Museum welcomes Spanish speakers to new ceramics exhibit

by Jennifer Johnson,

Hallie Ford Museum of Art’s George Rodriguez exhibition will examine culture, politics and identity.

  • Confetti by George Rodriguez
    Seattle artist George Rodriguez’s “Confetti” and other ceramic dresses will be on display June 8 at Hallie Ford Museum of Art.
  • We The People
    “We The People” by George Rodriguez

A gargantuan mariachi band doubling as a border wall will fill Hallie Ford Museum of Art for a new exhibition.

Although the nine-member band stretches 20 feet long and stands eight feet high, it’s just one of 41 works in the ceramics-only show titled “George Rodriguez: Embellished Narratives.”

Ceramic artwork is a trademark of Rodriguez, a Seattle artist whose sculptural busts and ornamental, flower-covered dresses are inspired by his childhood in Texas, his heritage and his many travels around the world.

A 10-year survey of his work will be on exhibit at HFMA June 8–Aug. 25 in the Maribeth Collins Lobby and Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery.

Rodriguez will present an illustrated public lecture at 5 p.m. June 8  in Paulus Lecture Hall followed by a members-only reception from 6–8 p.m. at the museum.

Outreach to Spanish-speaking community

For the first time at HFMA, all of the text in the gallery and exhibition posters will be translated into Spanish, said Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Jonathan Bucci, who organized the show.

The museum contacted Instituto de Cultura Oregoniana of Salem, a Salem organization that promotes Spanish-speaking culture, to do the translation.

HFMA wanted to use the exhibition as an opportunity to reach out to the Latino community in new ways, which includes a family activity day and gallery talk by Rodriguez in Spanish on June 22, Bucci said. The museum also plans to partner with Salem Art Association and Latinos Unidos Siempre, a local chapter of the national social change group, to engage with young people.

In HFMA’s strategic planning discussions, staff had identified outreach to the Latino community as an area to develop, Bucci said.

“Salem’s population is approximately 20% Latino, and as a museum with a strong community focus in our mission, we feel it is important to reach to that population,” he said. “We want all people from Salem to feel at home and see themselves in the artwork we exhibit.”

Expansive show

Rodriguez is only in his late 30s, but he has produced plenty of art.

During his early years in El Paso, he watched his seamstress mother produce dozens of dresses for events like weddings and quinceañeras. The garments became a “springboard” for him that allowed him to focus on his fascination for decoration, he said in an artist’s statement for Foster/White Gallery in Seattle.  

The HFMA exhibit features introspective works — portraits of Rodriguez’s face morphed into other famous Georges, such as Boy George — and a series of 2-foot-tall dresses, including the Cinderella-like quinceañera gown and one mimicking a terra cotta planter. Mariachi bands, a cultural mainstay of big gatherings, inspired Rodriguez’s master of fine arts thesis piece that dominates the HFMA exhibit.

The exhibition is an important one for the community to experience — particularly young people — because Rodriguez’s work is accessible and addresses challenging contemporary issues, Bucci said. “The retrospective provides a superb introduction to his work as an artist.”

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