Nora Valdez makes an artistic refuge at Urbano Project
Two beautiful and impactful shows, “Alone Together, Together Alone,” by Nora Valdez and “Still We Rise” by Urbano Youth Artists, grace the Urbano Project gallery in Jamaica Plain through August 16. The shows work in tandem to respond to challenging political times with resilience and hope.
“When I was writing the proposal for this project, school shootings and bullying and immigration issues were all happening,” says Valdez. “I wanted to use this project to give young people a space to talk about that.”
The group of high-school-aged artists worked with Valdez over a 10-week period to make the “Still We Rise” installation. For Valdez, the project was more about the process than the end result. She utilized the artmaking space as a healing tool, fostering conversations about current events and problems in the students’ lives. One student was interested in music more than visual art. Valdez had local composer Alexander Barsov come in to work with him, and together they created background music for the exhibit. No matter the outlet, Valdez worked to make her students feel energized through whichever media spoke to them.
Often Valdez would come to Urbano on days she wasn’t holding class and find students there working on a mural for the show. “I think when the students come to Urbano they feel like part of a family,” she says.
In the front gallery, “Alone Together, Together Alone,” showcases Valdez’s own work, a dynamic mix of stone sculpture and painting. The exhibition centers on the theme of home. Valdez grew up in Argentina but has been living in different areas of the United States for many years. “Immigrants and refugees always carry home with them,” says Valdez. “When I go back to Argentina I don’t quite fit anymore. I always say I am from here, there and nowhere.”
One piece depicts thin white figures carved in stone and placed against a wall of the gallery. The figures have no faces, but huddle together. These unknown figures represent immigrants and refugees who come the United States with no home but each other. As immigration laws become stricter, it becomes even harder for newcomers to America to land in one stable place. Valdez depicts that uncertainty in just a few expert cuts of stone.
Since its inception, Urbano Project has been a safe space for young people and art making. Urbano may be just the home Valdez was looking for.