Whitney Biennial showcases Prof Emerita Hammond’s work

Professor Emerita Harmony Hammond’s career continues to shine, 18 years after she retired from teaching at the University of Arizona School of Art.

She’s one of 71 artists participating in the prestigious 2024 Whitney Biennial, the longest-running survey of contemporary art in the United States, until Aug. 11 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

For the Biennial’s 81st edition, titled “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” Hammond is presenting four paintings — including “Patched” (2022), a repurposed and mended quilt cover that foregrounds women’s time and labor. Her work reflects the exhibition’s theme that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is complicating our understanding of what is real.

Harmony Hammond (photo courtesy of her website)

“The surfaces are very organic, pieced and patched, mended and repaired, like our bodies — like my body,” said Hammond, who taught at the School of Art as a professor from 1989-2006.

School of Art Professor Paul Ivey nominated Hammond as a professor emerita in 2021.

“Harmony continues to inspire and lead the next generation of artists and feminist scholars,” Ivey said. “Though she may have retired from full-time teaching at the University of Arizona, she continues to be an active force in the feminist world, and has been for over six decades.”

Hammond created a queer feminist language of abstract art embedded in histories of sewing, weaving, quilting, making and the struggles of women. The artist, writer and independent curator’s groundbreaking book, “Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (2000),” received a Lambda Literary Award and remains the primary text on the subject.

For the Whitney Biennial, her “Patched” painting features cotton squares stained with blood. They lie in the center of cross-like spaces formed by the quilt pattern. The reference the “repeated and ongoing violence against women, (including) the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, and sexual brutality against women used as a weapon of war,” according to the Whitney website. A grid of grommeted holes below the quilt functions as a footnote, suggesting order but also bearing witness to the ongoing repetition of violence and healing.”

Also featured is Hammond’s “Chenille #11” (2020-2021), with “underlying colors of red and gold that split the seams and stain the thickly painted white burlap surface — evoking chenille bedspreads with its tufts and ridges. Grommeted straps bind the painting like bandages,” the Whitney website said. “Black Cross II” (2020-2021) and “Double Bandaged Quilt #3 (Vertical, 2020)” round out her exhibit.

“We see the seams in the painting. I do not like digital seamlessness,” Hammond said in a Whitney audio clip. “I like the seams to show. The seams show how things are connected. … That attachment thing, that idea of tying things together, of wrapping straps around a painting, could be thought of as restrictive binding, bandaging or bondage.”

Two years after earning her B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1967, Hammond moved to New York, where she was a co-founder of A.I.R., the city’s first women’s cooperative art gallery and Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art & Politics. In 1984, Hammond moved to New Mexico like her forbears, Georgia O’Keefe and Agnes Martin.

Hammond settled in Galisteo, New Mexico, and began commuting to Tucson and the University of Arizona in 1988 as a visiting instructor for the School of Art. She became a professor in 1989 and a tenured full professor in 1990, teaching painting, combined media and interdisciplinary graduate critique seminars until retiring in 2006.

“She was a warm, inspiring teacher,” Ivey said. “By example, she modeled positivity regarding the ambition one must have to be a successful artist and/or to bring art into their own teaching. To her students, she passed on her insights about creativity, perseverance and diligence.”

Harmony Hammond's paintings at the 2024 Whitney Biennial (photos by Ron Amstutz)
Harmony Hammond’s paintings at the 2024 Whitney Biennial (photos by Ron Amstutz)
“Patched” (2022), Harmony Hammond
“Patched” (2022), Harmony Hammond
“Black Cross II” (2020-2021), Harmony Hammond
“Black Cross II” (2020-2021), Harmony Hammond
“Chenille #11” (2020-2021), Harmony Hammond
“Chenille #11” (2020-2021), Harmony Hammond
“Double Bandaged Quilt #3 Vertical” (2020), Harmony Hammond
“Double Bandaged Quilt #3 Vertical” (2020), Harmony Hammond
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Living in two locations, Hammond unfolded a broader view of art to her students, Ivey said.

At the end of each semester, if she was assigned a graduate class — sometimes adding a few outstanding undergrads — she organized a trip to introduce them to several contemporary artists she knew in the Santa Fe area. Hammond also arranged introductions for the group to see museums and galleries in the area. Her plan included important art writers such as Lucy Lippard as well as exposure to specific gallerists and museum directors.

“While there, students were invited into her impressive studio, whereby she shared her own processes and multiple directions, and she arranged places for her students to stay, so they could take time to explore the area,” Ivey said. “During the weeks of teaching, she also set up studio in Tucson, in order to keep her ideas and work flowing, when she was fully present at her job in Tucson.”

Hammond also was responsible for bringing to campus now-famous artists and critics such as Nick Cave, Carrie Moyer, Judy Baca, Amy Silman and May Stevens.

While at the university, Hammond participated in 17 solo exhibitions, 86 groups exhibitions, including the important “High Times/Hard Times, New York Painting 1967-1975,” that traveled to Mexico and Europe.

Now 80, Hammond continues to focus on her art and occasionally attends environmental protests, women’s marches and pride parades. Since leaving the university, Hammond’s work has been exhibited in nearly 20 solo exhibitions and 70 group exhibitions. She considers exhibiting her art as one of her primary forms of activism.

“Exhibitions allow us to physically occupy space, so we are visible to queer and non-queer folks alike,” Hammond said in a 2019 ARTNews interview. “I’ve always been engaged with voices and forces that have been buried, or covered up, and assert themselves from underneath the surface of things.”

Installation view of “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness: Five Decades of Art,” 2019, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

In 2019, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, organized a traveling solo exhibition along with a scholarly monograph, “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art,” which featured Hammond’s “installational” and mixed-media paintings composed with vernacular materials she recovered from the Arizona and New Mexico landscape. 

“The ruggedness of the land — its distinct cultural history and rural aesthetic — is evident in (Hammond’s) later work,” Hyperallergic wrote in a 2019 review of the solo exhibition, “accentuating it with a sense of place, and oddly enough, a new sense of belonging.”

While at the University of Arizona, Hammond received many important awards, grants and residencies, including a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center Residency in Italy, an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Fellowship, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, an Emily Harvey Foundation Residency in Venice, Italy, a College of Fine Arts Summer Research and Professional Development Incentive Grant, and also received a Veteran Feminist of America Award.

Since leaving the university, Hammond has received multiple prestigious awards, including induction in the National Academy of Design in New York, the Anonymous Was a Woman Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art, The College Art Association Distinguished Feminist Award, a Through the Flower Award for significant contributions to the Feminist Art Movement, and was named a National Women’s History Month Honoree.

Hammond’s work is represented by Alexander Gray Associates in New York City, where she has had six solo exhibitions. Hammond’s artwork has been collected by 50 important public museums, university museums, and corporations, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York).

According to Hammond’s website, “her earliest feminist work combined gender politics with post-minimal concerns of materials and process, frequently occupying a space between painting and sculpture – a focus that continues to this day.”

“Her near-monochrome paintings of the last two decades participate in the narrative of modernist abstraction at the same time they insist upon oppositional discourses of political content,” her website bio said. “Often referred to as social abstraction, the paintings which include rough burlap, straps, grommets, and rope, along with Hammonds signature layers of thick paint, engage formal strategies and material metaphors suggesting connection, restraint, agency and voice — a disruption of utopian egalitarian order, but also the possibility of holding together, of healing.”

Born in Chicago in 1944, Hammond studied art in Decatur, Illinois, before moving to Minneapolis with her husband, artist Stephen Clover, who came out as gay within a year of their marriage, Hyperallergic said. They moved to New York in August 1969, shortly following the Stonewall Riots.

“The city was a hotbed of political activity,” the 2019 Hyperallergic review said. “The Civil Rights movement, coupled with the women’s movement, antiwar protests, and the start of the Gay Liberation movement put New York on the cusp of a social and cultural revolution. Second-wave feminism was just around the corner. The couple separated, but Hammond was pregnant. She later gave birth to a daughter, Tanya.”

Hammond, who came out as a lesbian in 1973, was on the forefront of the feminist and lesbian art movement in New York in the early 1970s.

“It’s not only about making our work,” Hammond wrote in an Artsy post commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, “we also have to document and preserve it and insist on a place in history or it will be erased.”

‘Inspiring’ artist Dara eyes Hugo Award

Armed with a sketchbook and an old laptop, Galen Dara began to do illustration work for emerging fantasy and science fiction authors after getting her undergraduate degree.

“There’s something powerful about artists and writers who explore the fantastic,” she said.

In truth, it was Dara who also was emerging as a talented illustrator back then — and now the University of Arizona School of Art graduate student is a force in the field and continues to work on book covers for major publishers and editorial artwork for magazines.

Dara learned in late March that she’s a finalist for the Hugo Award as best professional artist — for the seventh time — and she’s hoping to take home first prize when science fiction’s most prestigious awards are announced Aug. 11 in Glasgow, Scotland. In October, Dara will travel to Niagara Falls, New York, to be a Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Awards Convention, where she won best artist in 2016.

“These are wonderful honors, but awards and conventions and ceremonies can be tricky things,” she said, “(because) after all the excitement is over, there’s still the need to create, to get back to work and make more art.”

Galen Dara has created many covers for Uncanny Magazine.
Galen Dara has created many covers for Uncanny Magazine.
Dara's cover art for Book 3 in Ed McDonald's
Dara’s cover art for Book 3 in Ed McDonald’s “Redwinter Chronicles”
Dara's wraparound cover art (including cover flaps) for a reprint of Philip K. Dick's
Dara’s wraparound cover art (including cover flaps) for a reprint of Philip K. Dick’s “The Man Who Japed.”
Dara's cover art for Kat Howard's
Dara’s cover art for Kat Howard’s “White Horse Red Fruit.”
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That never-satisfied attitude has impressed Assistant Professor Jenn Liv, an adviser for Dara’s Master of Fine Arts thesis, who has watched the MFA candidate teach as a graduate assistant.

“Galen is a hard-working individual who is always eager to learn new things,” Liv said. “As an educator, she’s very kind and generous toward the students. As president of the UA Riso (printing) club, Galen is also able to create an engaging environment that makes the students feel welcome and included, and also excited about what they are learning.”

For Liv, Dara’s work “has an evocative quality to it with deep emotion and feeling,” she said. “Galen is always willing to put in the work to explore many different possibilities, with a focus on figurative illustration, metaphor, and bending reality.”

Liv, who was hired in fall 2023, said Dara “played an important role in making me feel welcome at the School of Art. She’s a talented artist who has the drive and ambition to succeed in anything she attempts. Her energy and ability to take on many tasks is something I find to be very inspiring.”

Dara talked about her own inspirations in an interview with the School of Art.

Q. Where do you get your ideas?

Dara: From everything. In my personal work, I’m inspired by artists like Chiharu Shiota, Ann Hamilton, Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois and Magdalena Abakanowicz. The scientific illustrations of Ernste Heckle. Medieval Christian manuscripts and ancient codices of uncertain origin that may be about alien worlds (The Voynich Manuscript). I’m inspired by comedians like Hannah Gadsby, Tig Notaro, Ali Wong, by movies from “the Daniels” and Alejandro Jodorowsky, and by critical analysis of B-Grade horror flicks.

When I’m creating an illustration for a book cover, I’m inspired by the amount of research and world building the author went through to write the book. That always leads me down my own rabbit holes of research in order to create the artwork accompanying the book.

Galen Dara’s selfie in front of Andy Warhol’s Cow Wallpaper at the Modern Museum of Art in New York.

Q. How did you get interested in science fiction/fantasy art, and how easy was it to break into the field?

Dara: Growing up my family moved around quite a bit, but both of my parents were born and raised here in Tucson, and ultimately, it’s where a good number of us landed as adults. I always loved science fiction and fantasy, and working as an illustrator in the field has been a significant honor and delight.

I got my undergraduate degree forever ago from Brigham Young University. I started in the Illustration program but by the time I graduated I was making large scale immersive installations out of string and paper. After I graduated, there were times where I only had my sketchbook and an old laptop, so I figured out how to use a free version of Photoshop to make art. That led to doing illustration work for emerging writers.

I mark 2014 as the start of my “professional” career since that is when I was first nominated for the Best Professional Artist Hugo Award.

Galen Dara in her studio

Q. Who’s given you advice as an artist, and how rewarding has it been to teach?

Dara: I have had several pivotal mentors as I’ve honed my illustration skills. The chance to work closely with Gregory Manchess, Scott M. Fischer, Sam Weber and Sterling Hundley have had a tremendous impact on my work. Scott Bakal and Yuko Shimuzu are both friends and my inspirations. They have continually offered me encouragement and support in my career. 

Here at the University of Arizona, it’s been amazing to engage as an artist, an art student, and an art teacher in a whole new way. I love the university’s emphasis on interdisciplinary practice and research and the studio space to work on self-authored projects.

Teaching illustration to aspiring young artists has been the highlight of my time in the MFA program. I’ve taught Intro to Illustration (ART 266) and a special topics course I proposed, “Scratching the Surface” (ART 404), which had an ongoing summer exhibition space in the Lionel Rombach Gallery. This semester, I taught Art 100G Pixel, an intro to the digital art-making tools used by communications artists. I find it one of the greatest privileges to pass along what I know, and I’m glad for the chance to do it here.

Q. What projects are you working on now?

Dara: I still take on client work but have had to be careful about how I balance that with my graduate studies and teaching responsibilities. Currently I’m working on cover art projects for Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, and an editorial illustration for Scientific American

This semester I’m doing UA course work with professors Paul Ivey, Jenn Liv and Lisa Watanabe, and also working closely with my thesis committee to hone ideas for my thesis exhibition. Once this semester ends, I will head to Orvieto Italy with the UA Study Abroad program where I’m looking forward to working with Professors Joseph Farbrook and Nathanial Katz and immersing myself in the unprecedented amount of art history and culture there.

With only a year left in my MFA program, I’ll be dedicating my time to my thesis exhibition and making the most out of the opportunities here at the University of Arizona. After graduation, teaching in a university setting is high on my wish list, as well as continuing my professional work and research into my personal work.

Agrella named spring 2024 Outstanding Senior

Grayson Agrella, who spent his time at the University of Arizona breaking down barriers in the LGBTQ+ world, has been named the spring 2024 Outstanding Senior for the University of Arizona School of Art.

Agrella wrote multiple papers about LGBTQ+ rights and issues as well as political art during the AIDS epidemic. He continues this theme for his honors thesis, focusing on various types of activist engagement for transgender youths.

Senior Grayson Agrella

“Both of these were topics that felt personally relevant, and it was intellectually invigorating to incorporate the politicalized identities of queerness into my studies of visual culture,” he said.  

Triple majoring in Art history, Anthropology, and French, Agrella is a W.A. Franke Honors College student with a GPA of 3.974. He won multiple awards such as the National AP Scholar, Dean’s List with distinction, and most recently was honored with the prestigious Centennial Achievement Award

“My favorite part of art history is the moment when a piece snaps into the context of its use or creation, and it seems as though one work can speak volumes on otherwise invisible concepts,” Agrella said. 

Outside of the classroom Agrella was a Poetry and Prose editor for the Carnegiea Literary Magazine, a student based and run platform for the youth of Tucson and Southern Arizona. During his time at the University of Arizona, He has worked as an archival assistant for the Center for Creative Photography, and worked at the Department of State as an agent in the passport division. 

Additionally, Agrella was a camp counselor catered for families of gender-diverse kids and volunteered at many arts organizations, like the Sonoran Glass School. 

“Creating this kind of ‘gender-utopia’ was an unforgettable experience, and has guided my interactions with queer communities since, trying to recreate it in pieces,” he said.

Agrella said the best memories he’s made at the university are the people they’ve met along the way. 

“I’ve managed to find like-minded, intellectually- curious, kind-hearted, erratically intelligent partners in crime that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” he said. “They are the people that make seminars interesting, are always down to analyze an argument, and my trusty proof-readers.” 

Agrella was nominated by Dr. Paul Ivey, professor of art history, and Dr. Irene Romano, professor of art history and anthropology. They said he is the embodiment of the values associated with the Outstanding Senior. 

“He has demonstrated outstanding persistence and integrity in his unwavering pursuit of excellence in his academic work,” they said. 

After graduation, Agrella plans to gain work experience before earning a graduate degree. At the moment, they plan to work in community- supporting services tailored to the gender-expansive and the broader queer community.

Story by Arilynn Hyatt ’26, Arizona Arts

Greenwell-Scott named spring 2024 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant

Sarah Greenwell-Scott’s favorite memory at the University of Arizona is teaching. 

“My undergraduate students have been insightful, empathetic, and kind. I feel incredibly optimistic about the future when I interact with them,” said Greenwell-Scott, who has been named the spring 2024 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant for the School of Art. 

Sarah Greenwell-Scott

She entered the university with a history of teaching at the University of Nevada, Reno. Since then, she has created online classes for Glendale Community College and Chandler- Gilbert Community College, all while teaching Art History courses and attending the University of Arizona. 

Sandra Barr, her colleague and discussion section leader for her first instructional assignments, describes Scott as, “a thoughtful mentor, a thorough researcher, and an incredible colleague who not only knew the material of the courses, but could convey it to a multitude of students, with differing learning styles, needs, and attitudes.”

Scott is pursuing a PhD in Art History with an emphasis in Contemporary Art and Theory, focusing on Contemporary Indigenous Art and minoring in American Indian Studies. 

“My research focuses on contemporary Indigenous artists who confront and deconstruct visual representations of indigeneity pervasive within settler-colonial culture,” she said. 

In addition to her academic and teaching pursuits, Scott also has been involved with community outreach programs and campus organizations. She’s been the co-chair of the SOA Graduate Student Council, graduate representative for the School of Art Advisory Board, Visiting Artists and Scholars Endowment (VASE), and a member of the Art History Graduate Student Association. 

“The University of Arizona is one of the few universities with an Indigenous Studies program,” she said. “The ability to pursue an interdisciplinary focus has enriched my research and broadened my perspective, both of which will further develop me as an educator and scholar.”   

She was nominated by Stacie Widdifield, professor and graduate advisor for art history. After graduation Scott plans to obtain a tenure-track teaching position. 

Story by Arilynn Hyatt ’26, Arizona Arts

Prof. Alshaibi joins global luminaries in Bellagio residency

Invited to the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center residency program, University of Arizona School of Art Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi joined other top global artists, scholars and scientists tackling issues such as water and climate in addition to working on her art project that explores the impact of Iraq’s laws on women.

Since 1959, the monthlong residency program in Bellagio, Italy, has welcomed more than 4,000 luminaries from 130 countries, including 100 Nobel Laureates. This year’s cohort included Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz (United States), scientist Solomon Assefa (Ethiopia), global health expert Alaa Murabit (Libya), renowned dancer and choreographer Bijayini Satpathy (India) and novelist Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua).

School of Art Professor Sama Alshaibi, in Bellagio, Italy. (Photo courtesy of Alshaibi)

Alshaibi, an Iraqi-naturalized U.S. citizen who received a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship, was among 100 participants selected from 2,000 applications for the Bellagio program.

She was part of an interdisciplinary cohort that engaged with four Rockefeller groups that focused on climate solutions; reinventing capitalism; promoting well-being; and health, equity, innovative finance and Artificial Intelligence.

“The Bellagio Center has been privileged to host the world’s most innovative scholars, practitioners and artists who are committed to the betterment of humanity for more than 60 years,” said Natalye Paquin, Rockefeller’s chief operating officer, on the foundation’s website.

Meanwhile, Alshaibi worked on “Paratext [59/41]” — her emerging technology and text-based art project that examines Baghdad’s post-war metropolis and Iraq’s legal instruments “subjecting women and girls to devastating effect,” she said. Reflecting the influence of Iraq’s 1959 Personal Status Law and Article 41 of the Iraq Constitution on women’s rights and security, the project interrogates the country’s social norms and public life in the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion, sectarian wars, and the rise and fall of ISIL, according to her project’s abstract.

“I’ve made three trips to Iraq in the past 18 months—scanning public sites, researching archives, interviewing activists and ordinary women, and visiting fraught spaces where women and girls are trafficked or provided refuge,” Alshaibi said. “Together, we overcome barriers to tell a complex historical and evolving story of women in Iraq.”

Her multimedia installation will simulate an archive.

“I will be producing looping video and sound recordings, manuscripts, images, and constructed testimonies made from LIDAR data point clouds,” said Alshaibi, part of the school’s renowned Photography, Video & Imaging program. “Texts are extracted from data and non-literary documents concerned with the legal production of gendered inequality, including Iraq’s police logs, statistical reports, and legal writing, including the national constitution.”

For Alshaibi, the project is an intervention and a framework to comprehend Iraq’s laws and their impact on society. “Sectarianism is gendered, and controlling women’s bodies translates to control of the Iraqi people. Iraq’s women and girls have long been subjected to a gendered shadow war waged by outsiders and their fellow citizens alike,” she said. “Though today many Iraqi women are challenging political attitudes and social norms around the repression of women, the lack of official accountability for most assassinations, kidnappings, exploitation, and domestic violence places these women in extreme danger.”

“Paratext [57/41]” amphlifies how Iraqi women resist their challenges, Alshaibi said, explaining that since October 2019, Iraqis have led civil protests calling for greater rights and ending corruption by sectarian forces whose armed militias dominate the government and streets.

“Women who dare to oppose the status quo by organizing, demonstrating, and seeking legal reform are violently targeted by the authorities,” Alshaibi said. “As an Iraqi naturalized US citizen, I believe their struggles require our attention.”

Prof. Romano probes marble portrait of Alexander in new book

Alexander the Great has been popular for over 2,300 years, but University of Arizona Art History Professor Irene Bald Romano explains how the image and myths surrounding one of history’s greatest military generals have been manipulated and appropriated in her new book.

Professor Irene Bald Romano

In “Beth Shean Studies: Aspects of Religion, History, Art, and Archaeology in Hellenistic and Roman Nysa-Scythopolis,” Romano and co-author Kyle W. Mahoney probe two artifacts excavated in 1925 in Beth Shean, Israel — a Roman marble portrait of Alexander the Great and a Hellenistic-inscribed stele fragment — by the Palestine Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

The book includes an appendix by two scientists in Athens who conducted the analysis of the marble of Alexander’s head and identified the quarry. The American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia supported Romano’s research with grants and agreed to publish the book in a series which has been continuously published since 1771 — the oldest publication in America — and now distributed by Penn Press.

The University of Arizona School of Art recently interviewed Romano, who uses an object-biography approach in the book to trace the modern history of the portrait of Alexander, showing how its movements mirror the history of the creation of museums in Jerusalem.

Q. What drew you to do research on the marble head of Alexander the Great?

A. I began my interest in the sculpture from the site of Beth Shean in Israel in the early 2000s when I was writing a book on all of the Classical sculpture in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. Included among the Penn Museum’s collection are colossal marble finger fragments that were found in the same place and at the same time as a marble portrait of Alexander the Great — in a cistern on top of the tel of Beth Shean, or ancient Nysa-Scythopolis. The fingers don’t belong to the Alexander statue, but they got me interested in what other sculpture fragments were found in the same context. I was able to go to Israel in the summer of 2016 to study the marble portrait of Alexander the Great, with the help of a grant from the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and the welcome support of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem where the Alexander head is located. More recently, I invited my colleague Kyle to write a chapter in the book on a Greek inscription that was found in the same cistern and that tells part of the earlier history of the site, in the 2nd century B.C.

Q. A Netflix docuseries, “Alexander: The Making of a God,” came out this year. Why are we so obsessed with Alexander the Great?

A. I have not seen the series. But as I write in the book: “Alexander the Great — the man, the myth, the hero, the conqueror, the ruler-turned-god, his accomplishments, and his images in various media — has held an enduring fascination since his death in 323 BCE. Alexander has been the subject of a myriad of ancient biographies; literary and artistic depictions of his legendary exploits in various languages and formats, including in stories of ‘The Alexander Romance,’ his transformation as Iskander in Persian miniature paintings, and as a Byzantine emperor in 14th century miniatures; in popular modern literature; and in a challenging mountain of modern scholarship. He has inspired a series of prints by Andy Warhol and a recent comparison with 21st century male hairstyles, and he has been used as a political pawn in the high-stakes politics of national identity in the Balkans.”

Q. How does your research help better understand the image and myths associated with Alexander?

A. In the vast scholarship devoted to Alexander the Great, it would seem there is little more to be said about him, yet this Roman marble portrait from Scythopolis has barely been considered as a part of the tapestry of Alexander’s historical legacy. The details about this portrait are fully published in this book for the first time and provide key information about an important ancient site — its monument landscape and cultic associations in the Roman period — and about Alexander as a mythical founder of Near Eastern cities and a role model for emperors in a vital period of Roman history. A reconstruction of the life, deeds, and physical appearance of Alexander of Great is hampered by the fact that his historical biographies were all written long after his death, with the oldest surviving account that of Diodorus (Bibliotheke 17), written 300 years after his death, and the most reliable account by Arrian (Anabasis) written during the second century CE, 500 years after Alexander’s lifetime. A kind of “romantic tapestry” about him was created, and mythologies of his life and deeds were embellished over the centuries.

Alexander became so popular in the Roman period in the East, especially in the second and third centuries CE, that cities of the Decapolis — in modern Israel, Jordan and Syria, including Scythopolis, or ancient Beth Shean, who prided themselves on their Greek heritage — could not resist claiming him as their founder. Various cities in other parts of the Roman Empire established ruler cults to the youthful hero-turned-god. At Beth Shean, it seems Alexander may have been worshipped alongside the main deity, Zeus, in the Roman temple on its acropolis, or the tel where this statue of which we only have the head) was set up.

The mythical life and deeds of Alexander were projected on the life of Jesus in early Christian theology, yet in the Late Roman/Early Byzantine period Alexander was regarded an anti-Christ who threatened Christian monotheistic beliefs. Thus, in the early Christian period in Scythopolis, his statue was mutilated and decapitated, and the demons that lived within the image of Alexander were exorcized. Though his memory lived on elsewhere in the Late Antique period, at Scythopolis Alexander was laid to rest in a watery cistern, to be brought back to “life” again with the discovery of this head in 1925 during the British Mandate. It was put on display in 20th century Palestine and eventually displayed in the IMJ as an ancient model in the modern state of Israel.

Q. Could you elaborate on your object-biography ap­proach in the study of the portrait of Alexander the Great?

A. It’s a methodology that arose from the field of anthropology and entails an examination of a work of art or cultural object in all aspects of its life cycle — its manufacturing technique, time and place, and its uses and interpretations throughout its history in changing sociocultural-political contexts, as well as in modern museum settings. Other art historians have used this approach to study “the lives and afterlives” of ancient sculpture but their interests have focused primarily on the use and history of specific works in their ancient past, for the most part neglecting their modern history, contemporary questions, and contexts. Presenting the full biography of ancient objects when it is possible to reconstruct the complete information, as is the case with this Alexander head, opens up interesting questions about uses, appropriation, and reception of works of art across the span of their “lives,” both in their ancient and post-ancient contexts.

So, in this book I discuss the entire “life” of this marble portrait of Alexander, from its manufacture and use, its discovery in 1925, and its modern history, including its transfers from the site of Beth Shean to the Palestine Museum of Antiquities in East Jerusalem, to the Palestine Archaeological Museum which became the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum, then to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, inaugurated in 1965, where the portrait head is today.

Father inspires alum Trujillo’s Oppenheimer exhibit

Even before the Oscar-winning film “Oppenheimer” hit theaters, University of Arizona School of Art alum Ernesto A. Trujillo created a striking collection of mixed-media prints that portrayed his father’s thoughts and fears of nuclear destruction as a defense industry engineer.

Ernesto A. Trujillo

Trujillo first presented the gallery online in December 2022, but the public can now see his solo exhibition, “The Oppenheimers’: One is Dad, Dimensions of Engineering,” through June 7, 2024, at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Art Gallery, 5901 S Calle Santa Cruz. The show features 23 prints.

A special projects professional at Pima’s Desert Vista campus, Trujillo also teaches business classes as an adjunct instructor at the college.

“It’s been a unique experience working as an artist and having other careers,” said Trujillo, who also is an insurance agent and web designer and consultant in Tucson.

The School of Art recently interviewed Trujillo, who earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2004 and his Master of Fine Arts in 2010 — both in mixed media.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your exhibit?

A. I started the concept for “The Oppenheimers” in 2020, before the pandemic hit. We were developing some WiFi stations for students at Desert Vista Campus who wanted to use our computer lab to continue their coursework. … With social distancing in full force, I needed to make some measurements based on the (room) plans. I remember I had my dad’s engineering Leroy measuring and calculation kits on my bookshelf. As I worked into the night, I thought about all the spoken and non-spoken projects this kit must have seen. 

I also remembered the last conversation my dad, Ernesto O. Trujillo, and I had regarding his time in mechanical engineering. He quoted, “Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” from the Bhagavad Gita, which Robert Oppenheimer also used in his reflections to describe himself. This part of my dad’s life was an enigma because he chose not to speak of it too often. When he did share experiences, I listened. I was amazed at the ingenuity that he discovered and the innovative genius of his colleagues and team members. 

My dad suffered a lot throughout his life, knowing that his work was part of a large-scale destruction. Seeing him wrangle with his past while he was moving forward in another career was tough.

This sparked the question, “How would the visual representation of his unique stories look?” (Below: images from “The Oppenheimers’: One is Dad, Dimensions of Engineering”)

Q. Could you elaborate on that visual representation?

A. I started to write down my father’s stories from memory, as many as possible. I researched notes and memos; I had some pictures of him at work. Then, I spent time sketching, drawing, and making images. 

(The exhibit is partly influenced by) my series called “DDoS Chicano.” A DDoS attack is a Distributed Denial of Service attack, a cybercrime that prevents users from accessing online services and sites. It’s a subcategory of the more general denial-of-service (DoS) attack. The genre combines cyberpunk, technology, cognitive intelligence and Chicano art elements. I look at our humanistic touch points through the lens of computer information systems, trying to find the most efficient ways to connect to others.

I have been involved with information technology, cybersecurity, and cognitive intelligence or superintelligence for over twenty years. This genre fascinates me, and we live in extraordinary times. We have been taking leaps and bounds with processing capacities and learning exponentially. I’m curious if we will take technology down the path to help mankind improve our quality of life everywhere. 

In 2022, I did an online show with some test images and wanted to see an initial response. During the last six months of 2023, I finalized some of the work and was ready to show “The Oppenheimers” for 2024.

Q. What did you think of “Oppenheimer,” which won Best Picture and six other Oscars?

A. I had read several journals and stories about Robert Oppenheimer and other great minds of the time. I always wondered if a movie would be made about this incredible mind. Surprisingly, it came to fruition; I was stoked. I hope that Carl Sagan is next.

Director Christopher Nolan’s vision and all the splendid actors and actresses (conveyed) a sense of the inner turmoil that affected all the people involved in the atomic program. The moral and human dilemmas that challenged Oppenheimer and his team still exist.

Unfortunately, humans are attracted to a mindset of destruction. Imagine if we placed the same amount of innovative genius to create better circumstances for life. Our minds and souls would be free to do all that is possible for humankind. 

Ernesto O. Trujillo worked as an engineer for the defense industry. (Photo courtesy of Ernesto A. Trujillo)

Q. Do you see a lot of parallels with your exhibit and the film?

A. Look carefully at the signs, symbols and marks of innovative destruction in my exhibit. Their display calls us to remember that we can change our immediate and foreseeable future as a civilization to a positive outcome. Out of some horrible, we can create a new one that will be the standard for advanced citizenship. My father’s story is proof that it can be better.

Q. How much influence did your dad have on your life? 

Ernesto O. Trujillo’s military ID

A. My father passed when I was 18 (in 1999 at age 61). It was a tragic experience; I inherited his insurance and investment firm overnight. Thus, I started my career in business. (Trujillo is also a licensed agent for the Kino Insurance Agency). Before my dad passed, we would have some heated arguments about my future. I wanted to go into engineering as he did. However, he would not support the future. He wanted me to pursue business or something in the arts. Uniquely, I ended up doing both. 

Q. Speaking of which, how does your art education help in your roles at Pima College?

I teach a Business eCommerce Introduction course … focusing on marketing, cybersecurity threats and eCommerce business strategies, concepts in data analytics AI and algorithmic programming. The other course is Business Information and Intelligence.

It’s been great using all my visual communication skills to fortify these concepts in a visual format. I am developing a unique learning system that connects uniquely with each learner to simultaneously deliver visual communication that best meets that person’s learning style under universal communication traits for all languages and genres of learning. 

Q. Who’s inspired you, both at the School of Art and professionally?

A. One of my mentors was Alfred Quiroz, a School of Art emeritus professor. I love how his artwork “tells a story.” He also takes a natural multimedia approach to expressing and creating these stories. For Alfred, a 2D and 3D all-at-once approach is a way to solve a visual problem. You have an idea to convey; use everything around you. Andy Polk, another School of Art emeritus professor, influenced my technical awareness of how printmaking, specifically lithography, can be robust and delicate simultaneously. Looking at the work carefully, you can recognize all forms of printmaking in every image. 

Edgar Soto, vice president of the Desert Vista Campus and Pima College’s previous Arts and Humanities dean, also helped me understand the value of good communication and investing in our students and community. Others who’ve helped me are David Andres, director of the Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery on Pima’s West Campus, and Dana Roes, dean of the Arts Division, as well as the Desert Vista Gallery and Fine Arts program at Pima.

Without their assistance, “The Oppenheimers” would have remained on the storyboard.

Ernesto A. Trujillo describes some of his other work

Out of Time Out of Cognition: Plug Me In 2010. This was from my MFA Exhibit from 2010. This started the DDoS series. I was teaching, finishing school, and taking care of my mother, who eventually passed away in 2009 from non-Hotchkiss lymphoma. One day, I was so tired that I stood in the middle of the mirror, wondering if I could replace my battery like a machine. I forgot that I had replaced a 220 outlet for my appliance and left the broken plug in the bathroom vanity. I placed it right in front of my chest and snapped a picture. The text in the background was all my conversations with my mom that we had until she passed. Little bits of wisdom.

“DDos Chicano 2020” (Mixed Media Oil Painting): Here, I started integrating more copper electrical signal paths in the background and representing radiating energy. This Vick’s Vapo Rub bottle is a classic cure-all for any illness in Mexican American Culture. I was given this for every ailment I can think of. The cap accents my spine, which has been partially injuredfor most of my life. The skeletons are my mom and dad on each side, still looking out for me and protecting me. Although I was raised Catholic, these Virgin Mary statues have been around in every house I can imagine. I always wonder what company got the contract for this specific mold; they made some shekels. I am spiritual; funnily, I was trying to make the Virgin Mary special through a mass-produced consumer statement. My mom had her Ph.D. in Phenomenology and was a huge person in education. She also practiced Buddhism and was knowledgeable about different religions. This influenced me greatly, and I have a third eye open from an astrophysical self-awareness. 

“Chicano Steam Punk Story: Episode 1” (Mixed Media Digital Print 22” x 30” 2023): I see myself as this digital being that is supposed to flow through the cyber world, helping everyone access the right information while telling my unique life story. I’m including aspects of Mexican-American and Persian culture. 

2024 MFA Thesis Exhibition features 7 artists

Carrying on a tradition that began in 1970, seven graduate students from the School of Art will present their work in the 2024 MFA Thesis Exhibition in collaboration with the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

The exhibition, “Leaving to Arrive,” with installations in UAMA and in the school’s Joseph Gross Gallery, will run from April 15 to May 10. A public reception is scheduled for May 9 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the School of Art’s lobby and atrium.

Featured will be the work of graduating MFA students Jacqueline Arias, Nathan Cordova, Drew Grella, Hanan Khatoun, Tessa Laslo, Anita Maksimiuk and Dana Smith.

“The Sonoran Desert: A Model for Surviving the Sixth Extinction,” Dana Smith (in UAMA)
“The Sonoran Desert: A Model for Surviving the Sixth Extinction,” Dana Smith (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
“A Lived Experience,” Jacqueline Arias (in UAMA)
Entrance to Joseph Gross Gallery
Entrance to Joseph Gross Gallery
“Infinity Stone: American Prawda,” Anita Maksimiuk (in Gross)
“Infinity Stone: American Prawda,” Anita Maksimiuk (in Gross)
“Imprints,” Tessa Laslo (in Gross)
“Imprints,” Tessa Laslo (in Gross)
“No Trespassing | Passing | Trespassing,” Drew Grella (in UAMA)
“No Trespassing | Passing | Trespassing,” Drew Grella (in UAMA)
“Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
“Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
Part of “Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
Part of “Feeling a Future Coming,” Nate Cordova (in UAMA)
“Sheer” Hanan Khatoun (in Gross)
“Sheer” Hanan Khatoun (in Gross)
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This annual MFA Thesis Exhibition, the culmination of the Master of Fine Arts Studio Degree, is presented during a graduate student’s final semester in the three-year degree program. During the last year of their coursework, graduates work closely with faculty to develop a body of original art to present to the public in lieu of a written thesis. The result offers visitors the opportunity to see new, cutting-edge art in a variety of mediums and styles.

“This is the next generation of artists who will be going out and impacting the discipline and thinking about what their next chapter looks like,” School of Art Director Colin Blakely said.

A look at each student’s installation and their artist’s statement:

Jacqueline Arias

  • Title: “A Lived Experience”
  • Gallery: UAMA
Jacqueline Arias

The monumental engineering feat of the Panama Canal came at great cost: 40,000 people were displaced, and their villages submerged forever. During the construction of the canal over twenty thousand men and women, brought from the West Indies, lost their lives. Decades after these tragedies, I found myself on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus, as an adoptee from Costa Rica, inhabiting foreign soil with a new identity and language. It was here where I forged a profound connection with the people and the culture of Panama.

This installation tells the story of these interconnected experiences. Utilizing rope and pulleys, I interrogate the ramifications of power structures on individual bodies and collective identities. The constructed knots reveal the ongoing legacy of imperialism. Rope and AI technologies are transformed from their roles as signifiers of power and control to find meaning and connection amid the tumultuous currents of displacement and cultural erasure. The individual strands and fibers of the dismantled rope reflect the complex paths carved by my lived experiences. My hands and body recode history both materially and digitally through embodied knowledge critiquing unethical adoption practices and labor exploitation in Panama.

“A Lived Experience” grapples with the trauma of colonial dehumanization and the yearning for reunion with one’s homeland and culture.

Nathan Cordova

  • Title: “Feeling a Future Coming”
  • Venue: UAMA
Nathan Cordova

My project considers the potential of friendship and offers a pointed critique of institutions and our consumption of their products. Friendship is slippery and difficult to maintain. There are social and cultural taboos that attempt to constrain our friendships. This is a social experiment that breaks through the isolation we all feel. What does it say about our present moment where amidst profound loneliness, we desire visceral connections with each other to problematize the limits of our individual bodies? By inviting participation, I’m asking myself and my friends to step out of this isolation and to encounter each other anew. I’m valuing critical connections over critical mass, applying force on strategic pressure points that form the boundaries of typical friendships. There is a momentary embodiment of liberation in this act, as I re-imagine what is possible.

I appropriate and re-contextualize collections of digital images of western domination gathered from the internet. This involves engaging with both the visible architecture like the skyscraper, and the supposedly invisible infrastructure, such as data centers and military drones. Anger and pleasure play an important role, offering a means of embodiment and exploration of the collection’s emotional and sensorial dimensions. Through a material intervention, I challenge notions of fixed identity and embrace the fluidity and multiplicity of human experience. This interruption utilizes an interdisciplinary process of layered blurring that transforms their symbolisms into something elemental; liquid and flame, semen and squirting, embodied presence etching sunlight and sifting blood.

Blurring the boundaries between past and present, self, and other, I invite viewers to engage these collections on a visceral level through the presence of their own reflections in black acrylic surfaces mediated by images layered with physical ejaculate, traces of our sequential self-pleasure. Remixed marketing videos from The University of Arizona and Raytheon (now rebranded as RTX Corporation) point to their mutually beneficial relationship built on endless cycles of debt and death.

All of this works together to disrupt conventional modes of perception. Challenging the rigidity of these images as repositories of meaning and enforcers of social order, “Feeling a Future Coming” reconfigures their signifiers to a point of emergence, where all futures become possible again. Reclaiming agency over our bodies and desires is a fundamental step toward liberation, contributing to a more empathetic and introspective society that questions rigid authority and embraces the beauty of uncertainty.

Drew Grella

  • Title: “No Trespassing | Passing | Trespassing”
  • Gallery: UAMA
Drew Grella

“The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.”

Bruce Chatwin

I moved to Tucson during the Covid-19 pandemic when everything was shut down. I spent a lot of time roaming the desert and the town. Walking in the liminal space of the dry Rillito riverbed was especially surreal, strewn with trash, memorials, votive sculptures, and lost possessions. While my body moved through this new and unique place, my mind mapped my impressions of nature, waste, and the boundaries between public spaces and private property.

Deliberate walking is simple and beautiful. It is my method for collecting the imagery which emerges when I draw. Intuitive drawing is simple and beautiful. It is my method for revealing to me what I did not know, what I cannot put into words. In the studio, the walking body becomes the drawing body, continuing a contemplative stroll.

Hanan Khatoun

  • Title: “Sheer”
  • Gallery: Joesph Gross
Hanan Khatoun

My separation from culture, language, and family as a member of the Lebanese Diaspora has driven my desire to narrate the experience of what happens after the sensationalizing of war and displacement wears off. The struggle of forging and finding space for one’s identity both within and outside the structures of culture, religion, and family is a reality for those who are generations removed from another home. I am a second-generation immigrant from Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in the world, yet the diaspora population outside the country is larger than that within. Being removed from one place and living in another is common in an increasingly globalized and colonized society. In what ways do we create space for navigating these realities?

“Sheer” is a physical space representative of my search for cultural identity. I construct a space for navigating this self-conception using familial archives, trinkets, documents, photographs, and oral storytelling. These all hold unique language and memory, which in turn, become proof of experience. Woven together they create an identity which I embrace and push against. The act of weaving enables me to explore how disparate things often come together to make a chaotic but contained whole. The work is viewed only at a distance through a fabric cage, indicative of the structures and barriers against which I struggle to understand my multicultural identity.

Tessa Laslo

  • Title: “Imprints”
  • Gallery: Joseph Gross
Tessa Laslo

In my performative drawing and video works, I delve into the intricate web of personal trauma, investigating its impact on my body, relationships, and self-perception. The lingering effects of sexual assault has left me grappling with fragmented memories and physical scars while igniting a profound anger — an emotion that pervades my work and influences my ability to engage in intimate relationships.

The emotional and physical effects of this trauma are not portrayed as overwhelming obstacles in my work, but rather as integral components of an ongoing narrative. I revisit past abuse to illuminate the resilience and strength that can emerge from a process of artistic confrontation and self-discovery. Imprints combines cyanotype and soft pastels in large-scale drawings alongside a video installation using a twin-sized bed. I’ve opted for materials that lack any semblance of preciousness. The paper is weathered, beaten, and used; worn down by time and wear. Each crease and tear are reflections of the sense of violation that still affects my body and mind. The physicality of the paper, marked by violence, serves as a tangible manifestation of my emotions and experiences, grounding them in truth.

Anger, a powerful undercurrent in my artistic expression, stems not only from what I have experienced, but from the ongoing emotional and physical ramifications that are likely to persist throughout my life. It is a visceral response to the violation of my autonomy and the enduring consequences that ripple through my existence. This anger weaves itself into the fabric of my art, becoming both a driving force and an intense element that shape the narrative of my work.

Anita Maksimiuk

  • Title: “Infinity Stone: American Prawda”
  • Gallery: Joseph Gross
Anita Maksimiuk

As a printmaker, my work engages the symbology of migration, root-taking, rootlessness, and the urban environment. This is largely based on my experience as a first-generation American in Brooklyn, New York and beyond. Watching the city’s immigrant enclaves gentrify and lose their sense of sanctuary motivates me to document, preserve, and question the familiar through printmaking.

By creating cityscapes that deconstruct and reconfigure the iconic, I preserve both places and histories that fade along with the immigrant. As I move through this country, I keep in mind the glare of separation, the repairs I’ve made, and the fractures that remain.

“Infinity Stone: American Prawda” features primarily lithography, with screen printed elements. Historic mediums once prevalent in both fine art and advertising, these two processes challenge and contrast one another.

Methods of deletion, stencil and layer come together to form the printed image, all while honoring its ghost. These approaches allow me to subvert the traditional application of the lithography process, working the limestone surface until it becomes a source of light, color and texture. Starting with photographic images from my personal archive, I coax information out from the surface of the stone chemically. As the landscape is layered, removed and replaced, it begins to mimic the motions of an overdeveloped urban space.

I use the stone to create one-of-a-kind prints rather than producing editions. Using shifts in scale, photographic elements and a non-traditional approach to the process, I reclaim it as a tool of documentation, propaganda and mystery.

Pushing the lithograph beyond its traditional black and white, drawn image, the group of foldable posters presented here re-casts an iconic cityscape in an intimate light, worked into existence entirely by hand. Hung as banners, these images will travel, degrade, and return as I do.

Meant to be approached, the light and horizon that grounds these prints let the gaze linger while the viewer imagines, yearns, or simply remembers. This perspective alludes to an unattainable yet promising aspect of building a home, nationality and a claim to a city. The images take on an iconographic quality, representing a place that is constantly in motion. It is a horizon that is constructed over, bought, sold, and advertised as an object of desire. Here, it is reconstructed as a symbol of hope, haven, and history. It will tear but persist, both physically on paper and intangibly, within the child looking towards home.

Whether these prints become mementos or mirages, they ultimately take on the role of documents. I see my evolving work as a journey, a narrative and a documentary practice, bound within a fleeting medium.

Dana Smith

  • Title: “The Sonoran Desert: A Model for Surviving the Sixth Extinction”
  • Gallery: UAMA
Dana Smith

Since the Cambrian explosion over 500 million years ago, an astounding variety of exotic and resilient life forms have thrived and diversified throughout the world. Starting as primitive cells in a world slammed by catastrophic events, the life forms today in the rugged Sonoran Desert have developed extraordinary physical defenses key to their survival. This beautiful yet brutal desert inspired me to investigate the world of invertebrates and microorganisms, the survivors of multiple planetary catastrophes, whether gathered from a habitat in my backyard pond and examined under a microscope or encountered while roaming the desert.

Constructing oversized ceramic sculptures and drawings re-creates and interrogates the magnificent structures that these creatures have used as protection for survival. Bringing attention to these armored desert microorganisms and insects who have learned to adapt to extreme heat and long-term drought may teach us much as we enter the era of the Anthropocene. We can learn from their secrets as concern arises over our own adaptability.

Alshaibi, Serafim named Mellon-Fronteridades Faculty Fellows

Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi and Assistant Professor Marcos Serafim, with the School of Art’s Photo, Video and Imaging program, have been named Mellon-Fronteridades Faculty Fellows.

The program, run by the University of Arizona’s Confluencenter, funds UArizona faculty members and graduate students working on interdisciplinary research projects that explore, analyze and elevate the lived experiences, cultural resources and border dynamics of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Fellows’ projects focus on building new public understanding and interpretation of the U.S.-Mexico border dynamics, tensions, innovations, dreams, and realities, positively impacting border communities.

Six faculty members and six graduate students — including MFA candidate Andrés Caballero — are among the 2024 Mellon-Fronteridades Fellows. Here’s a closer look at the projects by Alshaibi and Serafim, from the confluencenter.arizona.edu website:

Regents Professor
Director of the Racial Justice Studio at Arizona Arts

Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi
  • Project Title: “Borderland Migrations & Metaphors” (BMM)
  • Project background: The project will use creative inquiry pláticas, in combination with podcasting, to produce trans-disciplinary stories of the U.S.-Mexico border. Plática is an anti-colonial feminista methodology that prioritizes social relationships based on trust, mutual vulnerability, and reciprocity. This approach contrasts power relations that characterize the traditional dichotomy of researcher-subject.
  • Project aim: BMM will create a space for co-creating knowledge through conversational interviews with BorderLab fellows from 2021-2023. Fellows are invited to reflect on their projects; how they are currently thinking about borderlands as an identity, location, and idea; and how they have been changed by borderlands research. Interviewers and fellows co-theorize as they connect everyday lived experiences with their research process. BMM conversations are recorded in a studio, thematically analyzed, sound edited, and enhanced within an iterative process. The result is a series of five podcast episodes.
  • Quote: “The project will enrich public scholarship on the U.S.-Mexico border through its collective voicing of distinct insights of BorderLab fellows, its use of sound as the primary medium in which to produce knowledge, and its accessibility within and beyond the academic community.”

Assistant Professor

Assistant Professor Marcos Serafim
  • Project aim: To create an immersive audiovisual installation and a performance piece that increase accessibility to available data about HIV/AIDS in the US/Mexico border employing cutting-edge tools for data visualization and documentary strategies.
  • Background: At the periphery of both countries’ economies, the region is affected by systematic social and economic disparities that co-exist with institutional racism and structural violence. In Arizona alone, HIV incidence among White individuals has had a 64% decrease from 1988 to 2020, whereas Hispanic individuals have had a 49% increase in new infections during the same period. In response to a pressing intersectional matter, the project explores queer-mestiza/o-PLWH (person living with HIV) subjectivity merging lens-based and computational strategies for image generation.
  • Quote: “The project lends immediacy to a complex entanglement of physiological, sociopolitical, and anthropological matters related to the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis. Health risks travel fluidly between borders.

Graduate fellow Caballero tells lucha libre story

The first time Andrés Caballero entered Arena México, called the “cathedral of lucha libre” professional wrestling, he was hooked.

“I remember feeling intoxicated by the energy. Everyone was wearing masks, and the crowd was screaming and laughing,” said the Mexico City-area native, a Master of Fine Arts student in Photography, Video and Imaging at the University of Arizona School of Art. “I wanted to know who the people behind the masks were. I wondered about the referee, the people working in the venue, and everyone involved.”

Now Caballero is getting a chance to share that wonder with the public after being named a 2024 Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellow by the university’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry.

The award will allow the Fulbright Scholar to finish a project, “Borderlands Masks,” which includes large-scale prints, video and oral history recordings as he explores the fascinating lucha libre wrestling events around the border region in Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona.

School of Art Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi and Assistant Professor Marcos Serafim also were named Mellon-Fronteridades Faculty Fellows. Each year, the program allows graduate students and faculty to carry out interdisciplinary humanities-centered research and creative scholarly activities focused on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Andrés Caballero installs one of his lucha libre photos in a group exhibition at Groundworks Tucson.

Caballero grew up just outside Mexico City and attended Tecnológico de Monterrey High School, hoping to study engineering. But he changed his mind and enrolled in a Communications undergraduate program at Universidad Iberoamericana with a concentration in Cinema. He received his BA and began to concentrate on documentary films and photography.

As his skills improved, Caballero started to study Mexican identity through lucha libre events. He’s been working on the subject for about two years, presenting a photographic exhibition called “Your Insults are Welcome” inside a Mexican wrestling arena. 

“My favorite luchador was El Santo, especially because of all the movies where he was basically a Mexican superhero fighting evil forces,” Caballero said. “Later on, I was very much inspired by stories such as Fray Tormenta — a part-time priest and part-time luchador whose sole purpose was to raise money for an orphanage that he founded.”

For his project, Caballero will use the fellowship funding to travel to Phoenix and Nogales, where he’s meeting with promoters and attendees of lucha libre events.

“I’m interested in how people feel connected to certain traditions which become part of their identity even when they are outside of their home countries,” Caballero said. “This is how people relate to lucha libre, and here they find a community in which they feel identified and welcome.

“With this in mind,” he added, “I wanted to shift the focus of this project to attendees of the events and give them a chance to create their own persona, just as a luchador would. To put on a mask and think of a backstory for their character. I want to tell the story of these collaborators and have people relate to the characters in the photos.”

In late May or early June, he hopes to host exhibitions before Mexican wrestling matches that will show large-scale prints, audio recordings and VR headsets playing 360-degree videos. The exhibition locations are still pending, but “people can arrive early, see the artwork and then enjoy the event,” Caballero said. “I’m trying to expand beyond the usual art spaces to show work — and promote Mexican arenas as cultural spaces.”

“Andres is a gifted young photographer who comes from a photojournalist background,” said Alejandro Macías, an assistant professor at the School of Art who is among Caballero’s project mentors. “I’m interested in his research. … Personally, I’m drawn to the mystique and masked identities of luchadores, their dramatic performances, feuds and acrobatic skills. It’s obviously entertaining but I’m also interested in the duality of their lives and how we, as an audience, have zero to little knowledge of who these masked fighters are outside the ring.” Andrés, through his research, intends to take a deeper look into the lives of these wrestlers, in and outside the ring.”

Caballero, who turns 27 in March, received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in the United States. He’s happy he chose the University of Arizona School of Art and its Photography, Video & Imaging program, which is ranked No. 3 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report.

“It is an open space of collaboration, creation and critique,” Caballero said. “Receiving constant feedback from experienced artists is an essential part of developing any artistic project. (Professors) David Taylor and Martina Shenal have been important mentors, but even faculty from other departments such as Alex Macías and (Professor) Ellen McMahon have provided insights into my research. It feels like a very thriving place for any artist to be in.”

Macías, who has exhibited his own lucha libre paintings, is impressed with Caballero’s photography.

“What drew me initially to Andres’ work is how he carefully composes and accentuates particular bright colors among a black and white color palette,” Macías said. “It’s visually appealing but also adds drama to an equally dramatic sport.”

Macias was excited to participate in the exhibition “Lucha Libre: Beyond the Arenas” at the ASU Art Museum in 2022 and was invited to participate by artist and curator Julio Cesar Morales. “Much of my work in general responds to the conflict of my own Mexican-American identity,” said Macías.

Who are Macías’ favorite lucha libre wrestlers? “Rey Mysterio, for his high flying acrobatic moves and L.A. Park for his comedic style and skeleton-type appearance,” Macías said.

“So far what I’ve offered to Andrés are a few ideas on how he can keep pushing his work conceptually in the way he manipulates his figures through photography,” the assistant professor said.

KGUN9-TV interview with Andrés Caballero

Andrés Caballero is an MFA candidate in Photography, Video and Imaging. (Photo by Alexis Hagestad)
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