The past four weeks in the studio have served as a season of conceptual transition and preparation. This week I finished editing and formatting my Meme’s memoir for publishing and I am expecting the first proof of her book any day now. Elidia Gray Velez’s experience growing up on the Rio Grande and her eventual crossing of the border has played an integral role in my identity and creative practice.
The words of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695), a nun and Mexico’s first published feminist, have been forefront in my work. She reminds me that each point of view is valid and each human life is of equal value.
All people have opinions and
judgments so multitudinous,
that when one states this is black,
the other proves it is white.
All people are equal judges;
being both equal and varied,
there is no one who can decide
which argument is true and right.
If you, aware of the danger,
wish to wield the point of the sword,
how can the steel blade be to blame
for the evil acts of your hand?
Although the final phrase is a commentary of the machismo and patriarchal aspects of Sor Juana’s society, I consider it in light of the United States’ self-protective exclusion of immigrants. I am making works that involve foliage, spices, herbs, and personal belongings as a vehicle to discuss displacement, distress, and identity through scent and object.
Weeping Thorn Bush (working reference title): A pruned rose bush omits tears from its freshly cut branches. The bush is rooted in cracked soil and although the plant is utterly depleted it continues to yield tears. This work has been constructually challenging. After some trial and error, the approach I am now taking is to install a drip irrigation system through the branches of an actual bush. I envision this work as one part of a future installation, where the tears are collected into vessels which lead to a sprinkler system that waters a lush manicured lawn.
Contained Okra (working reference title): Ten mauve chalices form a square base where okra stalks grow out of them. The glasses will be filled with cumin, oregano, and garlic, giving off an aroma familiar to Central American, South American, and Caribbean cooking. The specific use of okra is important to the work; the Egyptians first document its Arabian origins in the 12th century B.C. Okra spread throughout southern Asia and North Africa and was later introduced to the Americas through the Atlantic slave trade. Okra is now widely used in Latin American, Africana, and American Southern cuisine. For me, it is a plant that symbolizes human migration and a diversity explosion.
Spice Tablecloth (working reference title) – The idea for this work stems from Contained Okra, as a further exploration of spice as material. I am duplicating a pattern from an heirloom on the Cuban side of my family. Each section of the pattern will be filled with a spice or herb from the Caribbean. I am still deciding whether this should be a floor work or if it should be elevated and displayed on a dining table. The scent of the work is the driving element.
Be well and create well,
Emily Nelms Perez
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Selected works – A feminist before her time, Sor Juana advocated for equal education rights. In her midlife she was punished for her ideas and the authorities removed her access to writing and reading materials. She died in a convent struck by a plague. Sor Juana owned the largest personal library under Spanish rule during the late 17th century.
Bosque Bonito: Violent Times along the Borderland during the Mexican Revolution – An account of the Mexican Revolution from the perspective of a US solider. Details the US invasion of Mexico approximately one hundred years ago, which pushed the border to the Rio Grande River.