Taking ‘Flight’ at UNM Art Museum

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Albuquerque artist Sheri Crider works on "Flight." (Courtesy of the UNM Art Museum)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A flock of more than 600 migratory birds soars inside the University of New Mexico Art Museum, symbols of hope and freedom.

Albuquerque artist Sheri Crider created “Flight” as a meditation on empathy in a world of jailed migrants, asylum seekers and refugees amid a spectacle of fear and hatred.

The artist took flight within her own story – drug and alcohol abuse, incarceration – and with the help of more than 150 community members. The exhibition will hang through Dec. 1.

For Crider, the owner of the Sanitary Tortilla Factory gallery, 401 Second SW, the exhibit connects the personal with the political. “I was strung out on heroin and crack and lived on the streets of Phoenix.”

Arrested for the first time at 18, Crider cycled among city and county jails and treatment centers. She won a fine arts scholarship to the University of Arizona, then made the mistake of thinking she could control her drinking. She lost her scholarship but managed to crawl her way back. In 1997, she earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of New Mexico.

Now 50, she’s been sober for 25 years.

“I know incarceration is a very dehumanizing experience,” she said. “I cannot imagine it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t speak the language. Companies are making tons of money off this dehumanization.”

She crafted the birds from discarded church pew literature holders she discovered in a dumpster. Birds became the perfect metaphor for migration and freedom.

“Birds are migrating across borders constantly,” she said. “And people have moved throughout time to seek better resources.”

Her avian fascination started decades ago with a bird mobile hand-carved by her grandfather. The ragged, upside-down wings represent his granddaughter’s flight through addiction, homelessness and incarceration.

It hovers over the gallery stairway.

“Flight” includes a workshop and fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 15, an artist’s talk at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 3 and a panel discussion with Crider, cultural organizer Gabrielle Uballez and educator Daryl Lucero at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

The exhibition is partly sponsored by the Right of Return Fellowship, supporting formerly incarcerated artists creating original works furthering criminal justice reform.

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