October 25, 2023 1132 PM
VIENNA, AUSTRIA — Memorias de Vida y Muerte, a binational group exhibition featuring artists from the Chihuahuan Desert region, opened last week at the Latin American Institute of Austria.
The show includes work by local artists Ann Marie Nafziger, Diana Simard and Zak Ziebell all of Marfa, Tom Curry of Alpine, and many others from San Antonio, El Paso, Juarez and Chihuahua City. Marfa resident Clara Bensen and artist Miguel Valverde, of Chihuahua City, who has displayed work at the Ruidosa Church, acted as co-curators.
The borderlands showcase is a part of the annual, international Dia de Los Muertos festival in Austria. Bensen, Valverde and a handful of the featured artists attended the opening in Vienna last week, which began with a traditional procession led by Hena Moreno Corzo from Cultural Latina, who sang “La Llorona” as attendees walked from the street into the exhibition.
Bensen said it was “a packed house,” with over 150 attendees, including the Mexican ambassador to Austria. She and Valverde said the paintings they selected aim to represent the cultural richness of the Chihuahuan Desert region, too often characterized by its vastness and politics.
“There are so many layers of culture and history here, even though it’s remote and arguably not the easiest environment to survive in,” said Bensen. “The paintings in the show speak to that range of complexity and experience.”
Valverde said it was important to elevate and raise awareness of the area on an international level, and art was the perfect vehicle.
“I think we must share our character through the art community,” said Valverde. “The area has many values that the world must know and the exhibition was a great opportunity for it.”
Bensen and Valverdeo worked previously to bring one of Valverde’s works, Latido de Luz, to the Ruidosa Church for its annual community day in 2022. They decided to continue their collaboration when the opportunity to present a show at the Latin American Institute in Vienna came about last year through Valverde’s connections.
They worked with the museum to select artists for the show, wanting to represent as many locations from the Trans-Pecos region as possible, said Bensen. They determined the exhibition would focus primarily on the work of figurative painters and settled on a theme.
“The theme of the show is focused on expressions of life (and death) in the Chihuahuan Desert — our shared environment — but that encompasses large urban areas, not just rural ones,” said Bensen.
The process of developing the show in Texas and Mexico, then unveiling it in Austria, was a true cross-cultural experience, said Valverde, involving close collaboration across borders.
“We worked from Chihuahua to Vienna, Vienna to Marfa, Marfa to Chihuahua,” said Valverde. “It was wonderful learning how to work across three different cultures.”