Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos: The Human Landscape of Mexican Migration

October 5, 2008 – January 4, 2009

Consider Mexican migration into the United States—one of the defining factors in the American socio-political landscape—as seen through Chicano/Mexican visual arts. Featuring paintings, works on paper, photographs, video, retablos and more, these works explore the struggles and visions of migrants, as well as their spiritual practices and the roles of these traditions during difficult journeys. Work by more than forty artists—including Salomón Huerta, Patssi Valdéz, Gronk, Victor Ochoa, Magú, Felipe Ehrenberg, Delilah Montoya, Malaquías Montoya and others—consider themes of journeys, boundaries, and barriers, urban landscapes and human geographies, and negotiating identities.

Exhibition In Depth

Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos/Faces Seen Hears Unknown: The Human Landscape of Mexican Migration considers Mexican migration into the United States—one of the defining factors in America’s and especially California’s socio-political landscape—as seen through Chicano/Mexican visual arts. Featuring paintings, works on paper, photographs, video, and installations, this bilingual exhibition explores the struggles and visions of migrants as well as the ways their spiritual practices are engaged during difficult journeys. More than forty artists—including Maria Elena Castro, Felipe Ehrenberg, Gronk, Salomón Huerta, Magú, Delilah Montoya, Malaquías Montoya, Victor Ochoa, and Patssi Valdéz—consider themes of journeys, boundaries and barriers, urban landscapes and human geographies, and the negotiation of identities in works dating from the 1970s to the present.

The title phrase “Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos” is taken from one of the most popular dichos, or sayings, in Mexico and in Chicano/Mexican communities in the U.S. It translates to “faces seen, hearts unknown,” and refers to superficial judgments made about people, based solely on appearances. This dicho cautions that in order to truly know a person or a community, one needs genuine access to their emotions. As such, this exhibition seeks to facilitate deep, human contact with the heart of Mexican migration to the United States.

The exhibition opens with an introduction to the general theme of the journey, and explores the mythical and everyday experiences of people immersed in migratory experiences. Christina Shallcross’s installation of votives covered with harsh scenes of border crossings provokes consideration of the meanings of migrants’ votive petitions for safe crossings. Also in this section is Malaquías Montoya’s iconic serigraph Undocumented (1981), in which barbed wire crisscrossing the image of a person is a direct reference to the walls, fences and wire mesh that divide Mexico from the United States. Humor comes into play, as well, in the work of comic creator Lalo Alcaráz, whose daily syndicated strip La Cucaracha provides a pop culture outlet for the expression and consideration of issues pertaining to Mexican migration.

The next section touches on the barriers and limits—physical, social, cultural, and geopolitical—that are found along migratory routes. Ricardo Duffy’s silkscreen The New Order casts George Washington as the symbol of the United States experience, while popular imagery such as the Marlboro logo, the Caltrans sign of undocumented immigrants running across a road, and a Western landscape littered with skulls depict a not-so-glorious American culture.

The works in the section “Human Geographies” explore the transformations of the migrants’ cultural values, institutions, and symbols. Everyday objects emerge as points of entry into a personal geography marked as much by the trauma of the crossing as by the faith in a prosperous and peaceful future. A new mixed media installation created by Maria Elena Castro for the Fowler’s presentation is titled Green, Go!, and addresses notions of immigrating for opportunity, as well as the clash of colliding identities and perceptions.

In “Negotiating Identity,” artists including Alejandro Almanza, Esperanza Gama, and Maceo Montoya examine the fragmentation, dislocation, and rearticulation of old identities into new and complex ones. In the final section visitors enter the realm of memory, where artists consider how we understand our past while positively moving into the future. Here six photographs from Dulce Pinzón’s whimsical yet poignant series La verdadera historia de los superhéroes (The True Story of Superheroes) depict comic book protagonists and masked Mexican luchadores in the most common of circumstances, washing clothes in a Laundromat, unpacking boxes of vegetables in New York, and working as doormen.


Shifting Perspectives on Visual Culture And The U. S. Mexico Borderlands (audio only)

Exhibition Credits

This exhibition was organized by the Snite Museum of Art and the Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Humana Foundation Endowment for American Art provided essential funding for the exhibition and catalog.

The Los Angeles presentation was made possible through the generosity of the Donald B. Cordry Memorial Fund and the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director’s Discretionary Fund. Additional support was provided by the Yvonne Lenart Public Programs Fund, the Chicano Studies Research Center, the UCLA Latin American Institute, and Manus, the support group of the Fowler Museum.