Visual Arts Center introduces two photo exhibitions by Mexican American artists and UT students

Sydney Boo, General News Reporter

The UT Visual Arts Center opened two new photo exhibitions Sept. 23: “El Otro Lado,” a look into the identities of four Mexican American artists, and “Learning Tuscany: Summer Pilgrims,” a collection of photos by 20 undergraduate students during a study abroad in Tuscany. 

Open until Dec. 10, El Otro Lado is a collection of work from four Mexican American artists who are the children of immigrants. Their work explores their family’s experiences, and the artists use photography “to explore the dynamics of injustice and to examine what occurs when humans are labeled as ‘illegal,’” according to the Visual Arts Center website. The creators also highlight the experience of navigating generational trauma, the cost of exploitative labor and the pursuit of the American Dream, artist Jennifer Villanueva said.

“We are exploring the intricacies of domestic spaces and family archives in relation to the growing Mexican population in the United States, and what that experience entails,” artist Sophie Lopez said. “Being the children of immigrants, (we) were offered a really unique insight, so we went ahead and documented that.” 

The four artists collaborated after graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Lopez said. She said her work is focused through her family archive, and she aims to weave narratives of her family’s experiences through still lifes in controlled environments.

The exhibition was coordinated by the Center Space Project, a student-run undergraduate collective that holds annual open calls for exhibition ideas, said Villanueva, a fine arts graduate student. She said she started photography by documenting her immigrant grandmother’s journey of fighting chronic kidney disease, inspired by her take on life despite the difficulties of being an undocumented woman.

“It was really important to me to focus on … what it means to be undocumented, what it means to survive, having limited resources, medically (and) economically,” Villanueva said. “It’s important to have an exhibition that talks about … how their legal status truly affects their daily lives.”

In December, the artists will hold an open call for submissions to the exhibition, where audience members can submit their family archives to share their own narratives, Lopez said.

Lopez said exhibitions like “El Otro Lado” are important for representation and providing a space for people to identify themselves, especially in environments like a university campus where there are younger generations shaping their identities.

The El Otro Lado exhibition is open alongside the “Learning Tuscany: Summer Pilgrims” display, which closes Saturday and is located on the second floor of the VAC. This exhibition was created by undergraduate students as they documented their summer study program.

The exhibition focuses on the idea of pilgrimage, which acted as a recurring and changing theme throughout the entire program, said Marisol Cacho, an art history junior who contributed to the exhibition.

“We were learning about what pilgrimage is, how it affects our views on tourism, and how it affects (the way) we travel,” Cacho said. “Do we just go to a place to see the popular places and museums? Or do we go there to actually learn about the culture, the places and the people?”

Students received the task of capturing global tourism as the contemporary mode of pilgrimage, but in a perspective never before seen beyond “pretty postcard pictures,” Cacho said. She said the program helped her understand the curatorial process.

“Seeing all the art and all the monuments that I learned about in my previous classes, and living (in Tuscany) and having lectures in front of (them) was completely life-changing,” Cacho said.. “There’s no better way to learn about pilgrimage and art history (than) when you’re there.”

The Visual Arts Center is also currently hosting a third exhibition called, “Social Fabric: Art and Activism in Contemporary Brazil,” a collection of work by 10 contemporary artists previously reported on by the Daily Texan