The process-driven conceptual practices of artist Laura Anderson Barbata (b. 1958, Mexico City, Mexico) engage a wide variety of platforms and geographies. Centered on issues of cultural diversity, ethnography, and sustainability, her work blends political activism, street theater, traditional techniques, and arts education. Since the early 1990s, she has initiated projects with people living in the Amazon of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Norway, and New York. The results from these collaborations range from public processional performances, artist books and handmade paper, textiles, countless garments, and the repatriation of an exploited 19thcentury Mexican woman – each designed to bring public attention to issues of civil, indigenous, and environmental rights.
In Transcommunality, work from five of Barbata’s previous collaborations across the Americas are presented together for the first time. Though varying in process, tradition, and message, each of these projects emphasize Barbata’s understanding of art as a system of shared practical actions that has the capacity to increase connection. The majority of the works presented are costumed sculptures typically worn by stilt-dancing communities. Through the design and presentation of these sculptures, Barbata fosters a social exchange that activates stilt-dancing’s improvisational magic and world history. At the core of this creative practice is the concept of reciprocity: the balanced exchange of ideas and knowledge.
The events of this past year – from the uprisings across the country in response to fatal police shootings to the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 among Black and brown communities to the bitter divisiveness of the 2020 presidential election – have renewed the urgency for Barbata’s multifaceted practice. In featured projects such as Intervention: Indigo, participants from various backgrounds reckon with the past to address systemic violence and human rights abuses, calling attention to specific instances of social justice. In The Repatriation of Julia Pastrana, Barbata’s efforts critically shift the narratives of human worth and cultural memory. The paper and mask works presented in the show demonstrate the impact of individual and community reciprocity, both intentional and organic. Through her performance partnerships in Trinidad and Tobago, New York, and Oaxaca, represented throughout the museum, onlookers are invited to connect to the traditions of West Africa, the Amazon, Mexico, and the Caribbean and the narratives these costume sculptures reflect on the environment, indigenous cultures, folklore, and religious cosmologies.
By encouraging diverse collaborators to resist homogenization and deploy the creative skills inherent to authentic local expressions and their survival, Barbata promotes the revival of intangible cultural heritage. Transcommunality horizontally values the systems of oral history and folklore, spirituality, and interdisciplinary academic thought that shape Barbata’s engaging creations, celebrating the dignity, creativity, and vibrancy of the human spirit.