In America's current political climate, it’s imperative to listen to the voices of the disenfranchised, such as immigrants and the indigenous. In “Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly,” an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art MOCA), independent curator Risa Puleo shows the work of 37 artists native to the Americas who are exploring themes such as inheritance, migration, and transformation.
Puleo, who is originally from Texas, began curating the exhibition in 2016 as a response to the defense of Standing Rock Sioux Nation during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the presidential campaign that ran on the promise of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
“In the summer of 2016, Standing Rock was getting started, and there was a presidential election campaign focused on the border wall between Texas and Mexico. I am originally from Texas, and by that I mean my family has been living in Texas since before the Spanish. We are the people of Texas. What I saw when I saw these two kinds of events unfolding that summer was that these events completely related to each other,” Puleo explains.
“We have a group of people indigenous to the Americas who are told that the boundaries of land are changeable according to what we see fit. But on the other side of the boundary wall, you can’t cross... These boundaries are fairly new in the history of these places. What I wanted to do was to use the monarch butterfly as a metaphor to rethink about the same places in different terms.”
The "Monarchs" exhibition debuted in December 2017 at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska, where Puleo was curator-in-residence. The show at MOCA, which opened May 24, was adapted for a Miami audience and will be on display until early August. The show is also scheduled to tour to Blue Star Contemporary and Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas, and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas.
Puleo chose the monarch butterfly both as a symbol and a way to specify the geographic range of artists in the show. Monarchs fly from southern Canada through the Midwest on their way to Mexico and back. The butterflies also travel through the Magic City en route to their destination.
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“The butterfly also goes to Miami, where there are a lot of the same issues in terms of immigration, sovereignty, and the cultural presence of indigenous people,” Puleo says. “[The show] transcended the space of Omaha to travel to Miami... We invited some Miami artists to make sense of what was already happening. Migration is one of the things butterflies do, and we show how artists are thinking about the experiences of immigration and displacement in the past and present. Displacement can include gentrification as well as the dispossession of land and qualities of being immobilized.”
The show at MOCA includes the work of Miami artists William Cordova, Franky Cruz, Yanira Collado, Dinisulu Gene Tinnie, Onajide Shabaka, and Rick Ulysee, in addition to more than 30 other artists from the Americas. The artists work in diverse media, such as video installation, traditional painting, painting with unconventional materials such as stucco and adobe brick, and ceramics.
Says Puelo: “In making the show, I was drawing on my experience of being a curator and art historian, but also drawing on what it was like growing up in Texas. I can look at a Carlos Rosales-Silva painting and start thinking of the colors of Mexican restaurants and colors from the flea markets in San Antonio or from the Chicano mural movement... I’m drawing from these embedded personal spaces. [I hope] the audiences in Miami can go into the show and have those sorts of same experiences and recognize themselves there.”
"Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly." Through August 5 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; mocanomi.org. Admission costs $5 for the general public and is free for MOCA members and North Miami residents. An artist reception Thursday, June 14, costs $10 for the general public and is free to MOCA members and North Miami residents.