“Caravan,” a group show at Concordia College in St. Paul, brings emotional sensitivity to a tense topic: the humanitarian and political crises triggered by migration in the Americas and the caravans making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.
This ambitious exhibit brings together 31 international artists in 13 collaborations. Some express the overwhelming sense of loss in leaving one’s homeland and becoming strangers in a strange land. Others echo prayers of protection for migrants, while some address violence against Mexican citizens.
Xavier Tavera and Jennifer Frisbie-Mukarram comment on the U.S. flower-import industry in “Uprooted/Desarraigo,” a still life in three horizontal photos that shows a flower arrangement hanging above a bouquet of dried blooms. The artists suggest Americans are open to bringing in the fruits of laborers in countries like Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, but not the workers themselves.
“The Things We Left Behind,” by Alonso Sierraita and Lis Loudon, is a series of white paper-and-polystyrene objects — a half suitcase, a staircase, a kite — sticking out of a wall. These ghostly objects float like residual memories.
“La Carga,” by father-daughter duo Guillermo Cuellar and Alana Cuellar, is a quiet meditation on its title, consisting of a series of small ceramic pots winding across the tops of three pedestals. An accompanying wall label unpacks the meaning of carga (Spanish for “cargo”), offering definitions like “responsibility in an unfortunate circumstance, excessive effort or suffering.”
The mixing of languages and various Latinx cultures creates an atmosphere of compassion in the gallery, approaching the migrant crisis in a non-sensational way. The work feels close to the subject, something that news reports and political discourse often lack.
(10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Ends Jan. 3. Concordia Gallery, 1301 Marshall Av., St. Paul. Free. 651-641-8278 or csp.edu/concordia-art-gallery)
Unless you just awoke from a 20-year nap under an enormous rock, you’ve heard about how people are addicted to their phones. Baguss jumps on that basic critique in an show titled “You Were Never Here” that made me want to take a selfie out of sheer boredom.
Baguss has created three backdrops at the Minneapolis Institute of Art — a billowing wave of manufactured blue sky and fluffy white clouds hanging from the ceiling and extending onto the floor, a wall of pixelated forest, and a hanging circular sheet of a lake and a forest — that people can stand in the middle of. While critical of people who visit nature to take selfies, she’s also created perfect sites for #artselfies, thus perpetuating exactly what she is critiquing in a way that is meta but does not offer a fresh take on this very played-out subject.
The work, presented through the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, is as bland as an anti-selfie meme posted on National Selfie Day, or someone complaining about “the kids today” while they lazily swipe on their own Instagram. (Full disclosure: I wrote the book “The Selfie Generation,” which argues for the selfie as a potentially radical mode of self-expression for marginalized people.) Instead of digging deeper into the complexities of our technological world, Baguss’ exhibition repeats what has already been said ad infinitum.
(10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Wed. & Sat.; 10-9 Thu.-Fri.; 11-5 p.m. Sun. Ends March 1. Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls. Free. 1-888-642-2787 or new.artsmia.org)
Elsewhere at Mia, Buffalohead’s detailed acrylic, graphite and collage works on paper create contemporary myths using animal characters — trickster coyotes, fat raccoons, caged rabbits — to address issues such as displacement of indigenous people, historical trauma and the strength and resilience of Native communities, particularly women.
Buffalohead knows this history intimately. Her ancestors were forcibly relocated from Nebraska to what is now Oklahoma by the 1870s. A member of the Ponca tribe of Oklahoma, she was part of Mia’s recent exhibition “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” with a piece that playfully but cuttingly commented on the takedown of “Scaffold” in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Called “The Garden,” the work included a rabbit perched atop “Scaffold,” feeding the iconic cherry of “Spoonbridge & Cherry” to a docile girl while a hanged rabbit sits at her feet and a coyote grabs the blue rooster.
This kind of biting moral commentary, told as a sort of fairy tale, is typical of Buffalohead’s work. Her exhibition at Mia continues this storytelling tradition. It’s instructive to know that the five pieces in this show — some stretching up to 12 feet long — should be read right to left.
“White Saviour Complex” is the most comical. A woman in a red dress lies on her back, while a coyote stands on top of her, dangling a bird above her mouth. At her feet, a raccoon holds a piece of ribbonwork that says “good intentions” — a common phrase used to defend someone who’s part of what writer Teju Cole calls the White-Savior Industrial Complex — the kind of self-congratulatory do-gooder who “supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.” Is the woman being baited by the coyote to “do good” without realizing her own motivations and white privilege?
Buffalohead’s masterful work offers critiques of ongoing injustices with the power of a children’s book that still haunts long into adulthood.
(On view through Sept. 6, 2020.)