The National Endowment for the Arts has approved a $40,000 grant for the University Art Museum at New Mexico State University, among $1.6 million in NEA awards recommended for arts projects in New Mexico.

The NEA recently announced more than $91 million in recommended grants to organizations in all 50 states and United States jurisdictions. Grants are in three NEA funding categories: Grants for Arts Projects, Our Town and State and Regional Partnerships.

The NEA grant to the University Art Museum will support “Contemporary Ex-Votos: Devotion Beyond Medium,” a two-part exhibition displaying 19th and 20th century retablos from the NMSU Permanent Art Collection alongside new works by Latinx artists, which will open in September.  

NMSU holds the largest public collection of retablos in the U.S. – more than 2,000 works on tin, wood, copper and canvas in addition to other objects of sacred art.

“The exhibition, associated public programming and accompanying catalog will demonstrate the important place retablos have in the history of the Americas, recontextualizing future studies of contemporary devotion in Latin America and the U.S.,” said Marisa Sage, UAM director.

Ex-votos are retablos depicting miracles painted on tin and other found materials, usually painted by self-taught artists. They are part of a Mexican folk art tradition depicting religious narratives of hope and suffering mitigated by divine intervention, resulting in healing and devotion.

“This NEA grant is one of several awards from different organizations for the University Art Museum in recent years,” said Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “In this case, the NEA grant will not only help to expand public access and understanding of NMSU’s large collection of retablos but also increase scholarly access to these works that are an important part of the borderlands culture and community.”

The UAM exhibition will be accompanied by a digitization project of more than 250 of NMSU’s retablo collection. It will include an artists’ residency and commissioned works.

“The intent of this project is to analyze ex-votos via new Latinx artistic practices that expand upon this historical medium,” Sage said. “The scale of the commissioned works, the experimentation of medium and disparate approaches to devotion will shed a new light on this important and often overlooked genre of art. This project will not only demonstrate the power of ‘popular painting,’ but also how resilience in historical material culture can engender powerful dialogues that can shape new approaches to contemporary political, social and cultural issues.”

Emergent Latinx artists were chosen by exhibition curator Emmanuel Ortega, The Marilynn Thoma Scholar in Art of the Spanish Americas at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ortega has curated many exhibitions across the U.S. and in Mexico. The selected artists will utilize the NMSU retablo collection through a residency and digitized works to create ex-votos of various media to shed light on the understudied iconographic/ideological aspects of the genre.

Residence artists include Yvette Mayorga and Xochi Solis. Solis will spend time in the NMSU retablo collection to contemplate the social construction of how artists and cultural production existed around the creation of ex-votos and how this mode of operation can exist in contemporary art practices, and will create 20 works on paper mimicking the floor to ceiling displays seen at pilgrimages sites. Mayorga will create an ex-voto filled sanctuary site in the UAM using her signature sculptural ceramic piping method and found materials and objects from her NMSU retablo collection residency and a pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico. 

Additional artists include: José Villalobos, Daisy Quezada, Francisco Guevara, Krystal Ramirez, Dan Hernández, Guadalupe Maravilla, Justin Favela, John Jota Leaños, Eric J. Garcia and Sandy Rodriguez.

Educational programming includes a commissioned video from the YouTube channel “Unsettling Journeys,” which examines the art historical contexts of ex-voto production in Mexico, including research, interviews and digital animations from the NMSU retablo collection.

An animation workshop presented to Las Cruces Public Schools will teach students to digitally collage elements of ex-votos, by selecting cutouts of scanned historical retablos.

“The goal of this workshop is to allow students to understand their histories in relation to the context and iconography of the retablos while learning digital skills,” Sage said.

“The UAM aims to reflect and amplify the voices of our predominantly Hispanic community,” she added. “We are dedicated to creating new spaces to collectively reimagine narratives of decolonization, democracy and justice through art.”

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