Memoria(Memory): an art installation by Bibiana Suárez that investigates the place of Latinos in the cultural and political landscape of the U.S. since WWII.

Memoria(Memory) is an installation that, similarly to my other projectDomino/Dominó, uses a game format, in this case the card game Memory (Milton Bradley).  For those that may not remember, Memory is a board game where players work at remembering the placement of matching pairs of picture cards. Through this device, I discuss the impact that Latinos have had in the cultural and political landscape of the U.S. since the inception of the Bracero program during WWII.

Like in the actual Memory game there are 54 pairs of “cards” in Memoria or 108 total pieces. The “cards” are 23.5 in. sq made from alumalite panels and are repeated in an irregular grid, just like in the actual Memory game. Each "card" was fabricated and mounted as a separate piece but installed in a grid configuration.The layout is intended to imply a game in process with cards turned and others unturned, and pairs found and others to be still discovered.  The cards from the original Memory game have a pattern on the back.  This detail is represented in my game installation. However, in my installation the cards that seemed “unturned” have a pattern made by words. The pattern is made by repeated combinations of 36 names I came up with that Latinos use or that others use to refer to us, epithets included.  The naming described in this image is the key to understanding what is at the core of this work.  The names allude to a history of exchanges - sometimes amicable and other times confrontational - between Latinos of different origins and mainstream American culture.

Latinos have become the largest group within the minority populations in this country.  This means that our language and culture will have an even greater impact in the construction of the American identity. Latino identity has long been used in the selling of U.S. popular culture, but the nature of those signifiers is being transformed by the explosive growth of the Latino population in this country. One needs only to consider the shift from Ricky Ricardo’s Babalú sound to J Lo’s infamousderrière, from the Frito Bandito thievery to the Taco Bell Chihuahua’s plead for more, to understand the changing parameters of agency and exoticism in Latino references in marketing.  I am interested in engaging viewers in a discussion of the impact this phenomenon is having on life in the U.S. as well as in the construction of “new” national identities.

While “Hispanic” is often a convenient term to define all Latinos in the U.S., this population which was estimated at 14.6 million in 1980 and is currently projected at 47 million by 2020, is quite varied, with four groups being the more prominent: Mexican Americans and Chicanos; new Mexicans immigrants, Puerto Ricans and Cubans. In this work I also address the complex web of mestizaje (mixed race) and hibridity compounded by the marked differences in social status and upbringing that characterize these groups in their interaction with each other and mainstream U.S. culture. 

In the actual Memory game, players concentrate on remembering the placement of matching pairs of pictures.  The player who collects the most pictures wins the game. In Memoria/Memory I work at “matching” the idea of memory and placement in the Memory game to the history of demographic patterns of these Latino groups in the U.S., with all the relevant socio-political issues that this would evoke, calling the viewer to “play”, “remember”, “concentrate” and ultimately learn about and interact with our interwoven histories.

I allude for example to programs and policies established and changed by the U.S. government to control the influx of Latino immigrants to this country.  Mexicans for example were deported in the 1930’s during the Depression Era after jobs grew scarce, only to be courted again during World War II when through the Braceroprogram Mexican workers were given temporary work permits to replace the job force that have gone to war. Braceros were later driven back out of the country in the late 1950’s through “Operation Wetback” which aim was to stop the traffic of Mexican aliens after the domestic labor supply was back.  The recent controversy over illegal immigrant rights sadly reminds us how little progress we have made on this issue.

Finally, through Domino/Dominó I discovered in the use of the “game aesthetics” an effective means to readily engage the viewer in a meaningful dialogue with my work. Memoria(Memory) was conceived to further explore “game-like” strategies and presentation formats to address the audience in an even more interactive way. A small format of the "game" exists which was played at the HPAC gallery and at the Institute of Puerto Rican Art and Culture (IPRAC) in Chicago.

Memoria(Memory) was exhibited at the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC), Chicago December 11, 2011 – March 25, 2012.  The oldest alternative space in the city with a national reputation. (For more information go  to www.hydeparkart.org orhttp://www.hydeparkart.org/exhibitions/2011/12/bibiana_suarez_memoria_memory.php).

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