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Exhibition explores meaning of work

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Exhibition explores meaning of work
From Wandering in the Land of Oblivion. photo: Courtesy of the artist

On Nov. 9, Urbano Project in Jamaica Plain presents “Wandering in the Land of Oblivion,” a gallery show by Paris-based Colombian artist Constanza Aguirre. Aguirre studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and returns to Boston to showcase 15 pieces of a larger 30-piece series exploring the themes of displacement and emancipation.

The public is invited to the opening celebration of “Wandering in the Land of Oblivion” on Thursday, Nov. 15 from 6-8 pm. Visitors can view the exhibition and meet the artist.

Aguirre’s large-scale black-and-white pieces line the room, featuring life-size illustrations of silhouetted figures performing the actions of labor. Using ink, pastel and paint on paper, the artist creates a dynamic, textural portrayal of work in all its varying forms. The figures defy definition –– they are not male or female or black or Latino. “They’re just humans,” says Aguirre. In some cases, even their actions can’t be defined. They appear to be in the middle of a beautiful choreography dictated by their work.

Work is a crucial component of Aguirre’s message. “I come from a country that has a history of violence, of forgetting, of oppression,” she says. “When you are displaced due to violence and you lose your territory, you lose the work, and the way you see the world.” Here she defines work as the lens through which humans experience life. Through work they are able to criticize, analyze and change the world.

But Aguirre makes an important distinction. “Jobs are not work,” she says. “Work is something that helps you to define the world. It is with you all your life.” When Aguirre says work, she means a person’s life calling.

From Wandering in the Land of Oblivion. photo: Courtesy of the artist

From Wandering in the Land of Oblivion. photo: Courtesy of the artist

This lesson of the importance of a person’s passion translates well into the classrooms where Aguirre is instructing local youth in an artmaking project. As is the structure with Urbano Project exhibitions, the visiting artists hosts a multi-week workshop with local students, and the students’ work is displayed simultaneously with the professional artist’s. Urbano Director Stella McGregor says, “It was my intention always to have this juxtaposition of professional practicing artist and teaching space.”

For many young people, the idea of a career in the arts may seem impossible. Limited jobs and low wages have long made work in creative professions challenging. Aguirre’s message about the importance of finding your life’s work, along with her own presence as a professional artist, illustrates possibilities students may not have thought imaginable. As Aguirre says, “Painting is the place of all possibilities.”

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