Critics’ Picks

Rodrigo Lara Zendejas, Installation components / componentes de la instalación, 2015, ceramic, each 24 x 12 x 12".

Chicago

Rodrigo Lara Zendejas

National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W. 19th Street
July 24 - February 28

Rodrigo Lara Zendejas’s modest solo show, “Deportable Aliens,” mourning the forced removal of people of Mexican descent from the US in the aftermath of the Great Depression, shouldn’t be taken only as a history lesson. The artist’s timely critique of this reprehensible operation gains urgency in the context of Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Even if Lara creates fragmentary memorials to the victims of the euphemistically named Mexican Repatriation, we can’t help but think about the targets of such policies today.

The show features thirty-four white porcelain sculptures arranged on a bare wooden shelf, collectively titled Deportable Aliens, 2014–15. Each of them is shaped like a thumb, with part of a face added on. Furrowed brows and forlorn eyes emit suspicion, anger, and exhaustion. One playfully sticks his tongue out; another bares his teeth. Lara’s superimposition of eyes, ears, noses, and mouths on larger-than-life digits links markers of citizenship—a thumbprint, for example—with the idea of personhood. With their mustaches and beards, many of the sculptures represent men. Others could be construed as female, but no obvious attempt is made to signify gender.

Rather than glorify individual pieces, Lara leaves the sculptures on shelves as if they still lie in wait. Like Doris Salcedo, Lara employs synecdoche, although he has much to gain from channeling the Colombian sculptor’s attention to material. Immigrant Identification Card, 2015—just that, a large replica of the document mounted on the wall—with bits of Lara’s hair and saliva, is illustrative.