“With the arrival of neoliberalism, Mexico’s fields were left to suffer a slow death, the border filled with cheap labor, and young farmers turned desperately to the horrifying conditions of the sweatshops. This exhibition exposes Mexico’s forgotten rural landscapes and its tumultuous suburban landscapes.”
— Curator Joaquín Trujillo

Three contemporary Mexican artists—Clemente Castor, Carlos Iván Hernández and Federico Martínez—reveal fresh perspectives of Mexico’s rural and domestic spaces in an excellent exhibition, Lamentable Tierra / Sorrow Land, at Baxter Street CCNY in New York.

We are living through a turbulent moment in history, shaped by the current US administration’s hostile position towards Mexico. The enforcement of a “zero tolerance” policy that seeks to detain all immigrants who cross the southern US border without authorization has resulted in widespread family separation. Now, more than ever, its is crucial to hear these authentic voices on the subject of their homeland.

Estado De Naturaleza © Carlos Iván Hernández

Carlos Iván Hernández, born in Mexico City, studied visual arts and graphic design in Hermosillo, Sorora and Mexico City. Working across sculpture and photography, the artist uses both man-made and organic material collected from near his hometown in Hermosillo, Sonara. His photographs depict thorny, mud cake sculptures. These organic totems stand against gray granite walls. The texture is potent and you can feel the weight of their presence. Most of the prints are black and white, reminiscent of grainy Manuel Álvarez Bravo photographs. One color photograph stands out from the pack: a construction of prickly sticks with doppelgänger shadows that form their own mass. Looking at the print, we waver between the danger of the material and the fragility of the objects’ arrangements.

La pared de abobes © Federico Martinez

Federico Martínez, an artist from Jerez, a town in central Mexico, has been involved in 10 group exhibitions and 3 solo exhibitions in Zacatecas. Here, he has two distinct types of work on view, the first group compelling and effective in transporting our imaginations to the artist’s world. They are lush, large color landscapes featuring inlaid smaller framed prints. The frame-within-a-frame strategy suggests a personal history with the terrain. In La pared de abodes, a small framed print of a dense, earth-colored wall is centered on top of a grand landscape. Within the landscape a green band sweeps across the middle. The shape mimics mountains but the texture suggests fabric. It is difficult not to think of the border wall, yet the image remains ambiguous, unclear if that is the artist’s intention.

The second group of work consists of tall, vertical, loose prints. Long rolls of paper are suspended from high above, anchored to constructed boxes on the floor. One piece features multiple vibrant sunsets. Another combines numerous black and white images of a woman floating in a cosmic, dark sky. These pieces have a dreamy vibe and the boxes give the work a distinct object-oriented feeling.

Still from “Principe De Paz” © Clemente Castor

The exhibition continues in the gallery’s project space and cafe two doors down at 128 Baxter Street where you can watch Clemente Castor’s thought provoking film, Principe de Paz (watch the trailer here). In one scene, the camera slowly follows young boys on a journey through the outskirts of Mexico City. The deliberate pace and rich, dark greenery evokes a feeling of adventure and camaraderie.

Also on display in the project space is a rotating selection of zines from the Baxter Street of CCNY library. In support of artist’s books and zines, Baxter St at CCNY has presented an annual Zine and Photo Book Fair every year. Luis M Diaz’s remarkable The Grass On the Other Side stands out—a well crafted and intimate look at a family’s day to day activities. It is a small but potent black and white publication. The opening image pictures a small family standing in the distance, in front of a large, concrete layered wall. Their small scale indicates that they are but one small group up against a larger, powerful structure.

— Christine Callahan

Editor’s Note: Lamentable Tierra / Sorrow Land, presented in partnership with non-profit organization SOMA and the Celebrate Mexico Now Festival, is on view until October 25th, 2019 at Baxter Street, CCNY New York.