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Emilio Rojas exhibit delves into immigrant experiences

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Emilio Rojas exhibit delves into immigrant experiences
Emilio Rojas, “El Mestizo,” 2010. Performance-video.

In the wake of the recent news story of migrants shuttled unknowingly from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Emilio Rojas’s show “Emilio Rojas: tracing a wound through my body,” on view through Nov. 6 at Emerson College’s Emerson Contemporary, feels extremely timely. Using live performance, film, photography, installation and other mediums, Rojas explores the border politics, generational trauma and colonial structures tied to immigration in the United States.“We are honored to bring his work to our campus,” says Dr. Leonie Bradbury, Emerson Contemporary’s distinguished curator-in-residence. “Rojas’ exhibition comes to us at a time of continued adversity and a growing humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border, as each day, thousands of people try to cross the border, often risking their lives and/or that of their children.”

Emilio Rojas, Naturalized Borders (a Gloria), 2019. Digital photograph with corn and documentation from the project, dimensions variable. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.

A film on display shows documentation of a live project Rojas created in 2019, titled “Naturalized Borders (to Gloria).” With the local community near Bard College Farm, Rojas planted a 100-foot long line of Indigenous crops in the shape of the U.S.-Mexico border. During the eight-month project, the community fostered the crops and performed actions within the space to meditate on the state of land sovereignty and the border
as a means of oppression.

This, like many of Rojas’s works, is influenced by Chicana cultural theorist Gloria E. Anzaldúa. The title of the Emerson show comes from a passage of Anzaldúa’s work where she describes these centuries-old traumas as “open wounds” with the potential to heal.

Emilio Rojas, “m(Other)s,” 2017–ongoing. Eight videos. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.

Rojas is a multidisciplinary artist and a queer Latinx immigrant with Indigenous heritage. In many of his works, Rojas uses his own body as a political and critical tool to unearth traumas and embodied forms of decolonization. Migration and border politics are topics inextricably associated with Latinx people, for better or worse, truthfully or with prejudice. Rojas’ work assesses those issues from the immigrant perspective with control over the narrative and the possibility of healing.

The exhibition is based in Emerson’s Media Arts Gallery, with supplementary works staged throughout the campus. At the gallery, open to the public, viewers can get instructions for accessing the additional works.

The show is accompanied by a series of public programs and an extensive bilingual exhibition catalog featuring new poetry by Rojas along with essays, interviews and ruminations by prominent Latinx writers. The catalog is available for free in a digital version, and a print edition will be published this fall.

Bradbury says, “Tragically, 2022 is already the worst year on record for migrant deaths at the border, making Rojas’ critical works relevant as ever.”

arts, border politics, film, immigration
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