Monday, April 26, 2010

God Never Dies and That's Good: Art from Oaxaca by Christine Clark


Dios Nunca Muere is a group show of artists from Oaxaca now on at the Deluge and Open Space galleries.  For those of you who are not tourist-travellers, Oaxaca is one of Mexico's 31 states.  Oaxacans are a people struggling under brutal government control and extreme poverty.
These kinds of conditions don't tend to deter the tourist trade though.  In fact, the popular argument is that a poor, downtrodden, even devastated country actually needs and likes tourists because they keep the economy in motion.  In this way, not to put too cynical a point on it, people with money (or credit) to blow can enjoy their much needed time in the sun while also helping some poor chambermaid recover financially after her kids were killed in a tsunami.  God knows that money is what makes us all happy.
So, Dios Nunca Muere.  This show--it was a stroke of genius to bring this exhibition here to Victoria.  It is challenging work, it is overwhelming and it is accusing.  At both venues there is just so much to see.  The only thing missing at Open Space is heat and the smells of cooking and people and the jungle.  At Deluge, too, (the more understated venue) the visual is literally overpowering.  A huge black and white mural dominates the room and towers over the visitor and it is only one of several pieces in that gallery.  
One of the most complex pieces is the first a visitor sees upon arrival at Open Space.  Directly at the top of the stairs is a cartoonish figure which at first looks like a McDonald's character, but who is actually wearing a Nazi insignia on it's hat and has an ass for a face.  The kind of ass that shits and farts and could also be fucked.  The figure is on it's hands and knees.  It is called Little Tyrant (small monument to the rebellion).  Spoiled children are sometimes referred to as little tyrants.  But then again, Moises Garcia Nava, the artist, lives in a place where protesters were shot and killed by their government in 2006.
Also at Open Space were two very large spider shapes made from materials resembling white wicker patio furniture.  Between them is a large black jewel shape, a black diamond.  In spite of looking like they should be lounging in the hot sun with glasses of mescal at hand, these spiders are positively menacing.  They could come alive at any moment and if they did, they would definitely see you.  Oh yes.
But who is the white carnivorous spider made from such innocuous-seeming materials supposed to represent?  The tourist?  Or the person responsible for providing patio furniture and drinks?  Nina Simone used to sing a song called Pirate Jenny. It told the story of a black maid/servant/slave woman who rises up against her oppressors with murderous and victorious rage.  Those white spiders seem to tell a similar story.
Much of the work is relentlessly sexual, showing brutal, victimizing and one dimensional images of women as objects for use.  The enormous wall length mural, for instance, painted by Dr. Lakra at Deluge is a street art homage to the pornographic woman.  The women in this work are uniformly naked with upturned porno-tits.  They revel, to a woman, in sexual excess.  Most of them are sucking cocks or licking what looks like cum.  One of them is flat on her back, wearing only sneakers and masturbating.
This painting is an advertisement, carnival style.  It is a come-on, a black and white fantasy that could never be real.  With the greater context of this show in mind, one must ask, what is the reality of women as sexual objects in Oaxaca, or anywhere for that matter?  What promise is this?  And what about those dirty girls on the street at dusk, sick from drugs and drinking.
Back at the Open Space venue, some of Rosa Vallejo's Drawings take us to the grotesque reality of sex as tourist trade.  In one of her gird of drawings we see a young theatrical looking girl on her back with one ankle twisted behind her head.  All around her, and as an integral part of the very structure of the image is a face, repeated over and over.  The face of a bland, blonde, smiling man, someone who looks like Ken-doll.  Someone having fun, simple as simple.
Another drawing, also at Open Space, this one by Alfonso Barranco Sanchez, shows another girl, just her face, lying sideways, and looking like a girl too sick to make her own decisions anymore.  All around her are fingers and she is being urged to suck them because that is what love is.
Oh, love and money.  How vulnerable we all are when it comes to love and money.  Some of us are more vulnerable than others.  If we've been denied something we need, then sometimes we do anything to have it, even when "it" isn't the real thing.  Like sucking fingers/cocks or welcoming tourists.  Friendship and economic security.
But what about the people behind all this presumptuous stereotyping?  This show, Dios Nunca Meure, is a crowded and bewildering installation of art, music, danger and sex.  The curators have presented us with the stereotype of Mexico as a destination.  Even the non-tourist knows from the movies and from the news that all of Mexico is a dark dirty carnival with fat white bodies, like leeches, draped everywhere for sun.  And yet it is the tourist, in the shape of Deborah de Boer, who has traveled repeatedly to Oaxaca, who has helped to bring this show, one of the best we've seen, to Victoria. Unfortunately, tourism, like a lot of life, is complex and difficult to resolve.
Thank goodness that God Never Dies (Dios Nunca Muere).

At Deluge Contemporary Art and Open Space  until May 1, 2010   Video


  1. great write up christie--thank you. definitely will check it out.

  2. Glad to see somebody take this on...Thanks Christine. It makes me want to have a go myself!