Although California artist Brian Bess won Optic Nerve XIII this year and had his short purchased by MOCA, it was local artist Karlo Andrei Ibarra who took home the Audience Winner Favorite. In his video work Crossover, he filmed Puerto Ricans singing America's national anthem. Spoiler alert: They get it wrong. (You can watch the video online here.)
We spoke with Ibarra about identity, language, and immigration.
New Times: Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Karlo Andrei Ibarra: I'm a visual artist recently relocated from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Why did you make Crossover?
Well, I made this film because in Puerto Rico our identity issues are a product of a particular political context. Language exemplifies the ironic nature of cultural assimilation under these circumstances. I made the video to make a statement that draws attention to Puerto Ricans that want to be a part of the U.S. However, many of these people don't know the language of the country they want be part of. Also I selected a specific background thinking of the Latin American landscape to amplify the cultural distance between both
How did you get passersby to sing?
I began by choosing a popular location with a lot of cheap stores, markets, and cafeterias that attract a diverse range of people. At first it was really hard to recruit people, but the first volunteer encouraged other people to join us. It was interesting to see different people's reactions. Some passersby started yelling at us and complaining why we were singing the US anthem and not the Puerto Rican anthem and other people started to hang out around the cameras.
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One woman told me she always wanted to be on tv, so she participated. One of the men that appear in the video sang more than three times in order to perfect his performance. At the end of the three hours of filming we had a large line of people wanting to join us to sing.
Why do you think the video resonated with the MOCA audience?
I think the Miami audience is familiar with issues related to language, identity and immigration because of the large Latin immigrant population. At the same time, the video is humorous, ironic, sarcastic and political. People are familiar with the video's situation. First generation immigrants here become US citizens after pledging to assimilate. The title crossover refers to the effects of
crossing borders, such as that which becomes lost in translation.
What are your upcoming plans?
Well, I arrived here four months ago. I'm really glad to have met new people and exchange ideas. I will show "Crossover" in a group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Canada and the Sternesen Museum in Oslo. I'm showing with three of my favorite artists--Yael Bartana, Democracia and Santiago Sierra--so I'm really excited about that.