Andrea Bowers, Radical Hospitality, 2015, stainless steel, aluminum tubes, wood, chain, neon signs, cable, 118 × 39 × 39".

Andrea Bowers, Radical Hospitality, 2015, stainless steel, aluminum tubes, wood, chain, neon signs, cable, 118 × 39 × 39".

Andrea Bowers

Andrea Bowers, Radical Hospitality, 2015, stainless steel, aluminum tubes, wood, chain, neon signs, cable, 118 × 39 × 39".

For Andrea Bowers’s debut exhibition at Kaufmann Repetto, the Los Angeles–based artist turned her grassroots-activist eye to the struggle for immigrants’ rights in the United States. Rooting her investigation of this topic in an exposure of the underlying imbalance of power between colonized cultures and former colonizers—a disequilibrium that is still dramatically visible in the border regions between Mexico and the US—Bowers conceived a sprawling installation consisting of archival materials, graphite drawings, political posters, photographs, video, and sculpture. This project, titled “Self-determination,” builds on research the artist began in 2010, when she became interested in the Brown Berets, a revolutionary organization formed during the Chicano civil-rights movement of the late 1960s. The group garnered only brief media attention, but it continues to fight for self-determination, for an end to the inequality suffered by Mexican immigrants, and for the right to reclaim areas of the American Southwest originally inhabited by indigenous Aztec people. While the production of this show was motivated by Bowers’s stated desire “to end the unjust border policies in the United States,” here the artist presented a group of works that home in on tensions between the individual and society and between collective histories and isolated events.

In the first of four rooms, Bowers mounted to three walls 291 sheets of twenty-two-by-seventeen-inch paper in grid formation, a minimal yet formidable intervention that totally transformed the space. This “wallpaper,” reminiscent of the artist’s 2011 work The New Woman’s Survival Guide, was composed of a selection from the archives of Carlos Montes, one of the founders of the Brown Berets, including drawings, posters, and photographic prints of the pages of such journals as La Causa, La Raza, and Inside Eastside (the collective’s thruways of communication) dating from 1967 to 1971. These were presented alongside contemporary ephemera and photographs from the artist’s participation in marches and protests in the Los Angeles area over the past five years. The resulting juxtaposition was chromatically violent—the aggressive hues of protest flyers clashed with the worn black-and-white of old newspaper. These pages, which display a range of political strategies but more resoundingly underscore the duration of the ongoing struggle, seemed to both unleash a cry of protest and quietly express the frustration that lurks behind the dignity of silence.

On the fourth wall hung a line of seven hyperrealist drawings featuring elements isolated from the wallpaper display and rendered in graphite. In this arrangement, reproductions of graphics appropriated from the Brown Beret publications were alternated with works from an ongoing series titled “May Day Drawings,” 2010–. The latter drawings picture fragments of photographs of female protesters. They are composed so that the women’s bodies are trumped in scale by the surrounding negative space on the page; the women are always depicted from the waist up, their legs severed at the bottom of the page. These drawings heavily nod toward the conditions of marginalization, the brutality of ghettoization, and the difficulty of advancement. In another dimly lit room, a structure composed of wind chimes, barbed wire cast in stainless steel, and a neon sign reading RADICAL HOSPITALITY (the work, dated 2015, is titled the same) was suspended from the ceiling, appearing like a contemporary totem meant to discourage movements promoting migration and transit.

The exhibition concluded with a small room, painted a military brown, dedicated to a 2012 video interview with Montes. Bowers conducted the conversation just after the activist was arrested and charged with six felonies for a student action in which he had participated some forty years earlier. Montes’s testimony, which describes his experiences as a young Mexican radical, underscores the artist’s interest in revealing the tensions surrounding self-representation and participation. In her staging of the relationship between group demands and individual impulses, neither is privileged; rather, these concerns coexist and reinforce each other, breathing new life into both contemporary social movements and key moments in political history.

Paola Nicolin

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.