ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Collage artists rummage through books and magazines, destroy them, then jigsaw the scraps into a beautiful madness.
As American society roils through the upheaval of a pandemic, racial injustice and economic collapse, Albuquerque’s 516 Arts invited 40 collage artists from nine countries and several indigenous nations to reconceive the times we live in through “Radical Reimaginings.” The resulting exhibit is available at 516arts.org.
Affordable and democratic in its means, collage boasts a history of contributing to activism and inspiring new ideas. Picasso and his fellow cubist Georges Braque coined the word. Techniques of collage were first used at the time of the invention of paper in China, around 200 B.C. Latin American artists turn it into posters, particularly during political unrest. Women used it to express themselves in their diaries during the repression of Victorian England.
“Collage has a long history as a feminist medium,” said Suzanne Sbarge, exhibition co-curator.
Ric Kasini Kadour, the publisher of Kolaj magazine, is the exhibit co-curator.
“Collage is my favorite medium, personally, because I am a collage artist myself,” Sbarge said. “It continues to be used in activism in many cultures.”
The form’s process of destruction and reconstruction mirrors the times we are experiencing, she said. It’s accessible to those with no artistic training. Collage can subvert images and text from the political environment with a sense of playfulness.
“The cut-and-paste aesthetic is just conducive for radical thinking,” Sbarge added.
The curators also asked these invited artists to respond to the fragment “I want to reimagine” in their artistic statements.
The Brooklyn, New York-based Lorna Simpson combines images of minerals such as turquoise and variscite (a green mineral) with old photographs of Black women to connect the figures with nature. In one collage, the gemstone transforms into a woman’s glorious, beehive hair. Simpson asks her viewer to imagine valuing Black beauty as naturally as we value jewels.
Albuquerque artist Karsten Creightney’s “No Surrender” confronts the viewer with a line of warriors. Yucca, prickly pear and pitaya dulce sprout from the desert foreground.
Clouds sift through a red sky. The scene of resistance is an invitation to join, to stand with those protecting the land.
“I want to reimagine the United States of America without white supremacy,” Creightney writes in his artist’s statement. “As a place in which indigenous people’s land rights matter, and the promises made by our government to African and Native Americans are finally honored. I want to reimagine our values such that children learn that Harriet Tubman and Chief Joseph were founders of a better America.”
In “That Sinking Feeling,” Corrales artist Neal Ambrose-Smith says he wants to reimagine a world where the National Gallery of Art collects contemporary native work. The Salish-Kootenai, Metis-Cree, Sho-Ban artist is the son of Corrales’ Jaune Quick-to-see Smith. The Washington, D.C.-based institution recently purchased a piece of her work, the first painting by a Native American artist to hang in the museum.
“I think they imagined we were all gone?” Ambrose-Smith writes in his statement. “I want to reimagine cultural sensitivity as innate rather than alien.”
In his statement, Mexico City’s Jay Berrones asks, “How would it feel to live in a skin firmly rooted in my Mexican identity unadulterated by assimilation into oppressive Anglo-American society?”
Berrones emerged from a culinary background, a major influence on his work. Today he replaces the edible ingredients with discarded scraps found in the overlooked corners of bookstores.
The voices of Black, Latinx, native and white Americans mingle with those from Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Canada, France, and Germany across the exhibition.
“To not seize this moment and begin the work of reimagination is to give into ruination, to cede hope,” Kadour writes.
516 Arts will host a free virtual round table of “Women in Collage” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, at 516arts.org.
_WebHeadline”>EXCERPT: Affordable and democratic in its means, collage boasts a history of contributing to activism and inspiring new ideas.