In historical archives, you can really feel the past. There's something very real, something you can touch and feel in the dust, the ornate quill pen script and inkblots on cracked parchment paper.
You get this same sensual feeling of the "real" from the new multimedia exhibition Memorias de Fuego by José Hugo Sánchez in El Cubo Gallery at Tijuana's CECUT.
Like much of his work, this show explores US-Mexico relations and border mythologies. Sánchez engages with history, not in the form of dead artifacts, but as a living, real genealogy of the present.
Sánchez's monumental prints and woodcuts are the prominent featured works in this show. The "Codex" works stand out: long 25 foot scrolled heavy paper banners hang from the ceiling, their yellowing paper and woodcut prints evoke the ancient Nahuatl Codices of Chimalpopoca, of Tlatelolco, and others produced by Aztec priests who documented royal ceremonies involving Spanish and Aztec rulers.
On these and other printed works, Sánchez mixes and remixes contemporary and ancient images: archeological artifacts, the statue of liberty, Mickey Mouse, Frida Kahlo and Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon appear alongside Aztec dancers, images of atrocities, body parts.
The effect is intense. Shocking. At once beautiful and strange. In these works, the viewer feels the sage wisdom of Mexico profundo, the all too fresh memory of Ayotzinapa, the haunting presence of brute power.
Writing about modern history, the French scholar Michel de Certeau noted that by creating a deep gulf of separation between our present moment and a strange past, modern history stifles genuine engagement with these events. "These ghosts find access through writing," de Certeau wrote, "on the condition that they remain forever silent." (The Writing of History, 1975).
In contrast, Sánchez employs what de Certeau called "a process of coexistence and reabsorption" to bring past and present together: The massive physical presence of the hanging paper scrolls, the sensuous feel of woodcut prints, the monumental scale of ancient fossil remains awaken the senses.
A prolific artist whose tangled border roots reach back to the Nopal Centenario of Felipe Almada and Benjamin Serrano, to Markus Kurticks and Guillermo Gomez-Peña and the Border Arts Workshop, José Hugo Sánchez has mastered multiple mediums such as performance, installation, video art, bilingual text, monumental printmaking, drawing, and digital technologies.
Outside CECUT, twin banners announce the current exhibitions of David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Hugo Sánchez. With this work, Sánchez indeed merits his place among the great artists of our time.
The exhibition Memorias de Fuego is on view in Gallery 3 of El Cubo, open Tues-Sunday 10 AM to 7 PM. Free admission on Sundays.
Click here for our gallery of photos from the opening of the show.