The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Mexican American Studies School of Interdisciplinary Programs and Community Engagement

Spring 2011

Gloria Anzaldua,  Nuestra gloria, Nuestra heroina fronteriza / Our Glorya), Our Borderlands Heroine: An Art exhibit at Anzaldua's Alma Mater, The University of Texas Pan-Amercian

Stephanie Alvarez, Stephanie Brock, Janie Covarrubias, Lauren Espinoza, and Orquidea Morales

Originally Appeared in El Mundo Zurdo 3: Selected Works from the 2012 Meeting of the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa


The Gloria Anzaldúa: Nuestra Gloria, Nuestra Heroína Fronteriza / Our Glory(a), Our Borderlands Heroine exhibit began asa single author course on Gloria Anzaldúa, taught by Dr. Stephanie Alvarez in Spring 2011.

This class was the result of a petition process initiated by several Chicana graduate students who saw the need for an in-depth study of Anzaldúa’s work at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA).

On the first day of class, Dr. Alvarez informed the students that they would decide what the class would produce asa final project; the students chose to create an art exhibit. 

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On any other day, walking into the Borderlands Room in the Education Complex at UTPA would not be something to write home about.  The multi-purpose space is commonly used for meetings and presentations. It is filled with comfortable seating and at times tables and chairs depending on the occasion.  The Gloria Anzaldúa: Nuestra gloria/nuestra heroína Fronteriza/Our Glory(a), Our Borderlands Heroine exhibit shifted its use to facilitate an art exhibit.  The chairs and desks were cleared out, selected quotes paired with Anzaldúa’s “pictograms / glifos” and poems from Bordlerlands/La Frontera  along with Anzaldúa’s yearbook pictures and grave site were designed, printed, mounted and ultimately hung on the walls.  

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There was no budget for the exhibit and so, these were not printed by the print shop, but rather printed using each students’ one free print of one large poster in the media lab. Dr. Alvarez purchased foam board and spray glue and one saturday afternoon she and the students occupied the hallways of the third floor of COAS building for several hours carefully attaching the prints to the foam board with only a few casualties and wrinkles. Gloria Anzaldúa’s published books were placed within glass cases (including all the editions of Borderlands/La Frontera), a computer was brought in to play the students’ selections of music videos created to coincide with the exhibit, both a guest book and a look book were placed at the entrance of the room, a crossroads was taped along the floor, and a stop sign was constructed and brought in.

borderlands-books

Anzaldúa noted that the ideas of Borderlands/La Frontera “can’t be melted down. The components are distinct; they’re there to dialogue with one another” (Reader 211). Therefore, all of these elements combined to bring critical ideas and concepts out from the pages of Borderlands/La Frontera so as to be embodied in a physical manifestation of Anzaldúa’s ideology.

...Similarly, to help transition between the public space outside of academia into an academic public space we incorporated music into the exhibit. This adds familiarity and a sense of home since many of the songs we chose were familiar to the intended audience. Through the music and the stop sign we created a safe space for people who don’t have a relationship to academia. The music featured in the exhibit consisted of a collection of songs chosen by each of the students and the professor.  Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, was inspired by Calle 13’s 2011 music video for the song  “Vamo’ a portarnos mal.”  As she viewed the video, she noted several correlations between the song, it’s visual representation and the themes we were discussing in class.  She showed the class the video and presented the idea to the class of including a musical selection to compliment the quotes, images and poems that were being selected for the exhibit.  Each student was charged with the task of finding a song and/or music video that equally embodied, from their point of view, Anzaldúa’s ideology and works.  As this was an individual undertaking, there are not only multiple perspectives but also various types of songs.  For instance, the songs range in genre, gender of artists, language and cultural meaning within the context of the border experience.  A computer was set-up to play the songs and videos with a sheet indicating each song and the name of the person who chose it.  Visitors were, therefore, able to play any song at any time.

Gloria Anzaldúa Playlist

1. “Vamo’ a portarnos mal” - Calle 13

2. “One Love” - Playing for Change

3. “Somos más americanos” - Los Tigres del Norte

4. “Paso del norte”- Alejandro Fernández

5. “La Llorona” - Chavela Vargas

6. “I’m Just a Girl” - No Doubt

7. “Raindrops” - Rainbow Jaxx

8. “La niña” - Lila Downs

9. “Mojado” - Ricardo Arjona

10. “El rey” - Vicente Fernández

11. “Pastures of Plenty / This Land is my Land” - Lila Downs

CLICK HERE to view all posters created during the class

mestizo

Furthermore, in order to share the exhibit with a larger audience we created a look book. This format is a recontextualizing of the exhibit by using its original form, a book, to make accessible to larger audience outside of the Valley or those that were unable to attend the exhibit and would want to make similar critical interventions at their university. The purpose of the look book was to complement the Gloria Anzaldúa: Nuestra Gloria Nuestra heorína fronteriza / Our glory(a), Our borderlands heroine exhibit. Furthermore, the look book catalogs the images and text that were part of the exhibit and it includes the purpose of the exhibit, biographical information of the participants and the participants’ personal explanation of the Gloria Anzaldúa playlist song choices. The intent is to make this look book available in an online format to reach a wider audience. As we worked on this part of the exhibit, we struggled in trying to label it. It is not a traditional art exhibit catalog that includes descriptions and scholarly essays about the exhibit but rather captures the exhibit and allows the viewer to interpret it on their own.  The look book was part of the exhibit, our attempt to further document our project. It compiles the images and texts that were part of the exhibit. Furthermore, the look book catalogs the images and text that were part of the exhibit and it includes the purpose of the exhibit, biographical information of the participant and the participants’ personal explanation of the Gloria Anzaldúa playlist song choices. We called it a look book instead of an exhibit catalog for various reasons. An exhibition catalogue is usually a book size format with color photographs, sometimes including other relevant work with short descriptions about the piece as well as interpretive text.  The look book does not provide a critique of the text but is more of an homage to Anzaldúa’s work. It keeps the exhibit alive once it no longer occupies the space on the walls of the ivory tower.

The look book, produced by Orquidea Morales, is a contribution to the mestiza nation for two important reasons; One, it is an extension of an exhibit that intervenes and creates new consciousness in a space that pushes out difference and secondly, the look book shifts the gaze, it changes the way people look at and understand Gloria Anzaldúa. Why was the look book necessary for a small exhibit at UTPA?  The look book continues the legitimization of Anzaldúa’s work that the exhibit began since it not only documents the exhibit and its purpose, but it also makes this information available to a wider audience, both inside and outside the university. In her essay “Border Arte” Gloria Anzaldúa writes that “Nepantla is the Nahuatl word for an in-between state, that uncertain terrain one crosses when moving from one place to another, when changing from one class, race, or sexual position to another, when traveling from the present identity into a new identity” (180). Through the look book, we are creating a space where awareness can occur, even those that did not physically see the exhibit. It is through this awareness that we can enter into a nepantla state that encourages movement from one place to another. The look book creates a nepantla state at UTPA.

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The look book is another interpretation of Anzaldúa’s work both removed from the original texts but also part of it. The text has been moved from the book and placed in a museum setting. Later, the same text is then used to create the look book thus generating two shifts from the book to exhibit and exhibit to look book. One can argue that this constant sifting/ shifting can distort Anzaldúa’s original message. In her book Borderlands/La Frontera Anzaldúa herself explores the fears of commodification and how museums distance the audience both from the physical object and its historical and cultural reality by placing it on display. In creating a look book to publicize the exhibit  and even the exhibit itself are we selling Anzaldúa? Or are we institutionalizing Anzaldúa? Are we doing the same with the exhibit?  These were questions we constantly addressed.  In “Border Arte,” Anzaldúa noted overhearing “the culturally ignorant words of the whites who...gape in vicarious wonder and voraciously consume the exoticized images” (108).  She observed,  “Though I, too, am a gaping consumer, I feel that these artworks are part of my legacy” (108). With those thoughts we felt comfortable moving forward with the look book and exhibit.

The look book does not distort the message but rather strengthens it since as nepantler@s we, through her concepts and theory, are now sharing our findings with others. Since we are from the frontera and at UTPA we can re-contextualize her work and use it as a way to fight against the institutions and set norms that she was writing against. Through the look book, we also center the gaze differently since it changes the way Anzaldúa’s work is seen. By putting it in this “western” setting we are re-inscribing it, which is in itself a subversive act.

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Conclusion

            The libreta de comentarios has been a helpful tool for us as we rework the exhibit and think about how to further the project. Our goals are to eventually create a travelling exhibit. This essay we see as a reflection and also a possible guide for those interested in doing similar work. The exhibit is a critical intervention on how we talk about Anzaldúa in Chican@ Studies and how we think, or rather don’t think, about the presence of Latin@s in museum studies. The Valley, 90% Mexican American and/or Latin@, is often romanticized today as a haven but outsiders/insiders still don’t understand that “whiteness” is very present in the infrastructure and mentality of the “brown” community. Centering Anzaldúa at UTPA through the exhibit requires all of us to question our positionality; physically, emotionally, and intellectualy, in our communities, our university and within Anzaldúa thought and art.  Today, Spring 2012, the posters created for the exhibit continue to occupy the walls of the Borderlands room in the Education Building. 

¡Qué viva nuestra Gloria!