“My son and I worked together on this piece, and this is what we got,” Dulce N. told me as we huddled together in the cold, studying her evocative visual representation of her life story.
Dulce N.’s sculpture, a testament to her love for her now five-year-old son, is one of nine self-portraits currently on display in the Vidas Suspendidas (Suspended Lives) Exhibition at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.
The exhibition incorporates the work of nine Latinx artists by employing visual sculpture and audio narratives to convey powerful personal and political messages. From its inception to its completion, the project combined individual experiences with a culture of collaborative expression. The brilliant mind behind the project, Nora Hinart Litz, Director for Art and Culture at Puentes de Salud, sought to curate more than art by structuring the process of creation around community engagement. Over the course of approximately a year and a half, Latinx artists gathered together once a week to create their pieces together. The youngest among them was Dulce N.’s son.
Dulce N. told me how her then-four, now-five-year-old “was enthusiastic about having his own piece.” After hearing her story, it was clear how her sense of her strength has become inextricably linked to her identity as a mother. She told me how she and her son worked on the project together, creating molds of their individual hands.
Another artist, Antonio, who I spoke to, courtesy of Leah Margareta Gazzo Reisman, who acted as a translator, told me about how his piece, heavily influenced by mythological elements, provided an inroad for him to remove what he described as “the mask of machismo.” Antonio has an excellent grasp of the English language, and we could have probably communicated without an intermediary. However, his thoughts moved so rapidly, and he was so enthusiastic that it was easier for him to speak in his native tongue with Reisman, a trained sociologist, evaluator, and practitioner, relaying his words.
Through her, Antonio talked about how one of the hardest parts of his artistic process was creating a concept. He said it required a level of vulnerability that was initially difficult to access. But access it, he did. Like Dulce, Antonio has had artistic inclinations most of his life, but he had never created a sculpture before the project. He found himself so inspired by the creation process that he has begun his own collaborative creation initiative, working with fellow Latinx artists on a project that will call us all to question the alternate skins we wear as part of the experience of being human.
For both Dulce and Antonio, the process of capturing their pasts through the narrative lens of the present was a mixture of painful, cathartic, empowering, discouraging, and beautiful. Yet, no matter what emotions came up, their commitment to Vidas Suspendidas remained unwavering. “We wanted to use our stories to inspire others,” Dulce N. told me.
You can hear Dulce N. and Antonio’s stories, told in their voices, at http://www.puentesdesalud.org/vidas-suspendidas/. However, to fully experience the simultaneously healing and haunting nature of their works and the works of the seven other artists who participated in the project, you’ll have to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.
The Vidas Suspendidas (Suspended Lives) Exhibition opened on October 11th and will run until November 18th, 2019. Access is included in the price of admission to Magic Gardens:
$10 for adults
$8 for Students with ID, Military & Seniors
$5 for ages 6-12
FREE for children 5 and under
$2 for ACCESS cardholders
For more information, visit https://www.phillymagicgardens.org/