Santa Barbara County Arts Commission hosts exhibit celebrating Californian Mixtecos
BY JOE PAYNE
The recent opening reception for the Betteravia Gallery’s latest exhibit was buzzing with voices. The Santa Barbara County Arts Commission welcomed the traveling exhibit Campos de Ensueños along with the photographers whose work is showcased therein, and he commission pulled out all the stops.
There was food, drink, artist presentations, a video segment, live dance performances, poetry readings, and even a short concert by rapper Una Isu. The entire focus of the show is portraits of Californian Mixtecos. These include farmworkers, artists, advocates, and more, all captured by the lenses of Ricardo Palavecino and Antonio Arredondo Juarez.
The photos by Juarez are all of farmworkers in stark black and white. The photos are mounted on waxed produce boxes and framed in the rough, wooden shipping pallets that carry those boxes. Juarez welcomed the visitors to reach out and touch some of the crates for a multisensory experience.
“A big part of the show was to educate people who have never been in the fields, that’s why the frames that I create are repurposed pallets,” he said. “It’s more of a tactile element to create that link. So it’s not just the visual person there, but it also gives you an element that you can relate to and link them together.”
The photos by Palavecino are printed much larger, and often in color. Palavecino is a seasoned photojournalist with experience all over the world. Several of the photos in the show are already up on his profile on nationalgeographic.com, which includes scores of his portraits. During the reception he also shared videos that included interviews with two of his subjects.
Campos de Ensueños happened thanks to the collaboration of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission’s Chief Curator Maiza Hixson and Craig Rosen of the Ventura County Arts Council. Rosen initially organized the exhibit thanks to the help of the Mixteco Indigenous Community Organizing Project (MICOP), who helped him contact Palavecino and Juarez and get their photography together in one show.
The exhibit is gaining popularity the more it shows, Rosen explained.
“It really is just growing. The Santa Maria event is the biggest and most exciting so far,” Rosen said. “When I first met somebody from MICOP and learned that there was a group of people called the Mixteco that don’t even speak Spanish, they have their own language which isn’t even written, I could only imagine how marginalized they could be in this country, and I just wanted to work with them.
“At that time I didn’t know that there was going to be somebody running for president who was going to vilify immigrants in a way that is just so un-American,” he added, “so the show has taken on even more significance.”
Rosen is already in talks with venues in several counties where Campos de Ensueños may show next, but for now, the exhibit can be found at the Joseph Centeno Betteravia Government Center during regular business hours through Nov. 25.
For local Mixtecos who attended the opening, like Marco Leon Flores, the exhibit marked an important acknowledgment for local Mixtecos and migrant workers.
“This event is very important to show what kind of people the migrants are,” Flores said. “It shows that we want to grow and be part of the society and community and contribute to it in the right way.”
The feeling isn’t limited to those just viewing the art, but creating it as well. Juarez told the Sun that he first came to America without documentation, and understands firsthand what it’s like to feel marginalized and out of place in a community.
Campos de Ensueños seeks to help provide that identity, he said, while at the same time educating people about Mixtecos. Hopefully some will gain empathy and understanding through the art, he said.
“I want them to see that person as another human being,” Juarez said. “When you enter this country illegally you are dehumanized, and they label you with names to get that across, like ‘wetback,’ ‘alien,’ or ‘illegal,’ so it’s no longer another human being. The concept is to bridge those gaps and minimize the distance between the viewer and the subject.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne always enjoys listening to Mixtecos speak their language. Contact him