New artistic collaboration reflects history of migration

Felipe Valdivia, who is from Santiago, Chile, takes a photo of the installation. Valdivia works at the Phoenix-based company Chromedome Design as a sales manager. (Anya Magnuson/DD)

Betsabeé Romero's art installation in the Growhouse speaks to the division created by walls around the world. Romero is completing an artist residency in Phoenix in connection with the CALA Alliance and AZ ArtWorker, a program of the Arizona Commission of the Arts. (Anya Magnuson/DD)

Leonor Aispuro, left, and Oliverio Balcells pour themselves glasses of wine at the beginning of the community reception. Aispuro is from Mexicali and grew up in Phoenix, and Balcells is from Guadalajara. They were two of the local artists recruited to work on the installation with Romero. (Anya Magnuson/DD)

One of the many phrases that coat the art piece reads, "muros que coagulan en la sangre" — in English, "walls that clot in the blood." The project, which was constructed during the weekend of its display, was led by contemporary Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero. (Anya Magnuson/DD)

All the artists that worked on the installation cross their arms and hold hands as a symbol of unity inspired by Civil Rights era protestors. (Anya Magnuson/DD)

Culture and community combined this past week for a unique artist-in-residence program that brought a renowned Mexican artist to downtown Phoenix.

Betsabeé Romero, a contemporary artist from Mexico City, collaborated with other artists from throughout the Valley during her stay in downtown Phoenix. Together, they used their cultural experiences as inspiration for a temporary public art installation at Growhouse at Second Street and Portland Avenue.

“Un Muro Ensimismado,” or “A Wall Within Itself,” was unveiled during a reception on Sunday presented by Celebracion Artistica de las Americas (CALA Alliance) and AZ ArtWorker, a program of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. The installation features a car seemingly cut in half by a wall. On one side, the vehicle is painted gold, and on the other, it is covered by a world map and inscriptions written in English and Spanish.

Gabriela Muñoz, manager of AZ ArtWorker and artist programs manager at the Arizona Commission on the Arts, got the idea to bring Romero to Phoenix after she learned that the Phoenix Art Museum had acquired one of Romero’s pieces in their permanent collection.

Muñoz, a trained artist, is also a long-time fan of Romero’s work. After an introduction to Romero, facilitated by a colleague at the Phoenix Art Museum, Muñoz decided to partner up with Casandra Hernandez, Curator at CALA Alliance, to bring the program to fruition.

“We reached out to Betsabeé, and she immediately said that she’d love to come and do some work in Arizona, so several months later here she was,” Muñoz said.

The finished piece is representative of migration traditions that have shaped the country, something that is meaningful to Muñoz, who said the title would not be translated from Spanish due to the loss of nuance.

“To have an artist of Betsabeé’s caliber and to have it matched by our artists here just really humbles me,” she said. “As someone who is a migrant herself, the piece is extremely personal and moving.”

At the reception, Hernandez delivered a short speech about the project, and the message she hopes the piece delivers to the downtown Phoenix community.

“This is a symbolic response that says migration is a story of humanity, and this is something as ancient as our kind. It’s actually constitutive of humanity, and so this is a showing of unity, it’s a showing of fellowship, and hopefully it’s something that can inspire all of us to think about those borders that are private, that are intimate, that may not be represented by walls necessarily, but that we inhabit or we impose on others every day,” she said.

Vehicles are a recurring theme in Romero’s work, as she uses cars as an artistic platform for addressing social and cultural issues, specifically with respect to tensions over illegal immigration and the border wall.

“I think in this moment in the world, whatever we can do in order to grow, to overcome the threat against freedom. I think art can be the opposite and we can do it together, on both sides of the border,” she said at the reception.

Joseph Benesh, Executive Director of Phoenix Center for the Arts, attended the unveiling and believes the installation speaks to a widespread theme.

“On a cellular level, we’re all the same,” Benesh said. “We’re separated by politics, we’re separated by nationalism, but we’re all human. We all need to eat and love and exist and the idea at this stage of our evolution of putting a wall between us, is to me, personally, just kind of absurd and archaic.”

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