UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 16 Winter 23 Library
(L to R) Erika Hirugami, Luis Sahagun, Jackie Amezquita, Fidencio Fifield-Perez, Nicole Solis-Sison, Federico Cuatlacuatl, Francisco Donoso

The Aesthetics of Undocumentedness

In late January, Federico Cuatlacuatl and a group of artists set to capture the experiences of one of the least understood groups of people in America today. The Aesthetics of Documentedness is an exhibition running through February 17 at Ruffin Hall on UVA Grounds that brings together a collection of Undoc + artists from across America to explore what he calls the spectrum of undocumentedness in America.

By way of definition, the UNDOC+ spectrum includes those who have lived or are currently living undocumented. Individuals in the undocumented diaspora, while not labeled as undocumented themselves, have been impacted either directly or indirectly by undocumentedness. These include children and partners of those on the UNDOC+ spectrum. 

Artists Luis Sahagun and Nicole Solis-Sison at Visible Records

The seeds for the exhibition were planted more than a year ago when Cuatlacuatl and Hirugami brought together a group of artists to start thinking about ways that they could think about leveraging their talents and voices by showcasing their work to a larger audience. 

“It was really emotional,” Cuatlacuatl said. “There were some tears because it felt like everyone had been searching for something like this. We all felt immediately connected because we could empathize with each other’s experiences. It’s an opportunity to amplify these narratives of people who grow up undocumented and going through the process of immigration in this country, and gives people a chance to look across the border and explore questions about where these people come from, why we are here, and how does our work reflect all that?” 

Artist Jackie Amézquita speaking in UVA's Rotunda

“One of the things an exhibition like this can do is it can help people recognize that we, as undocumented people in America, are not a monolith,” Cuatlacuatl said. There are currently some 45 million immigrants living in America, and of those, 11 million are undocumented. Every one of these people writes their own stories, many times stories of struggles that these artists share. “One of the things we kept coming back to,” he said, “was that we all wished we had an opportunity like this when we were younger, emerging artists, or when we were undergraduates or in graduate school. And we talk about how hard it was to even get into a school or pursue a master’s degree because we were undocumented. So now it becomes about how these artists are actually seen once they have overcome these obstacles and challenges.”

Aesthetics of Undocumentedness was curated by Erika Hirugami, MA, MASB, a Ph.D. student at UCLA. Hirugami is a first-generation Mexican immigrant who, like Cuatlacuatl, is formerly undocumented. She is the founder and CEO of CuratorLove, an advocacy group for undocumented artists. 

So now it becomes about how these artists are actually seen once they have overcome these obstacles and challenges.
Federico Cuatlacuatl
Documentation from the series Papalotes en Resistencia, by Federico Cuatlacuatl
(Photo: Jesús Pino)

The exhibition included eleven artists in all, with several artists traveling to Charlottesville to participate in the opening events, which will include an artist workshop at Visible Records gallery, an opening reception for the exhibition at Ruffin Hall on January 27, and for a day-long symposium the next day at the Rotunda. The visiting artists included: 

  • Jackie Amezquita, MFA - a Central American artist based in Los Angeles, born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, who migrated to the United States in 2003. Her work explores narratives of migration and how people navigate power structures.

  • David Cuatlacuatl, 1989-2017 - Born in Coapan, Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. "Seeing the limited conditions of people native to my hometown and south of the border helped me develop a certain worldview which I celebrate in my work processes."

  • Federico Cuatlacuatl, MFA –  is an artist born in San Francisco Coapan, Cholula, Puebla, Mexico; his work is invested in disseminating topics of Nahua indigenous immigration, social art practice, and cultural sustainability.

  • Francisco Donoso, BFA – a transnational artist based between NYC and Miami whose works look at the human experience, and particularly the ways in which the notions of placement and fixed boundaries are questioned to reveal the precariousness of belonging.

  • Fidencio Fifield-Perez, MFA – Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and raised in the U.S., his practice critiques the power of paper objects over the people they document.

  • Luis Sahagun, MFA – a Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico-born artist who cultivates civic activations for community members, students, and educators alike.

  • Nicole Solis-Silson, BFA– a multi-racial Filipinx visual artist, writer, producer, and creative director whose work focuses on cultural equity, diversity, and sustainability in digital discourse across the art, media, and film industries.

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