Updates from Emily’s studio at Mana

Gold-leafed corn

Gold-leafed corn

The past month in the studio can be labeled as a season of risk-taking as I created “art” in the form of reenacting a Mexican food process of cooking masa, manipulating corn into various forms, and reflecting on the research that has informed these new directions. For me, the works that I am currently making function as studies searching for complete thoughts. The desire behind these works is simply to connect with a history to which I belong via a not-so-distant lineage.

Experimenting with each part of the maize to create alternative forms.

Experimenting with each part of the maize to create alternative forms.

The initial mental gestures of each work may have stemmed from personal interests, but the works move beyond my narrative; reaching into the American colonial history (North, Central, and South America) which impacts the contemporary thoughts and living conditions of today’s minority peoples, and the ways in which others treat these minority peoples. My careful and ongoing reading of Coco Fusco’s English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the America’s, coupled with the long editing process of my Meme’s memoir, Along the Banks of the Rio Grande, has given me new perspectives on existing as a multicultural person in North America. These new perspectives deal with the cultural bleaching of which I have been a part, in an effort to assimilate into my birthright as a natural-born U.S. citizen.

Complete image of the earthwork, representing a section of land along the Rio Grande River.

Complete image of the earthwork, representing a section of land along the Rio Grande River.

The main material in the studio has been corn – so much corn. This season has been marked by confusion, illumination, and experimentation as I have coated corn in a faux gold product and formed maize into objects that will ever be fighting the process of biodegrading until they are overtaken and discarded. These actions have sometimes felt futile; spending days grinding heaps of yellow starch and crafting a now immovable slab made of cement, red clay, and corn stalks. Yet, these actions are proving necessary in the journey towards the realization of a history, which I previously had only interpreted through the eyes of the “victor.” I am still considering how these actions relate to my experience as a multi-ethnic person, and in what ways they successfully or unsuccessfully bring awareness to the marginalized Latinx peoples of the United States. The majority of my time this month has been spent cleaning, boiling, and grinding kernels into masa with the use of a traditional molcajete. Several pounds of corn are the fruit of my labor, awaiting their proper form.

Time-lapse clip of the process of grinding corn kernels into masa from International Sculpture Center on Vimeo.

Current winter reads-

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, written by Sidney W. Mintz – An excellent history on the normalization of luxury in the West and how that demand oppressed the vulnerable to the benefit of the powerful.

Discourse on Colonialism, written by Aimé Césaire – First published in 1955 in French, this short read has been a key resource for scholars and activists in the fight for the social freedom of people of color from the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America.

The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz – A collection of writings from one of Mexico’s most prominent cultural critics, considered an international classic.

By Emily Nelms Perez

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