Continuing through December 31, 2023
More than 200 phrases culled from music, pop culture, and conversations undertaken during an early 2023 artist residency in Phoenix line two adjacent walls inside the Museum, where they signal the ways Puerto Rico-based artist Luis Rivera Jimenez plays with language as a means of exploring race, identity, representation, and power. Our vibe predates colonialism. Is it an existential threat to you? Just be yourself and pray. Whose suffering are we even talking about?
Titled “Phatic Function #2” (2023), the installation serves as an accessible entry point for a compelling exhibition. The artist poses tough questions about racism while guiding us through multiple perspectives that create a space for community dialogue. Presented in this form, the text powerfully alludes to social media and the ways it often reduces communication to small snippets of language that’s rapidly conceived and shared. Here, the open-ended nature of the work prompts one to take a hard look at our own thoughts and feelings about race.
Nearby, Jimenez begins to widen the lens with “White Tee” (2023), its four white t-shirts displayed side-by-side on coat hangers. Each shirt has on it screen-printed text from UNESCO’s four statements on race published in 1969. That was a time scholars debated whether race was a biological or social construct. Whether the shirts allude to white supremacy, considerations of class, the concept of a blank canvas, or other possibilities, is left to the viewer, meaning we are once again directed to think deeply about our own conscious and subconscious approaches to assigning meaning and value.
This is Jimenez’s first solo museum exhibition, for which he has created new works that set his examinations of race into a very specific context. Racism in its historical and contemporary manifestations within Phoenix communities is the central character. Jimenez addresses its universality across time and place. Works featured here were created during the artist’s 2023 residency with CALA Alliance, a Latinx arts organization in Phoenix that focuses on artists from the Latin American diaspora. It’s co-curated by Alana Hernandez, CALA Alliance Curator of Latinx Art, and Sade Moore, Curatorial Assistant at CALA Alliance.
For “An Abundance of History and Costume” (2023), Jimenez creates a sculptural platform suggestive of a white cloud. On it he placed various 3D printed plastic and found elements gathered in and around Phoenix. To this was added an interactive audio element featuring fictional narratives about objects in the display. Here, as elsewhere in the show, he’s collaborated with a variety of local artists and colleagues on the work. In addition, the work facilitates active versus passive engagement by enhancing text panels with queries about the ways context impacts one's perceptions. “How does this presentation of objects change their meaning? Why do you think it has changed?” one query reads.
Jimenez succeeds in creating a physical space that prods us to return time and time again as a means of thinking deeply about our own assumptions and fostering conversations with others. This is particularly evident in “We’re All in This Together” (2023), a gallery space resembling a small library complete with furniture, books for children and adults displayed atop shelves, and a video of the artist that shows him both making select works and talking about the intentions and processes behind them. Reading selections address myriad topics, including Afropessimism, eugenics, totalitarianism, and more. The installation also includes several wall works conceived as mental maps, which prompt reflection on the shared global culture, a topic that Jimenez addresses throughout his body of work.
With the reading element of the show Jimenez also affirms that there are supports and resources in the community for those who want to move beyond the exhibition. It is our choice if we continue to explore the show’s themes as they relate to race, history, language, power structures, memory, and much more. Beyond that, Jimenez provides tools for those who feel inspired to take constructive action.