A pair of original exhibitions at San Antonio's McNay Art Museum ask viewers to look at the acceptance of underrepresented communities in the United States.
"True Believers: Benny Andrews & Deborah Roberts" and "Margarita Cabrera: Blurring Borders" opened Oct. 6 and run through Jan. 22.
Featuring nearly 50 works, "True Believers" explores the formal and thematic connections between Benny Andrews (1930-2006) and Deborah Roberts (1962), two artists separated by a generation. The exhibition highlights both artists' use of collage and dedication to representations of African Americans.
At its best, the work of both artists points to the basic humanity of underserved communities, which continue to fight for racial equity.
Meanwhile, El Paso artist Margarita Cabrera's "Blurred Borders" is an interactive space filled with cactus-like sculptural works created from repurposed U.S. Border Patrol uniforms. The work speaks to the concept of "nepantla," or an in-between space, whether it be a physical space such as the U.S.-Mexico border or a metaphorical space such as a bicultural experience.
Cabrera's creations often center on labor practices, cultural identity, empowerment, immigration and violence.
Born in 1930 in Plainview, Georgia, the late Andrews would go on to a 50-year career working predominantly in painting, collage and drawing. In 1958, he moved to New York City, where he established himself as an artist, educator and advocate for underrepresented communities. His works are meditations on the state of humanity and offer scathing criticisms of institutional racism.
As visitors enter the McNay's Tobin Exhibition Galleries, they are greeted by two figurative works by Andrews and one by Roberts. The pieces are grand in scale and visually striking. The Way to the Promised Land, part of Andrews' Revival Series, depicts an expressive figure with his hand pointing upwards. The image is a nod to the role the church plays in African American communities as a center of spirituality, education and community.
"My hope is that this body of work transcends my particular experience and speaks not only to those familiar with the old Southern revival meetings but a larger audience about the human condition," Andrews once said of his Revival Series.
O'Say Can't You See
Born and raised in Austin, Roberts has become known for her collage and mixed-media works uplifting the African American community. In 2021, The Contemporary Austin became the first Texas museum to present a solo exhibition of her work.
Although Andrews' junior by nearly three decades, Roberts creates work that shares many similarities with that of the older artist.
"I've been a fan of Benny Andrews for a long time," she said on a 2020 podcast. "To see his brush strokes, to see his movement of the paint, to see his hand in the work, is just awe-inspiring."
But Roberts' pieces also stand on their own. Many depict Black boys and girls challenging negative stereotypes ingrained in our culture. She often draws from her own childhood, focusing on her preteen years, a time when young people are most susceptible to societal pressures, according to Roberts.
In O'Say Can't You See, Roberts depicts a young, dark-skinned girl, hair in pigtails and dressed in red stripes, as she kneels on the floor. Referencing the national anthem, Roberts questions whether the world truly appreciates the full potential and beauty of Black children.
By appropriating the visual aesthetics of the U.S.-Mexico border — abundant cacti and the dark green colors of border patrol uniforms — Cabrera alludes to a turbulent landscape filled with violence, sacrifice and even death as migrants risk everything to seek a better life.
Upon inspection, viewers will see images of the Virgin of Guadalupe or phrases such as "El Paso Strong" — a reference to that city's 2019 mass shooting at Walmart by an avowed white supremacist — stitched onto the creations. As part of Cabrera's A Space Between project, she asked members of the immigrant community to embroider text and images onto replica cacti to reveal their personal stories of migration.
Mechanical parrots placed throughout the space come to life and repeat back anything viewers might say about the installation. The parrots' vocalizations and rambunctious activity fill the gallery, representing the media noise and distractions that keep the nation from meaningful immigration reform.
Cabrera's landscapes represent sites of tragedy and sadness. However, they also carry great beauty and hope in that they represent the artist's efforts to preserve her own cultural traditions and customs.
Viewers can use their own iPhones, or tablets provided by the gallery, to access an additional layer of the artwork. As they do, a digital flurry of butterfly-like creatures and celestial bodies will appear to float throughout the gallery.
Viewed on the screen of an electronic device, Cabrera's work becomes a fantastical wonderland of sorts. It's a reminder that — for all its political implications — the artist's work can be viewed on multiple levels.
"True Believers" and "Blurred Borders," $10-$20, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday & Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday through January 22, 2023, McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave., (210) 824-5368, mcnayart.org.
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