Game, Set, Match

courtesy of HPAC

Bibiana Suárez’s latest exhibit–an installation piece that combines the voluptuous rear-end of Jennifer Lopez, three glittery cowboys, vintage maps, and hand-painted signage–is an exhibit that attempts to speak for the growing sentiment of latinidad. The notion of a pan-ethnic solidarity amongst people of all Latin American origin became pertinent to Suárez in 2000, when it was announced that Latinos had become the largest group within the minority population of the United States. Ten years later, Suárez is proud to present “Memoria (Memory),” 108 squares spread across three walls of a large, industrial room in the Hyde Park Art Center. Each square is a piece of a puzzle, a part of a game.

Based on the ubiquitous children’s game Memory, the installation is divided into three parts. The viewer looks straight onto the central wall, where some squares are “turned up,” presenting a colorful image and others remain “face down,” showing what appears to be a generic pattern on the backs of cards, but which is actually string of words the Hispanic community uses to refers to themselves and others. One player’s winnings of matching pairs are displayed on the south wall and the opponent’s are displayed on the north wall, the pairs of matching images fully revealed.

Yet, upon further examination, the matches are not identical. The pairs are somewhat recognizable–the matches feature the same subjects, the same composition, or the same words–but the colors, language, and details vary. One pair is JLo’s backside rendered in two different color palettes. Another is a technicolor mango, sliced in one image, intact is its complement. One poignant match is made up of two portraits: one of a smiling Latina girl, black hair and brown skin, the other of a Caucasian girl, blonde hair and white skin. Both smile the same toothy grin and wear the same plastic beads around their necks. The opposite wall has a similar pair, with images of a young boy–one white, one with café-colored skin.

Allison Peters Quinn, director of exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center says, “It’s exactly that! The children of the same ethnicity could be matched together, but they are not. The matches aren’t always obvious. Suárez wants us to think and make connections beyond the obvious.” She points to a pair of matched cards. One reads, “Se Habla Inglés” and the other reads “We Speak English.” Both players have matched the two different signs to each other. “See?” says Quinn, “You can swap the English and the Spanish signs with each other…What is that saying? There is content behind the matches.”

Six different squares in the game feature a black silhouette of a bird with dashed lines–the indication of a flight path–overlaid on an aged map. One of the birds is the hummingbird, the national bird of Puerto Rico (Suárez’s birthplace) and the other is an eagle, the national bird of Mexico. “Suárez is creating a play on migration, trying to show how people end up in different places. It’s all about play for her, the aesthetics of play,” Quinn explains.

Suárez’s installation engrosses and engages, as each unsuccessful turn in the memory game entice players to make another attempt. The revealed but unpaired cards offer multiple combinations for the viewer to select: a square of choppy seas with a three-dimensional canoe titled “Elián” (referring to the 2000 Elián Gonzalez custody and immigration controversy) can be paired with several images–a steamboat, a fleet of canoes, a black and white anchor among them. But the anchor could be paired with the image of a swaddled infant, evoking the “anchor baby” and birthright citizenship debate. Several other cards, made of various media, have several possible matches.

“She was always thinking about the pairs as she was creating “Memoría,” this idea of the pair, the duality. It speaks to the mutuality of the American and Hispanic identities and voices,” Quinn says. She clarifies, “Suárez is a painter, but here she branches out to use all sorts of materials, in a way trying to capture the many voices of latinidad.”

Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through March 25.