Next week, CEO Christina Elizabeth Rodríguez will be speaking on a panel during the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Global Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan and representing the work that EXPO Collective has done over the past few years of its existence.
The topic of the panel is “Reporting in Times of Crisis: Telling Migrants Tales Through Creative Storytelling” and includes journalists who have been reporting the migrant story within the United States and worldwide.
This is the UNAOC’s 7th Global Forum with the theme “Living Together in Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and a Goal.” In an effort to build more inclusive societies, the goals of the forum range from creating an advisory council to building partnerships among various entities and raising discussions on best practices for living in an inclusive society.
“The opportunity to talk about EXPO Collective on such a global platform is exciting and moving,” said Rodríguez. “We have worked hard to tell our stories on different levels, raising awareness about our cultures and communities.”
EXPO Collective was contacted to speak on the power of storytelling through artwork, focused on the concept of immigration and migration. It was no coincidence that at the beginning of the month, EXPO exhibitied “The Brown Profile,” which displayed the artwork of three artists’ experiences as Mexican-Americans in Chicago. Yvette Mayorga, Joseph Josue “JOEMAMA” Mora and Ricardo “NACO” González expressed their positioning as first generation Americans, which will be the bulk of content used by Rodríguez to exemplify the powerful storytelling that EXPO Collective supports and encourages.
During a podcast with Gozamos, the trio discussed “being brown” and their artwork to be displayed during the opening reception. Initially González came up with the idea after seeing the similarities between his work and that of Mora and Mayorga. His excitement for the growth of the younger artists’ work and trajectory into the conversation of culture and identity drove him to initiate the exhibit.
For Mora and Mayorga, the artwork showcased during “The Brown Profile” wasn’t always a part of their aesthetic, but rather something that they grew into over time.
“I tried separating myself from making work about identity. I felt that it was something I could no longer fight, I couldn’t help but make work about that. Especially with these narratives I grew up hearing, about crossing the border and how my [family] got here. It’s something that’s close to me and something that I was always reminded about growing up,” said Mayorga during the interivew.
“I wasn’t making work about being Latino, immigration or identity, like I am now. But I feel like it’s important to tell this narrative, and talk about the situations happening in our communities about undocumented students and families and how it affects everybody in the [Latino or Mexican-American] community,” Mora responded.
Although these artists describe their work as Mexican or Mexican-American, Mora and Mayorga’s pieces don’t necessarily reflect a “typical” creative process, nor does it reflect traditional Mexican artwork that artists like Diego Rivera or Frida are known for.
“I want to break away from those stereotypes of ideal Mexican art like putting Frida on a shirt or something,” said Mora.
Mayorga plays off of the idea of Candyland, comparing the sweet, colorful elements of candy to that of the United States. However, the twist comes when individuals look closely to find a juxtaposition between the sweetness and reality.
“I use decoration and frosting as an ironic weapon. People see the sculptures and installations and think that it’s this Candyland, magical sweet place and then you come in and start seeing images of El Chapo, or shoes, tuna cans, you know, things that are found on the border,” Mayorga said. “You’ll see images of myself, of my cakes that I make, in conjunction with images of the violence on the border and how both are a commodity. Cake can be seen the same as all the deaths that are happening [in Mexico].”
For years, González has played into those stereotypical elements and images showing people that if they see him and think of the Mexican culture in a particular way, he’ll spin it so that they see a more beautiful perpsective with color and vibrancy, he said.
“A lot of times, I play into stereotypes. I’m a painter and already that’s a stereotype. I look at myself and I always think that I’m fragmented, because I’m not 100% this side or that side,” said González. “I’m using these stereotypes to reclaim them and embrace them.”
“We show different approaches and aesthetics on how we take in all of this information and experience,” said Mora.
“How complex being brown is,” added Mayorga.
“And how diverse,” concluded González.
In addition to that particular exhibition, EXPO Collective has also produced the Red Tour, a traveling exhibition that focuses on the topics of heritage, identity and cultura from the position of children of immigrant parents and people of color. The series of artwork created by Erick “ROHO” García discusses the fact that a cultural background cannot always be dismissed, although many try to do just that.
With the story of migration comes the story of cultural inclusiveness and acceptance, two elements that EXPO Collective always attempts to implement in its work.
“The artwork we promote and encourage our artists to create has always carried an element of storytelling,” added Rodríguez. “It is real, it documents our existence and we’re incredibly honored to share our work with the world.”