LA JOLLA, Cali. — Born in Tijuana in 1977, artist Griselda Rosas has her ear to the ground on both sides of the California-Mexico border, listening intently to the eternal stories of conquest, colonization, and conversion. The stories flow into drawings and sculptures, multilayered imagery in which thread, paint, and collage combine to create an almost archaeological presentation of hybrid cultures and histories.
Rosas, who earned an MFA at San Diego State University and teaches art at a local community college, is experiencing a “sort of emergence” as Jill Dawsey, senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. The artist’s first solo show, Yo te cuido (“I take care of you”), is currently on view at the museum’s La Jolla location. According to Dawsey, the title is an expression of care and concern as well as a promise of protection. It springs, in large part, from Rosas working with the positioning of objects such as slingshots and toy soldiers as both actual toys and symbols of war, colonization, and cultural fragmentation.
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Dawsey and co-curator Anthony Graham have assembled a rigorous and riveting show in the museum’s newly renovated galleries, designed by Annabelle Selldorf. The soaring, revamped space provides an ideal forum for Rosas’s expansive sculptures and textile drawings, allowing the colors and interplay of materials to breathe.
In this show, Rosas addresses traditional border themes: the imposition of Catholicism on Indigenous populations, colonial occupation, and the richness of bilingualism, as well as iconic cultural references such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and Indigenous dance regalia. She layers her material by incorporating machine and hand stitching, skills learned from the women in her family, which give the pieces a quilted look. The machine stitching, she says, breaks the surface of the work’s paper base, which she then embroiders and collages back together, much as the border fence splits California from Baja California, Mexico.
Visitors are greeted by an installation of giant, handmade slingshots hung, like stringed instruments, on the wall directly across from the gallery entrance. The installation, Un camello en el ojo de una aguja (“A camel in the eye of a needle”), embodies Rosas’s approach, incorporating elements from the natural world, as well as references to colonization and the traumatizing encounters between Indigenous populations on both sides of the border under European and American occupations.
The slingshots are made of tree branches from her parent’s yard in Tijuana; Rosas strings them with rubber sourced in the Mexican state of Michoacán, as a tribute to the Indigenous traditions of Mexico and Latino populations on the US side of the border.
These themes continue in collaged and painted tableaux that comment on border identity through symbolism and juxtaposed imagery. Many of the tableaux invoke fantastic beasts that stand in for colonization, serene Madonnas, and terrified horses, all metaphors for the memories of cultural and religious imposition by the Spanish and Americans.
In “Paraísos sumarios de la Fe (misa fronteriza)” (“Summary of faith (border mass),” 2022), Rosas references both colonial and traditional Mexican religious imagery. The foreign (Spanish) presence comes first in the guise of gray-hooded penitents and a semi-concealed Madonna (Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Indigenous patron saint of Mexico). This is overlaid by a loose map of the Americas, a reminder that the Spanish and, later, other Europeans, aggressively dismantled the faith and culture of the Indigenous inhabitants of the region.
Rosas also includes a meditation on family in Madre e Hijo, a series that ties together the crafts and artwork of multiple generations of her own family by building on drawings by her son. Rosas adds stitching and collage work as well as watercolor to create an ongoing conversation about living between two cultures and negotiating language and identity on the border. At first, she says, her son was unsure about sharing his work with his mother, but recognizing pieces they did together in the show, “he sees that it is an honor and feels pride.”
Griselda Rosas: Yo te cuido continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (700 Prospect Street, La Jolla, California) through August 13. The exhibition was curated by Jill Dawsey and Anthony Graham.