MONA Showcases Latina Artists of Nebraska

Cornucopia, by Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez. India ink on Tyvek, collage. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
Close-up of Cornucopia, by Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
La Casa de Tierra, a ceramic installation by Claudia Alvarez, in the center of the Mujeres exhibition at MONA. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
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December 8, 2016 - 6:45am

This winter, the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney is featuring the work of Nebraska Latina artists in the first show of its kind.


In the center of the white-tiled exhibition hall a ghostly-pale woman and child, sculpted from clay, sit on a bench. Two other clay children lie on the floor in piles of flowers, one at the base of a blackened tree. 

“Everything is like creamish, white-ish colored, with tones of peach and a little bit of pink and then black, which makes you think of burning. And I think at first glance there can be a real macabre feel to it,” said Teliza Rodriguez, curator at the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) in Kearney. The ceramic sculptures are an installation by Claudia Alvarez, an artist born in Mexico who now lives and works in New York and Omaha.

“When we talked about this work we talked about how, well that's how motherhood is, it's all at once beautiful and endearing and tender but fierce and scary at the same time because that mother's ache for a child and what power lies in there,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez conceived of this show, titled Mujeres – “women” in Spanish – which features work from five contemporary Latina artists of Nebraska. Rodriguez said the idea for the exhibition has been percolating since she organized a huge retrospective of African American artists a few years ago. The goal of both shows is to expand the concept of what is a Nebraska artist.

Close-up of La Casa de Tierra, a ceramic installation by Claudia Alvarez on exhibition at MONA.

(Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)

“When you have histories that maybe have not been captured as they should have been captured, it is a responsibility for an institution to gather those histories, hold them up, hold them in regard, and then you put them back in their proper place in history. But if you don't regard them in the first place, then you have to go back and amend that,” Rodriguez said. She hopes that impact reaches beyond the walls of the museum too.

“Our kids need to see people that don't look like them or do look like them where they might not be able to imagine themselves, and that's either me as curator, somebody as an artist, or art historian even,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez deliberately wanted to feature contemporary work of women to highlight the artists’ commentary about today’s world. Most of the artists created original works for this exhibition, and nearly all share common themes: “The physical world, the spiritual world, femininity, masculinity, conflict, history, present day, our connection to the land,” Rodriguez said.

Visual artist Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez is originally from Colombia and spent 21 years living in New York. Five years ago she and her husband moved to Lincoln, where she’s been working on a large body of work she likens to a visual novel.

Cornucopia, which is at MONA, is the first one. And that's the first piece of chapter four,” said Friedemann-Sánchez. Cornucopia is a lush, colorful painted collage floating on a black backdrop. A vessel on the bottom overflows with plants, flowers and animals while tiny men with guns move in from the edges. Friedemann-Sánchez said she drew inspiration from Native American techniques and iconography used during the time of Spanish colonization of the Americas.

“Because my work is feminist at its core, my work is also about migration, it's about many things that have to do with explaining the ways that patriarchy works in our society. So I wanted to make a piece that is somehow instructive and very clear in its message,” Friedemann-Sánchez said.

Friedemann-Sánchez painted each flower and animal individually before assembling them together. In the past she’s created oversized pieces of women’s handicrafts, like lace or crochet. Cornucopia is huge—nine feet tall and eighteen feet long.

“I'm very interested in heroicizing crafts that are considered not serious in quote unquote serious circles. I'm interested in creating murals that can take a size that is larger than life so you cannot avoid the subjects,” Friedemann-Sánchez said. She said this work, in addition to the rest of her visual novel, will tell the complex story of migration, of the past and present transcultural experience of America.

“But it's not my own experience, it's the experience of many people and not only Latinos, it's the experience of the Irish, of the Germans, of all the different ethnicities that come to the U.S. and make their home here in this country that has welcomed so many people,” Friedemann-Sánchez said.

That experience resonates with Sandra Williams, a Cleveland-born artist of Peruvian descent.

“It's like you're not Spanish enough for one group but then you're not American enough for the other, you're sort of in-between. And you inhabit this sort of borderland,” said Williams, an associate professor of art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her piece for the MONA exhibition features a Peruvian folktale – the story of the Ukuku or Bear Prince.

Ukuku 3: The Journey. By Sandra Williams, cut paper.

 (Photo courtesy MONA)

“It’s sort of the opposite of a western fairy tale where generally someone starts off as an animal and then through love they're transformed into a human being. Here the bear prince starts off as a human and then over the course of time he turns into an animal,” Williams said. “Really it's a story that's about bias and about how different groups of people don't get along.”

Seven intricate cut-paper works tell the story through words and images. Williams has worked in various mediums but said she’s been drawn to working with paper because of its low environmental impact and simplicity.

“It really reduces things down to the essentials. You really have to communicate in shape in order to create form and distance,” Williams said.

The exhibition also features Mexican-American artists Reneé Ledesma and Linda Garcia-Perez of Omaha. Each woman brings her own complex Latina heritage to the show, which Williams said creates a potentially unexpected amount of diversity.

“We're under the same umbrella but I don't know that you can necessarily lump all of that work, like 'oh, we know what to expect because these women are of a similar background,'” Williams said.

Curator Rodriguez says at its core the show is bound by the currents of political, social and environmental issues that run through all of the art.

“This exhibition will woo you with all the beauty, but don't be mistaken -- it has teeth,” Rodriguez said.

Mujeres is on exhibition at MONA now through February 12th.

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