In what ways is art a universal language?
In terms of the need of humankind to communicate, it’s a way of communicating when words or sounds fail us. Art is the common denominator of humankind. In that sense, its intrinsic value comes from being a representation of an idea. Art is the process of taking an idea, that can’t quite be expressed in language, and physically manifesting that idea.
And I’m not just referring to the kind of “art” that hangs in a gallery. I have great admiration for the skill and mastery derived from years dedicated to perfecting a trade or “craft” like leather working, ceramics, or woodworking. Even cooking. I think that is absolutely an art form and shows our innate need to create, connect, and communicate with each other.
What are some cultural archetypes you feel more connected to and why?
I think we all have archetypes in our minds that tell us what or how a “Mexican,” or a “Latino,” or even a “beautiful” piece of art should look like. I have a lot of fun twisting and challenging those pre-conceived notions. I am Mexican, but I am also not only Mexican. I am Alberto, but I am also just a man, a citizen in this universe.
Archetypes that are so deeply rooted in our imaginary collective, much like “immigrant,” “war,” “justice,” “Mestizo” have such a deep connection to the history of mankind that they are often times difficult to separate from the actual piece that is supposed to represent them. That, to me, is a vast field of exploration and growth as an artist, especially with this project.
What is the impact of using clay to honor the memory of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico on the viewer looking at the piece? What was the impact of using clay on you as the artist?Using clay has been a life changing experience. I remember using clay as a child and have fond memories of it, but using it as a grown man really has transformed the way that I approach creating a piece. I cannot describe the feeling of connectedness to your hands, thoughts, and the soil, that sculpting with clay gives you. It’s almost therapeutic. You have to be patient and focused, but also firm and gentle. It’s something that comes from the ground, so simple yet so profound. I’ve yet to meet a master ceramist that doesn’t emanate this inner peace attributed to monks and religious men and women. Hopefully, something similar will happen to the viewers. It certainly happened to me when I looked at all a wood fired piece for the first time. My senses were overwhelmed, I was in awe.
The other day my girlfriend and I were at The Point Campus, working on the exhibit. A passerby saw that we had a small bonfire going and he asked us “What are you guys doing?” We explained to him that we were “firing” a mask. To which he replied "Why?… To get rid of it?".
It made me realize that for most people, fire only has the potential to destroy. But once you start working with clay, you realize that fire, or heat, is actually what makes a piece stronger. I think that’s a powerful analogy, about taking the difficulties that life throws at us and not letting them destroy us. Actually using them to make us stronger, more resilient. And that’s part of what I’m trying to convey with “Hombres de Arcilla.” Let’s not forget about the thousands of activists, journalists, men and women that have been murdered or disappeared in Mexico in the last few decades. Let’s not let the “fire” destroy them. Let the fire be what makes them stronger.
The "creation of man from clay" is a theme that recurs throughout world religions and mythologies, it is, in many respects, the first parent/child or family narrative. In what ways has your family impacted your creation/ creation process?
My family has always been very supportive when it comes to my art. And because my brothers and I are very close in age and were homeschooled by our parents, there’s always been this sense of collaboration. Especially when it comes to being creative. So Luis and Ernesto aren’t just my brothers; they’re also my classmates, my co-workers, my roommates, my biggest fans, my harshest critics, and above all my best friends. I know that I wouldn’t be creating this exhibit today without them.
Because it's always been there, like water and fire, clay is earth - an essential element for life. And since the beginning of time, cultures all over the planet have created masterpieces with just these three elements. There’s something very god-like in creating something out of clay. Because once it’s fired, it’s permanent. That fired piece of clay will outlive its creator.
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Natalie N. Caro is an editor, writer, and professor. She graduated from Lehman College, Magna Cum Laude, with double major in English Literature and Philosophy. She earned a fellowship and an MFA from City College. In 2013, she was awarded the Bronx Recognizes Its Own Fellowship by the Bronx Council on the Arts for excellence in Poetry. She was nominated for The Pushcart Prize, one of the most honored literary projects in America, in 2015. Currently, she's a doctoral candidate in CIAS- Center for Inter-American Studies, Bielefeld, University, where she will.