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Artists Reflect on Imperial Valley’s Shift in ‘Crisis y Cosecha’

Exhibition at Calexico’s San Diego State University-Imperial Valley Campus Focuses on Past 18 Months

“The Sold Land in Calexico City” by Karla-Lisseth Hernandez Muñoz, 2021. | COURTESY IMAGE

CALEXICO — An exhibition of more than 20 Imperial Valley artists on ways the area has transformed in the past 18 months under the pandemic is the focus of “Crisis y Cosecha” (translates to “Harvest of Crisis”), which will open to the public next week.

An opening reception for the exhibit will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, at the Steppling Art Gallery in Calexico on the campus of San Diego State University-Imperial Valley. This event also marks the re-opening of the gallery to the public after 18 months.

Untitled by Janneth Aguirre of Calexico, 2021. | COURTESY IMAGE

This live exhibition is an expansion of an online exhibit titled Imperial Valley Hope and Resilience, which sought to commemorate the collective hardship of the summer, while also highlighting the resilience of a community that experiences chronic crises that pre-date the pandemic, according to co-sponsors, Imperial Valley Equity and Justice Coalition and the Associated Students at SDSU-IV.   

This exhibition expands on themes of the virtual that happened at the height of the summer COVID surge. In “Crisis y Cosecha,” artists look toward the future with a kind of optimism forged from the rise of national and local social movements and public engagement that emerged from the pandemic, building on a longer history of local struggles on both sides of the border, according the co-sponsors.

 “There will be no ‘post’ pandemic return to normal. In the last year and half, we have lived not only through a global pandemic, but also the country’s largest racial and social justice movement, historic shifts in national and local politics, and the scorching realities of climate change,” Luis Flores, co-founder of the Equity and Justice Coalition and one of the show’s curators. “The exhibition invites artists to reflect on the transformative potential that comes with experiencing overlapping crises and traumas.”

One of the local artists featured will be Karla-Lisseth Hernandez Muñoz. Her painting, “The Sold Land in Calexico City,” depicts anonymous agricultural workers in a corridor of crops mirrored by law enforcement overlooking the dirt corridor along the U.S.-Mexico barrier.

“The white space is a metaphor about the difficulty of seeing farmworkers and migrant workers visually and recognizing legally their rights …,” reads her painting’s description.

Untitled from Mexicali Resiste, 2019. | COURTESY IMAGE

In addition to paintings, drawings, and poetry, the exhibition will also feature installation-based art. A wall of “wheat-pasting” artwork by Calexico artist Janneth Aguirre will accompany a large multi-pane mural by SDSU student artists reflecting on the struggles for bi-lingual education in the state, a commentary on linguistic inclusivity that remains relevant.

 Other artworks in the exhibition were created in social movement actions, including 20 crosses produced during last spring’s encampment alongside the U.S.-Mexico barrier in Calexico, commemorating the 13 migrants who lost their lives outside Holtville in March, and a sculptural work from Mexicali Resiste, a movement that has challenged the privatization of water in Mexicali since 2017 that started with efforts to build a Constellation brewery.

“It is exciting to re-open the gallery doors for in-person programming with such a great exhibition featuring the work of local artists, activists and creatives. Immediately after we organized the Imperial Valley Hope and Resilience online exhibition almost exactly one year ago, I knew I wanted to follow up with an event where some of the participating artists could gather and show their work (in a physical space),” said Luis Hernandez, director of the Steppling Gallery and an art instructor at SDSU-IV and Imperial Valley College.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic and other external forces still limit the movement and presence of bodies in space, but I’m glad that within the current restrictions, we were able to organize this first in-person show,” Hernandez said.

All participating artists will receive an honorarium with funds provided by the Latino Community Foundation. Some of the artwork will be for sale by the artists.

The exhibition will be on view through Nov. 4. Steppling Art Gallery hours are Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m.