PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The David Winton Bell Gallery presents the premiere of The Strangest Fruit by San Antonio-based artist Vincent Valdez from Saturday, Oct. 19, to Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. An opening reception will be held on Friday, Oct. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in List Art Center.
Coinciding with the exhibition’s opening, the Bell Gallery will host a symposium on Friday, Oct. 18, from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the List Art Center auditorium. Monica Muñoz Martinez, the Carlos E. Castañeda Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas–Austin, will present “Reckoning with Anti-Mexican Violence: Visual Legacies of State-Sanctioned Violence in Texas, 1910-Present.” Daniel Hernandez, editor, VICE México, Mexico City, will follow with “Hanging Brown Men.” The symposium will conclude with an artist lecture by Valdez.
Both the symposium and exhibition aim to bring to light the persecution and oppression felt by contemporary Latinos in the United States.
“The lynching of Latinos in the United States is a troubled and largely unknown part of American History. In The Strangest Fruit, Valdez gives faces — those of contemporary Latinos in San Antonio, Texas — to those affected by historic and ongoing oppression. The symposium will complement the works by offering a space for people to gather together to listen, discuss, and make some sense of these difficult histories and their continuing influences in the United States and Mexico today,” said exhibition curator Ian Alden Russell.
Valdez is an accomplished draughtsperson in many mediums. Distinguished for their realism, his paintings and drawings are metaphorical critiques of social and political orders. The Strangest Fruit, a series of large-scale, oil-on-canvas works, places realistic depictions of people known by the artist within an historical subject: the lynching of Latinos in Texas and the United States more broadly. Slightly larger than life size, the figures float, decontextualized, on a white background. The ropes that bind them are no longer visible, and the composition becomes an ambiguous scene between hanging and ascension, Russell said. Occurring over a period of nearly 100 years, from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, the lynching of Latinos was often overlooked by mainstream American society, media, and history. The events were recorded, however, in local community leaflets and in folk ballads (corridos).
In the Bell Gallery exhibition, Valdez presents a special installation of these new works as an attempt to reconcile his style of metaphorical realism with the unwritten histories of these lynchings and the ongoing struggles and injustices experienced by contemporary Latinos in the United States, Russell said.
At the far end of the gallery, Valdez presents an adapted version of the poem "Strange Fruit" by Abel Meeropol (also known as Lewis Allan) written and performed in the mid-to-late 1930s as a protest song that exposed racism and the lynching of African Americans in the United States, capturing popular imagination through recordings by singers such as Billie Holiday. The text stands as a transcribed corrido — a ballad — inscribing the history of Latino lynching onto the wall of the gallery. The last line “... here is a strange and bitter crop” echoes amongst the pained and contorted figures, presenting them as subjective evidence of ongoing social and cultural oppression, Russell said.
A 2000 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Valdez began exploring imagery that pertained to social and political statements at a young age. In 2004, Stations, Valdez’s suite of monumental charcoal drawings, was shown at the McNay Museum in Texas, making him the youngest artist to have a solo show there. His other exhibition venues include The Los Angeles County Musuem of Art, The Snite Musuem of Art, The Frye Museum, The Mexican Museum of National Art (Chicago), The Parsons Museum in Paris, The El Paso Museum of Art, OSDE Buenos Aires, The Laguna Art Museum and others. Valdez lives and works in Fire Station #15, his restored 1928 fire station in San Antonio, Texas. This exhibition marks his solo debut on the East Coast.
The David Winton Bell Gallery is located on the first floor of List Art Center, 64 College St. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 401-863-2932 or visit www.brown.edu/bellgallery.