Students seek to define youth through art at Young Bloods exhibition

Anna McCreary

Juan Pablo Rivera was 13 when the first shooting he remembers occurred in his hometown of Tampico, Mexico. 

Now, the studio art sophomore reflects through his artwork on the way growing up in one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities shaped his early identity. One of his latest works is currently displayed at the Young Bloods exhibition in the Fine Arts building on campus. Curated by students in the Center Space Project (CSP), Young Bloods is a showcase of the vast artistic ability of the University’s students, focused around individual definitions of youth.  

Rivera’s work is a video called “Un Grito de Guerra,” which means war cry in Spanish. It begins with a shot of Rivera in vibrant color, running his hands through his red hair. The video then divides into three panels, color transitioning to black and white. Three acts play simultaneously: First, Rivera stands on a beach, waving the Mexican flag, then he takes a razor and shaves off his hair, and finally, he stumbles through tall woods, shackled at both the hands and feet. 

While “Un Grito de Guerra” represents his relationship to Mexico and his identity, Rivera said the message he’s attempting to communicate is much greater than himself.

“It’s not only my war cry — I was really trying to speak for citizens of Mexico and the oppression that we’ve dealt with from the government,” Rivera said. 

Taking its name from  Mexico’s national anthem, “Un Grito de Guerra” is what Rivera describes as a statement of his conflicted Mexican identity, both in his pride and his concern for the state of the country’s government. In the background of the video plays a deep, humming sound reminiscent of the anthem. 

Originally, the video was a response to a movement in Mexico City, where citizens protested the injustice of the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in 2014. 

“It was the biggest thing happening in Mexico at that time, and I was here [at UT],” Rivera said. “It was my first semester in college, but I wanted to be there, with my people.” 

Rivera sought to express his frustration at the government’s failures through his art, joining the massive artistic response that followed the Ayotzinapa disappearances in Mexico.

 All acts in the video represent war, Rivera said, particularly the shot of him shaving his head.   

“We have so much attachment to our hair, identity wise,” Rivera said. “It’s also really rare to be a redhead in Mexico, so I wanted to show this precious thing, and then losing that. Showing myself getting rid of that is a representation of the punishment I’m receiving, and it’s like getting ready to go to war.” 

The Young Bloods exhibition includes a variety of media ranging from paintings to photography. Jade Walker, CSP sponsor and director of the Visual Arts Center, said she has seen CSP grow greatly since its creation in 2010. 

“[The students] were given a space within the Visual Arts Center to curate, along with a small budget,” Walker said. “I am so happy to see [the students’] energy and excitement directly result in programs the gallery produces.” 

Plan II and advertising junior Kelsey Boylan’s work is less visual, but more heavily based in creative writing and photography.

Over winter break, Boylan said she went to a flea market with $50 and came out with an antique Remington typewriter. Her piece, “Holidays I’ve Had,” highlights pieces of memories of her youth through old family photos and autobiographical vignettes on notecards.

“I would like to think that if you read through all of it, you’d get sort of a sense of how I grew up,” Boylan said. “I wanted a few moments that were a little darker, a little lighter, and some that didn’t really make sense or were open to interpretation. It’s intended to be very fragmented, so it’s not a complete sense of me, just little tiny moments.” 

Boylan said she considered presenting it in book form, but disliked the linear chronology of that layout.

“I wanted it to err more on the side of abstraction, and I liked the idea that someone could go up to it and read two, or read the whole thing, depending on how they were feeling,” Boylan said. “I like the idea a lot of playing around with the question, ‘What can I do in this space that I couldn’t do anywhere else?’”