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San Ysidro gallery continues its Dia de la Mujer celebration

Francisco Morales is shown with works from "Domestic Geographies."
Francisco Morales, gallery director of the Front Arte & Cultura in San Ysidro, is shown with works from “Domestic Geographies,” Casa Familiar’s 14th annual Dia de la Mujer exhibition.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

At the Front gallery, Casa Familiar’s annual border art exhibition returns

When the pandemic shut down most of California’s cultural life last March, the members of the Front Arte & Cultura center in San Ysidro had an eye-opening epiphany. While they were not essential workers, they were doing an essential thing. They just had to figure out how to keep doing it.

“People sometimes think that the arts don’t do anything important, but what we heard was, ‘We need music. We need workshops. We need to paint. We need activities for our kids,’” gallery director Francisco Morales said during a recent phone interview. “For us, working during the pandemic was a challenge, but it was also an exercise in creativity and communicating with with our community in different ways,”

In the following months, the Front was a buzzing hive of activity. There were podcasts featuring new electronic music. There were Zoom art workshops for kids, teens and adults. There was the “Walls” mural program, a joint project with the Municipal Institute of Art and Culture of Tijuana and A Reason to Survive (ARTS) that had artists from both sides of the border creating murals on walls around West San Ysidro Boulevard.

There were virtual dance and music performances and online dance and movement classes. There was “Nattiva,” a photography exhibition that was projected on the gallery’s facade, making it possible for viewers to see the exhibition from across the street. There were workshops on how to make pan de muerto for Day of the Dead and how to connect with people while staying 6 feet apart.

There was art. There was culture. There was life.

“San Ysidro was one of the neighborhoods that was hardest hit by the pandemic in the whole county, so doing our work became an act of hope,” Morales said. “So if people were going out to buy groceries, they could see the murals. If they turned on their computers, they could see our photographs and our videos.

“The activities that we kept doing became a light for people. It became a window that showed that some sort of normality could be possible.”

The Front’s newest offering is the continuation of cultural tradition. It is the 14th annual Día de la Mujer exhibition, which was started by Casa Familiar, the San Ysidro community development agency that runs the Front. Originally, the Día de la Mujer exhibition was focused on women artists in the community. Over the years, its artistic pool has grown to include creators from the entire border region.

This year’s exhibition, which runs through May 7, is called “Domestic Geographies.” It was curated by Tijuana-based visual artist and sociologist Ingrid Hernández, and it features the work of more than 30 multidisciplinary artists. The exhibition’s video art program was curated by Karla Aguiñiga, Itzel Martínez del Cañizo is the film curator, and the music was selected by Julieta Venegas.

Kim Sweeney's "Fish Loop Soup."
Kim Sweeney’s painting “Fish Loop Soup” is featured in “Domestic Geographies,” Casa Familiar’s 14th annual Dia de la Mujer exhibition at the Front Arte & Cultura gallery in San Ysidro.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The works featured in “Domestic Geographies” came through an open call to women and non-binary artists of all nationalities. The artists were asked to submit works that looked at women at home, and how the roles they play and the jobs they do can be overlooked and misunderstood. And also how they can be reinterpreted in revolutionary ways.

In a time when women are juggling their own Zoom meetings, their kids’ Zoom schooling and the usual work of cooking, cleaning and shopping, “Domestic Geographies” looked at the ways our worlds got smaller, but women’s lives became more demanding than ever.

“When she was invited to be the curator, she started thinking about her own experiences in the pandemic,” said Morales, who was interpreting Hernández’s answers during the joint phone interview. “She realized that women have been developing these multiple roles within the home that historically haven’t been valued by society. However, women have been creative, and they have been able to reinvent these roles and develop them into something different.”

In “Tareas de Limpieza,” artist Claudia Cano gives cleaning products the Andy Warhol treatment. In “La Geografía del Hogar,” video artist Mayra Huerta looks at domestic life during a pandemic lockdown from all angles. Painter Kim Sweeney’s “Fish Loop Soup” is a portrait of Sweeney’s grandmother’s kitchen, where the grandkids ate their Froot Loops while their immigrant grandmother worked at home cleaning fish for a Vietnamese grocery store.

All of the works encourage viewers to take a closer look at the worlds unfolding right under their noses. They also remind us to take a moment to appreciate the everyday heroines who keep those worlds spinning.

“Día de la Mujer is more important than ever before,” Morales said. “After the pandemic, the jobs that women were doing at home suddenly became the foundation of society. Not only those specific jobs, but also the human contact and the human soul that became essential for the wellbeing of society.”

The “Domestic Geographies” exhibition is at the Front through May 7. The gallery is open by appointment. Contact Francisco Morales at: franciscom@casafamiliar.org to arrange a visit. Upcoming events include a livestreamed performance of “Contralto,” an experimental music piece by Sarah Hennies; and a virtual film program curated by Itzel Martínez del Cañizo, which kicks off on April 2. Go to the Front’s Facebook page for information.

Lea esta historia en español.


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