The current exhibit at 516 ARTS in Downtown Albuquerque is a thought-provoking look at our state’s often-checkered history as seen through the lens of art. Photos, ceramics, weaving, video and collage each do their part to illuminate some forgotten moments from New Mexico’s past: From Native American protesters in the 1970s to the role of Spanish Colonial shirts in commerce to the roots of our state’s black population back in the 1800s. Art Meets History: Many Worlds Are Born is the first part of a two-part exhibit. Many Worlds Are Born continues at the venue through May 14, and Art Meets History: Technologies of the Spirit opens on June 11.
“A premise of this exhibition is that history is not a single, linear narrative, but many threads woven together. Ruptures in the fabric of society can be traced to broken historical threads. While we may know our own history, we may not know the history of others. Erasure, denial, forced amnesia and an unwillingness to confront inconvenient and uncomfortable histories allow systems of oppression to persist. The antidote, I believe, is to learn as much as we can about the histories of others,” says co-curator Ric Kasini Kadour in his introduction to the exhibit.
According to 516 ARTS executive director Suzanne Sbarge, the two-part exhibit “emerged from conversations I had with Ric Kasini Kadour, director of the National Art Meets History initiative. I originally met him a few years ago at KolajFest in New Orleans, an international festival of collage art. During the COVID shutdown, we co-curated an online exhibition and catalog titled Radical Reimaginings presented by 516 ARTS. The Art Meets History work that Ric has been doing with museums across the country seemed like a great fit for us here in New Mexico because of the complexity of our state’s multiple histories as well as getting access to the Albuquerque Museum’s extensive photography archives and support from archivist Jillian Hartke.”
Part of the development of the project came from an online intensive workshop for artists last year called Artist Lab: Art Meets History in New Mexico, which was presented by 516 ARTS in partnership with Kadour’s organization’s Art Meets History and Kasini House, along with the Albuquerque Museum Photography Archives. Artists were encouraged to dig through the archives, searching for moments in our state’s history that hit home for them. The four-week program culminated in artists making proposals for the current exhibition at 516 ARTS. The co-curators (Kadour and Alicia Inez Guzmán, Ph.D.) then selected projects from these proposals and also “invited some artists who were already doing this kind of research-based work about their own cultural histories.” A total of nine artists are included in the first half of this exhibit.
Walking through the exhibit, viewers are encouraged to linger, not just over the artworks themselves, but over the stories they express. EveNSteve from Pawlet, Vermont picks through colorful old Route 66 postcards, creating a multiple-exposure photo collage contemplating how generations of tourists passing through our state and staying in simple roadside motels experienced “The Land of Enchantment.” Joanna Keane Lopez’s dirt-filled installation relates a personal family story, drawing a thoughtful connection between her grandfather’s process of manufacturing adobe bricks and the uranium-contaminated soil of New Mexico. Jeanna Penn dug up inspirational stories of Albuquerque’s often under-narrated historical black community, building collage artworks that celebrate everyday monuments like Albuquerque’s first black hotel, a black-owned gas station near Downtown and a day nursery “operated by the colored people of the section to care for the children of working parents.” The exhibit’s extensive signage is written in English and Spanish. QR codes direct viewers to even more in-depth stories. And there’s even a Companion Website (kasinihouse.com/many-worlds/index.html#index), which includes a detailed article about each art project.
“Each of the artworks in this exhibition is rooted in the artist’s history. They are boxes to unpack, onions to peel,” says co-curator Kadour. “We invite you to enjoy these artworks and to dig into the histories behind them. This is not an exhibition you visit once.”
516 ARTS is located at 516 Central Ave. SW. Art Meets History: Many Worlds Are Born continues through May 14. Art Meets History: Technologies of the Spirit opens with a public reception on June 11.