We need a true restorer, from the Smithsonian if possible; someone who will bring back the piece, were that to be our fate, to its more glamorous days. An expert of the sort might recommend –ay, ay, ay- for the piece to be placed elsewhere or to be disposed of, with some grace.
Welcome to my blog. I currently freelance for local journals, the weekly Enlace and Vida Latina the publications in Spanish of The San Diego Union Tribune; and I contribute to the Online Journals Peregrinos y sus Letras and Opera Mundi. I am director and editor of Olas Civiles, a weekly, refereed electronic journal (currently in a recess).
Olas Civiles is home to 17 writers, painters, photographers, musicians and special guests. Participating with us are designers, illustrators and an advisory board of five members. and an Editorial Sub-Director. To publish a journal entails discipline, persistence and, above all, many hours of unpaid or poorly paid work. Journalism, nonetheless, is not just a trade or a profession, but an addiction.
I invite you to experience the weekly work and troubles of Olas Civiles. The logo used represents the origin of Olas Civiles, a print journal that started, kind of on the wrong foot, ten years ago. My newest project for you is Retablo/Vapalcalli -Mobile Museum-. Visit us!