The Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery held an opening reception for its “Carving Through Borders” exhibit on March 23. “Art/Artist/Immigrant” also debuted in Gallery B2—a smaller space located within the Lederer Gallery. Though the subject matter of the two exhibits largely converges around immigration, the pieces and the messages they convey differ in several—sometimes surprising—ways.
“Carving Through Borders” is a collection of striking, large-scale wood prints, most of which are done entirely in black and white. These high-contrast prints were created by a group of California-based artists. While their overarching subject matter is the deportation of Mexican immigrants, the pieces also address LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights and concepts of justice and liberty.
According to Director of the Galleries Cynthia Hawkins, the social justice themes inherent in the prints are especially relevant in light of current events. “People are always saying it’s too soon and that change will happen over time, but it’s just to maintain the status quo and find workarounds and eventually people stop talking about it,” she said. “That’s what the hope is anyway, but I don’t think people stop talking about it the way they used to.”
One particular print by lead Oakland, California-based artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez virtually shouts in huge block letters, “Rise up for justice/Rise up for women & young girls/Down with machismo.” Another by D.J. Agana depicts a stylized Statue of Liberty with the words “Move Freely” printed underneath.
Clearly, the floor-to-ceiling size of the prints is integral to their bold social impact. “The size makes it so much more powerful,” Hawkins said. “You have to engage with it because it’s so big.”
English major senior Michelle Nitto observed that the print making process is labor intensive. “I’ve only carved wood once and it wasn’t the right kind of wood, but it was small and it took hours, so I can’t imagine how long these must take,” she said.
Whereas “Carving Through Borders” is relatively uniform in style and subject, the works exhibited in “Art/Artist/Immigrant” largely diverge from the prints—as well as from each other—in terms of both their formal and cultural qualities.
Each of the pieces featured in “Art/Artist/Immigrant” are by a Rochester-based immigrant. Jose Portas’ painting “Calling the Archangels” blends Latino culture, mysticism and religious symbolism through a variety of different textures and media. In contrast, Russian immigrant Eva Davidova uses a different medium altogether: video. Manipulating space and form in abstract and unexpected ways, two of these videos are looped and projected on the gallery walls in between the paintings.
“I think it’s interesting that [the pieces exhibited in “Carving Through Borders”] are wood prints and [those in “Art/Artist/Immigrant”] are paintings because wood prints are much more reproducible, and with the kind of art that it is I feel like being able to reproduce it is really important,” gallery coordinator senior Britina Cheng said. “Whereas it’s really important that the paintings are sort of a unique thing that exist in their own time and space.”
Junior Laura Brown noted that she found the diverse pieces to be similarly impactful. “I want to support underrepresented artists in America because they are underrepresented and they deserve to be represented,” she said. “When we don’t have a representative form in all realms of media, I feel like we’re really missing out on really cool and artistic, new things … so I’m just really excited to be here and to explore.”