A conversation with artist Margarita Cabrera on her new exhibition at San Antonio's McNay Art Museum

Cabrera's solo exhibition 'Blurred Borders' will be on view through January 22, 2023.

click to enlarge "I think all of us who are working with immigration as a subject matter, I think in many ways we are also representing the larger immigrant community with the work," Cabrera says. - Josh Huskin
Josh Huskin
"I think all of us who are working with immigration as a subject matter, I think in many ways we are also representing the larger immigrant community with the work," Cabrera says.

Writer Marco Aquino caught up with artist Margarita Cabrera to discuss "Blurred Borders," her exhibition at the McNay Art Museum. The conversation has been edited for space and clarity.

What were some of the ways you engaged with the local community to create the works included in "Blurred Borders?"

One of the works included, the A Space in Between project, was a collaboration with immigrant communities, a project that's been ongoing since 2010. It started in Houston, and it's evolved into sort of a national project.

In the Tequitl project, which is the video you see projected on the walls of the museum, we did a callout to the community, inviting the community to share stories of sacrifice. They were invited to perform and tell their stories on the grounds of the museum.

In one of the cactus pieces, there seems to be a reference to the mass shooting at the El Paso Walmart that took place in 2019.

So, there is a piece made by Amanda Hinojosa, an artist who participated in A Space in Between. She is from El Paso, so she is reflecting on her relationship with the city and the history of violence in that city. Her story ... se desarrolla, or unfolds, throughout her work and is about living in El Paso with her husband and eventually coming to San Antonio.

Were you also thinking about the 53 migrants who died in San Antonio in the back of a semi-truck this past summer when you were putting together the exhibition?

I think all of us who are working with immigration as a subject matter, I think in many ways we are also representing the larger immigrant community with the work. The works inspire dialogue with these events and histories. I think in San Antonio, that incident is something that many people think about and discuss. I think these works have a way of initiating conversations that relate to communities locally but also communities outside of San Antonio and communities on a national level, because these works were created in different states, not just San Antonio. But I think it's a nice way to create a more inclusive dialogue on both a local and national level.

The exhibition includes mechanical parrots that talk back to visitors. Where did that idea come from?

I'm very interested in mimicry. My interest in mimicry is to address the way in which immigrants are trying to adapt to a new culture in a sort of repetitive attempt to speak like the dominant culture, to be part of the dominant culture in ways that are exhausting, in ways that are very robotic and mechanical, and somewhat unnatural and unnecessary. Ultimately, that assimilation doesn't really happen. Whenever there is migration, or transfers of culture, it's just not possible to become one culture. The other aspect of it is that these parrots represent Mexican parrots that are in danger of becoming extinct.

You've also mentioned a sort of "digital chaos" created by the noise in the gallery.

There is a digital chaos that takes over the space. When one bird starts to mimic your voice, then all the parrots pick it up and there is this dysfunctional, digital chaos that exists in the space. Eventually, it becomes overwhelming until people stop speaking and the birds stop speaking.

Talk about the concept of nepantla and how it relates to this exhibition.

It inspires the title of A Space in Between which is one of the works in the exhibition, the cactus piece. The work is inspired by [Chicana scholar] Gloria AnzaldĂșa, who used the term in her book Borderlands/La Frontera. It's a metaphor for the space in between cultures, bodies ... . It's about the space in between that both separates and unites us all at the same time. And it's a ritual space that I'm interested in working in. It's a space where rituals can happen, where transformations can happen. Every one of those works in the exhibition has to do with borders.

What do you admire most about the Texas landscape?

I'm interested in the desert Landscape. The fauna is very strong, it's very resilient. It's made of very strong fibers and the plants can overcome very difficult challenges, so, metaphorically ... I admire that in relation to the work that I'm making. I'm interested in the landscape as far as the memory of the land, historically, seeing the landscape as a colonized space, the richness of the history. These are works that tap into the landscape directly, but politics and the human element also intersect with this landscape. I'm interested in the history of the landscape but also the beauty, resilience and strength of the plants that exist throughout.

Would you say your work speaks about the preciousness and fragility of life?

Definitely. I think, ultimately, one of my goals by bringing these sociopolitical themes into the work is to achieve more awareness, humanity and compassion and a sense of empathy within our communities. Life is definitely precious, so the more that we as artists can bring our communities in touch with individuals, the more impact we can have. That's important to me as an artist trying to make a difference.

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