Earlier this month, the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston opened the year with its Winter Exhibition, highlighting three different artists, each offering a window into their personal worldviews. Two of the exhibits will be on view to the public from now until mid-March.
One of them, “The Secrecy of Water” by Leslie Martinez , is a collection of abstract paintings highlighted by colorful ridges of texture. According to Martinez, the work is their attempt to capture the ecological makeup of the southern Texas border. Current-day social justice issues like climate change, extreme drought, and the ecological landscape of Martinez’s hometown of McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley provide a peek into their past.
“The crunchy fabric, the embeddedness is a lot of what you see coming out of the ground, sort of like clothing or rejected constructed materials or anything sort of submerged with dirt over it and dirts under it,” Martinez says. “It’s mysterious and strange. That’s the Rio Grande Valley, as well as the bright, fruity colors of architecture."
Hues of pink, blue, yellow, green, and black pop out from the canvas. The yellow and orange represent wildfires, while shades of black represent patches of burned crops, and the bright, bold sections represent standard colors you see in the heavily Spanish-influenced border region. “Down there everybody loves some crazy combinations of spicy and sweet and it’s all like a snowcone candy mixture,” Martinez says.
Next, conceptual artist Christopher Paul and sound practitioner Mo Nikole (also known as Womon) offered a performance art piece called “Transmigration Through the Void to No Place,” which emphasized Black people’s tension in everyday life and what it would look like to move past boxing one’s identity.
“When I was thinking about this piece, there’s a lot that comes up for me, especially in tandem with how I think about Black people in our current existence,” Paul says. “Nothing ever is going to change, let’s face it. I’m referring to white people in history and how they have dehumanized us. And we have not been treated like humans since we have been declassified, and still have to prove our humanity. So my assertion is, why don’t we jump off from that and figure out what else we can be? And in order for us to do that, we must untether.”
The eye-catching performance utilizes various shapes of ropes tightly hung on a hook. Paul grabs the ropes one by one before each breaks, eventually leaving him with nothing to hold. “It’s like me still trying to stay tethered down to what’s keeping me here,” says Paul. “Every single performance is different and improvised.”
Paul, who hails from San Antonio, currently attends the University of Houston, where he studies sculpture and is pursuing a degree in fine arts. Though UH wasn’t his first choice, Paul says he'd found a family in Houston where his art and creativity have thrived. “There is so much in being local and being able to take up space in your own city,” Paul says.
Last on the program was interdisciplinary artist Jalcoby Satterwhite , whose video installation “We Are in Hell When We Hurt Each Other” addresses community, queer culture, dance, and the body through the movement of dancing Black robots.
In the beginning, the robots can be seen dancing and voguing, while the repeated phrase “I hurt you, you hurt me. You hurt me, you hurt yourself” loops in the background. The main fembot also pushes through what looks like holographic balls that come in their way.
The end of the installation clip pays homage to 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who died while she was asleep in her bed after Louisville police officers used a botched report to force entry into her home.
“The Secrecy of Water” and “We Are in Hell When We Hurt Each Other” will both be on display until Sunday, March 12. The Blaffer Art Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
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