Knockdown Center, New York 2020

Divining el Mundo Zurdo: Divining the Left-Handed World
Knockdown Center, New York, NY
June 20 – August 9, 2020

Curatorial Statement

Racial imposter syndrome can be defined as living at the intersection of multiple identities and cultures. It is a feeling of disconnection one has from their racial identity due to an inability to speak a language native to their family, or because they do not possess specific bodily traits, or because of repeated remarks from family and strangers telling them they do not belong.

It is in this space of enigmatic relation that the exhibition Divining el mundo zurdo resides, featuring the artists Laura Aguilar, Virginia Colwell, Claudio Dicochea, Carlee Fernandez, Ramiro Gomez, Libby Paloma, Alexandra Robinson, and Linda Vallejo.

Artists in the show unravel racial imposter syndrome from a Mexican-American perspective and consider the residual effects of cultural gatekeeping, where individuals or groups of people decide who is allowed to claim culture, tradition, and language as their own. Historical accounts are utilized by the artists in Divining to study racial relations and deep-seated beliefs about ethnic  belonging. Casta paintings made in the 1800s are referenced by Claudio Dicochea, for example, to underline historic categorizations of people and a fixation for pure bloodlines in the Americas.

Dicochea satirizes this genre through comic book characters and pop cultural icons to note the constructs of race and ethnicity and to question who dictates narratives around kinship. A fluidity of latinidad is explored in Linda Vallejo’s work who considers the expansion of multiethnicity in the census beginning in the year 2000. Vallejo’s work highlights the government ‘allowing’ a multiplicity of identity as a more formal tactic of cultural gatekeeping. Together, the artists in Divining consider heritage amongst historical infrastructures of the Americas and demonstrate how it is continuously evolving in manners that both honor and realize their lineage. Family members of Mexican-American descent are often silent regarding their experiences of immigration or navigation of identity politics, which ultimately perpetuates a history of concealment and keeps our identities bound to Anglo-racist accounts of the law, the land, and entitlement.

Many immigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 1900s were encouraged to become ‘more white’ by speaking English in school, or concealing native traditions, or by altering their hair or clothing to keep themselves and family members safe from racism by making their bodies silent.  Assimilating to white culture additionally allowed immigrants and their families to gain
financial security and educational opportunities, but at the cost of feeling separated from heritage. Divining el mundo zurdo discusses the role assimilation has had in Mexican-American households through the work of Libby Paloma. The artist utilizes micro beads to assiduously create kitsch ofrendas to engage with and pay tribute to all of the calculations her family made to exist within biased educational, financial, and housing systems. Her use of kitsch forms a celebratory gesture in cultural recovery and directly counters the racist legacy of colonialism that continues to encourage assimilation and colorism.

Despite the exhibition focus of a Mexican-American identity, the feelings associated with racial imposter syndrome are often shared by mixed race individuals from various backgrounds. A prevalent experience is intergenerational trauma, where family members endure hardships of immigration and racism and pass down these experiences genetically to their offspring who are unable to grasp the circumstances of their anxieties or mental faculties. Intergenerational trauma can also produce an active forgetting of familial storytelling, which causes diminished feeling of belonging for offspring. Through the work of Carlee Fernandez, Divining el mundo zurdo reflects on individual methods used to understand emotions carried within the body. Fernandez imagines scenarios of family lore and engages with ephemera to acknowledge hardships and produce joy as she processes her identity. Her methods recognize that racial imposter syndrome is not a singular experience.

The exhibition title (Left Handed World in English) is borrowed from the work of Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa who advocates for communal relationships across differences and privileges ways of knowing and being through the body in el mundo zurdo. By taking on such movement in the world, the individual becomes the authority in defining themselves and does not place wholehearted emphasis on exterior belief systems, laws, borderlines, or standards for guidance. The title also references left-winged politics and liberal mindsets that think beyond religious truths or nationalized traditions known to dictate a limiting understanding of identity. Through a study of artworks that harness attributes of passing, mixed race identity, assimilation, immigration, and intergenerational trauma the exhibition will acknowledge a sense of self and kinship that denotes strength and solace. Divining el mundo zurdo will look towards new alliances that must emerge amongst individuals who feel like we must silently recognize parts of ourselves.

Tanya Gayer, Curator

Tanya Gayer’s curatorial and research practice is motivated by her interest in history-making, in understanding how we are influenced by time and place, and by examining the cultural impacts archives or databases have when they are regulated through historical bias. A recent curatorial project of Gayer’s opened in June 2019 at Root Division in San Francisco and focused on the governance of individual history seen in security questions (e.g. what is your mother’s maiden name) to discuss online authorship, culture-construction, and systems of knowledge. The selected artists in the exhibition considered the fragility of memory and identity amongst digital data noise to account for information that cannot be quantified through such constructs like security
software. Like many of Gayer’s curatorial projects, the exhibition confronted an infrastructure that categorizes and limits bodies to reveal requisite activism, awareness, and dialog to alter systems that shape identity and culture. Her curatorial practice has been dedicated to sorting through such complex dynamics that denote a status quo in culture to facilitate more inclusive communal interactions and how we know each other.

In fall 2019 she chief curated the Soundwave 9 Festival, a festival dedicated to sound art, performance, and dance. Gayer selected guest curators and artists for the festival to broaden the definition of sound art and performance art to create a more supportive environment in an evolving Bay Area. This program included art parties, choral arrangements, and drag performance that explored intergenerational history; the cultivation of safe spaces for healing and joy within black, brown, and queer communities; art grown out of migration and displacement; and our current political
reality of extreme polarized values. Previous exhibitionary projects curated by Gayer have been exhibited at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, The Internet Archive, Hubbell Street Galleries, Gray Area, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, Embark Gallery, Pro Arts, among others. Her writing has been published in Daily Serving, in exhibition catalogs associated with Living Room Light Exchange, CULT Exhibitions, Holland Project, Pro Arts, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, and co-produced a one-off audio podcast for a Living Room Light Exchange publication. She has lectured at UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, California College of the Arts, and at the CODAME Art + Tech Festival #ARTOBOT. Gayer holds two masters degrees in Curatorial Practice and Visual + Critical Studies from California College of the Arts and a BFA from the University of Nevada, Reno. She has held positions at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Richmond Art Center, Brian Gross Fine Art, 6th on 7th Gallery, among others. Currently she works as the Exhibitions Assistant at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is a co-curator for Living Room Light Exchange, and is an independent curator working between the Bay Area and New York.