I was 14 on September 11th, so I grew up with our War on Terror. As a New Yorker this meant going to anti-war rallies in the city for fun, and watching the city evolve into the police-heavy landscape that it is. “If You See Something, Say Something,” replaced the AIDS and don’t-do-drugs public service announcements, and the rift between my young liberal friends and anyone that looked remotely pro-war was wide. When those yellow “Support Our Troops” ribbons started appearing on storefronts, stoops, and suit lapels, we gave dirty looks. To be patriotic was not cool, and voicing pride for our nation was a social death sentence.
Art, for a while, became a way to voice our opinions. People in my high school were big into making Barbara Kruger-style anti-war paintings (“These Colors Don’t Run” read an American flag dripping with blood, as I recall), and I had some graffiti style “Ohio Fuck Tards” on my backpack over the 2004 Ohio Miscount. I got into photography because of time spent looking at war journalism and marching with protestors in the Republican National Convention rally in NYC. The art I made in college, by and large, was critical of our country, however I no longer make art like this, and if I do, the politics in my work are so subtle I hardly notice my own commentary. Art and politics in my sphere is a rare combination, which is why it’s a refreshing dose of reality to spend time in the current show up at ICP’s Long Island City MFA studios.
Aline Shkurovich, a Mexican artist and my classmate here in the ICP-Bard MFA program (whose solo exhibition ni de aquí ni de allá [neither from here nor from there] will be on view at the MFA studios in Long Island City from Thursday, May 1st to Sunday May 4th), was at home cooking when she realized that the red, white and green of Mexico’s flag is reflected in her country’s food: the hot sauce, meats, beans, rice, tortillas, lime, and cilantro. It’s these very colors you’re confronted with in Aline’s exhibition—a blood red wall by the entrance frames a printed internet meme of telenovela star Carmen Salinas flipping off the camera, declaring a bold Fuck You to both viewers and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto; a white wall of corrugated fiberglass in an adjacent room is activated by projected polaroid’s of the backs of undocumented Mexican workers; a table with a bowl of limes next to a cutting board and knife (Limoncito Agrio [the lime-limon-crisis]) is nestled nearby.
The socio-economic status and privilege of the artist is most present with Tortillas Hechas a Mano (hand made Tortillas), in which Flora Martinez, also Mexican, fries and serves homemade tortillas to viewers in a padded kitchen. Bubble wrap surface-coated with a film of silver fireproofing material covers the floor wall to wall, and Flora works a grill in the center of the room that is erected above a steel foundation in the shape of an inverted pyramid. Viewers can expect a variety of encounters with Flora based on their nationalities, social class, and language barriers. Instead of telling us directly about Mexican cuisine, or immigration for that matter, Aline promotes the beauty of her culture and the crisis of Mexican society (the limes, for example, which can be sliced open and squeezed onto Flora’s hot tortillas), and acknowledges her relationship to working-class Mexicans both at home as well as here in NYC. The work confronts racial segregation and class separateness without offering a manifesto.
Instead of telling us where exactly to have a conversation, and with whom, Aline points to a variety of options: we can interact with those who are next to us, across the counter, or above us. In No a la Censure (They are censoring internet), a small webcam close to the ceiling monitors the photograph of Salinas giving the finger, live streaming the backs of the exhibition-viewers as they enter the space and confront the print. Who could be watching the live footage is unclear, but the small eye of the camera lends further presence to President Nieto and his people.
On an individual level, Aline interacts with other Mexicans in vulnerable territory for both parties involved. In Con el Sudor de Tu Espalda (wetbacks?), a looping one channel video projection that shows a grid of 23 Polaroid’s developing immediately following their exposure, the bare backs of anonymous restaurant workers glow on the surface of the corrugated fiberglass (titled Construccion de Muro [Labor of Wall]). “I realized how important it was to be Mexican and talk about Mexican problems,” she told me. “Being away from home triggered this need to talk about Mexico with cooks in restaurants, workers in bodegas,” and also Flora, who cleans the pre-school below Aline’s apartment.
While her first attempts to communicate with others were “clumsy,” Aline was interested in how quickly her conversations with workers became so personal. “Soon I was being invited into their homes and leaving with the gifts they insisted I take,” she said. In their workplaces, Aline would ask the individuals to take off their shirts and pose with their backs turned away from the camera, and almost everyone agreed to do so. Aline would shoot video of the Polaroid’s developing and in exchange give the finished photos to her subjects. In this way, these are documents of undocumented immigrants–documents owned by the pictured subjects. The tragedy of Aline’s subjects lies in the reality that the individual who crosses national borders to search for opportunity can’t even have their face presented as a picture in public. The artist walks away with video documentation and the subjects go home with Polaroid’s that have little value to them in the face of a Green Card.
“I’m not in a position to solve the problem. My privilege is being a bridge between two worlds,” explains Aline. “I found a curatorial voice in this program and I regained a love for my practice. I have a lot to say and it’s amazing when you realize how to say it.”
-Daniel Terna (’15)
Aline Shkurovich Bialik
ni de aquí ni de allá
Opening Reception Thursday, May 1, 6:00pm–9:00pm
El Guateke del Reyes (DJ Reyes Mexican Mix)
Mexican playlist by Oscar Reyes + Aline Shkurovich
ICP-Bard MFA Studios, 24–20 Jackson Avenue, 3rd Floor, Long Island City, Queens
May 2: 3–7 pm
May 3: 3–5 pm
May 4: 11 am–3 pm
Directions E and M trains to 23rd Street/Ely Avenue; G and 7 trains or the B61 bus to 45th Road/Court House Square.