Invisible Hands

Curated by Emireth Herrera Valdés
July 22 - Sept 17, 2023

View installation images of the exhibition

Review by Stephen Gambello on Tussle Magazine
Review by Elizabeth Hazard on Cultbytes
Review by Peiyue Wu on Arcade Project 

Abang-guard (Jevijoe Vitug+Maureen Catbagan)
Margarita Cabrera
Brendan Fernandes
Jay Lynn Gomez
Zac Hacmon
Jamie Martinez
Patrick Martinez 
Dulce Pinzón
Hernando Restrepo 
Luis Alvaro Sahagun
Betty Yu

Exhibition Walkthrough with Emireth Herrera Valdés (English & Spanish)

Curator’s Statement

Invisible Hands features ten artists from a wide range of backgrounds who engage with the theme of domestic labor. Some are descendants of migrant domestic laborers who reckon with the legacy of this work in their family history, and some have directly performed domestic work themselves. Others look at domestic labor as part of a broader interest in narratives of immigration, labor, activism and resistance. Through socially engaged projects, sculpture, installation, performance, photography and painting, Invisible Hands illuminates hierarchical structures of class and race in the US as well as the resilience of domestic workers within these structures who sacrifice  to support their families and who organize in solidarity for fair wages and greater rights.

Margarita Cabrera’s sculpture Saguaro is a human-sized cactus constructed from border patrol uniforms sitting in a terracotta pot. The fabric surface has been stitched with organic designs and texts such as "luchar por la familia" (“fighting for the family”) to express the emotional narratives of migrants and the experiences of holding to their roots while becoming part of a new culture. The Saguaro cactus, which thrives in the unforgiving environment of Arizona and the Sonoran desert, and whose flower blooms for a single day each year, symbolizes the resilience of those who endure great hardship yet still maintain strength and hope.

Jay Lynn Gomez’s Las Meninas, Bel Air is a sculptural reinterpretation of Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas from 1656. The cardboard cut-out evokes a controlled intimacy between the domestic workers kneeling on either side of the young girl, suggesting the hierarchical relationship between them and the racialized nature of that hierarchy. Jay Lynn Gomez and Patrick Martinez present the collaborative work Against the Wall, an installation combining a painting with a cardboard cut–out figure of a gardener and his essential tools: a ladder, gloves, and a hedge trimmer. As the gardener tends to the vivid foliage, the fatigue of his body is evident, his back bent wearily under the weight of the tools.

In his terracotta sculpture series Me-Ya-AJ, Jamie Martinez considers the legacy of his housekeeper mother whom he assisted with her cleaning work in the afternoons after school. Martinez adorns the tools of domestic labor–an iron, a brush set and a dustpan–with Mayan glyphs like “La-bo-l” and “Moon woman with the owl,” symbolizing labor and fertility. Martinez performed household cleaning activities as part of his creative process, mirroring his mother's labor to encapsulate her energy into the sculptures.

Incorporating curandería, an indigenous healing practice, Luis Alvaro Sahagun’s Limpia No. 14, depicts the ritual cleansing of the artist’s cousin Elisa Chang Nuno, who struggles with the legacy of being one of a long line of domestic workers in her family. The figure wears 16th-century-style royal attire and the snake on her chest symbolizes Coatlicue, the goddess of life. These details allude to her intertwined Spanish and Aztec heritage, and the ongoing work of healing ancestral wounds in the wake of colonialism.

Zac Hacmon's Sentry  is a monumental sculpture in the shape of a marble lobby pillar. The work was inspired by a man Hacmon met named Hernando Restrepo, a doorman during his workdays and an artist during off-hours. From an air vent in the pillar we hear an audio recording of Hernando narrating his history as a Colombian immigrant in New York. Accompanying the installation, a painting by Restrepo features postcards from Cartagena with  words in English and Spanish describing memories from his work and travels.

Dulce Pinzon stages and photographs workers as popular superheroes, focusing on their often invisible goal of financially supporting loved ones in their home country, and the dual identity that necessitates. In Bernabé Méndez from the State of Guerrero works as a professional window cleaner in New York. He sends 500 dollars a month, we see Bernabé hanging from ropes off the side of a building cleaning windows, a real-life Spiderman who risks his life to support his family. In Catwoman - Minerva Valencia from Puebla, works as a nanny in New York. She sends 400 dollars a week, Catwoman engages in the superhuman feat of tenderly caring for her employers’ children as well as her own family. Photographs taken by Pinzon years later illustrate the objects Minerva’s earnings paid for in her family’s home in Mexico.

Abang-guard (Jevijoe Vitug + Maureen Catbagan) use museum-like displays inspired by their experiences as museum security guards to illuminate overlooked social issues. Care Guardian examines the ongoing exploitation of Filipino healthcare workers, featuring a figurine of a Filipino caregiver tending to a wheelchair-bound man, with coins replacing human waste in a bedpan. Abanguard’s No More 24! May Day Tapestry alludes to The Unicorn in Captivity tapestry from the Middle Ages. Instead of a captive unicorn at its center, this tapestry fences in a group of caregivers campaigning for an end to 24-hour work shifts. In depicting humans in zoo-like captivity, it also references the historical human exhibits at Coney Island's Luna Park during the 1900s, emphasizing the historic objectification of people of color.

Betty Yu's Working Stories examines the effects of gentrification and displacement on low-income working-class people in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC. Featuring an aluminum sign portraying a female domestic worker protesting with the Domestic Workers Alliance, along with portraits and audio interviews of two nannies Yu interviewed, the artwork showcases the activism of domestic workers seeking greater rights and better working conditions regardless of their legal status.

Brendan Fernandes' Clean Labor, a dance to be performed at the opening of the exhibition, explores the connection between the physicality of dance movement and that of domestic labor. Like the contrast between the perceived grace and ease of dance and its often damaging effect on the body, a clean room can render invisible the work required to make it so pleasing, and the toll that work takes on bodies. Migrant labor is often hidden in plain sight within American society. Taken together, these artistic explorations of the theme of immigrant domestic workers within our class hierarchy illuminate some of the ways workers assert their humanity within this system.

Image: Jay Lynn Gomez & Patrick Martinez, Against the Wall, 2019. Acrylic paint, latex house paint, spray paint, cardboard, ladder, work gloves and stucco on panel. Courtesy of the artists and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles.
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