Carving Through Borders

Shotgun Review

Carving Through Borders

By Matthew Harrison Tedford September 25, 2014

The thirteen large-scale woodblock prints that were on display in Carving Through Borders at Galería de la Raza illustrate the varied and sometimes conflicting emotions associated with immigration, from defiance to protest to hope. Carving Through Borders is a product of a long history of political printmaking, but these works render the political especially personal, making their messages even more resonant. 

The commanding size of these prints combined with the intimate, stirring texts that accompany the imagery make an emotional impression on the viewer. A piece by DJ Agana at the gallery entrance greeted visitors with a Lady Liberty–like figure in a flowing quetzal feather headdress and bearing an ear of corn in place of a torch. The words “move freely” are emblazoned at the base of the print, a more direct and defiant summation of Emma Lazarus’s poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. This rendering reminds the viewer that Lazarus’s words have been hollowed out—it is now considered utopian for a nation to embrace the tired, poor, and homeless.

Oree Originol. Untitled, 2014; wood, ink, and paper; 7 x 3 ft. Courtesy of the Artist and Galería de la Raza, San Francisco.

Erin Yoshi presented a print in which two hands stretch to grab a feather clinched by another fist just out of reach. Two birds soar above the words “no borders/fly free.” Though the work is ambiguous—will the hands reach the feather representing freedom?—the gliding birds emanate a sense of hope.

Oree Originol’s untitled work stood out from the others with its minimal style and expanses of uninterrupted ink. On one end, a man plucks an apple from a tree; on the other, a woman in a suit coat works on an Apple laptop, casting a sideways glance to the farmworker behind her. Text on the print reads: “Mi labor… sostiene a la comunidad.” (“My work sustains the community.”) Originol sardonically depicts the value placed on different types of laborers. Though the woman’s profession is unknown, it is unlikely that her work is as central to sustaining life as the farmworker, whose work is devalued culturally and legally.

At a time when the U.S. political system is failing to address immigration and when millions of American families risk being uprooted, Carving Through Borders offered a much-needed platform for conversation. These artists’ and activists’ voices will ultimately cut through the cynicism and spectacle of political discourse and help lead the way forward.

Carving Through Borders is on view at Galería de la Raza, in

San Francisco

, through September 19, 2014.

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