Art reception treats attendees to unique cultural experience

Ethan Metcalf

On Friday evening in the Fain Fine Art Juanita Harvey Art Gallery artist Rigoberto Gonzalez presents his exhibition “Baroque on the Border.” Photo by Yasmin Persaud
On Friday evening in the Fain Fine Art Juanita Harvey Art Gallery artist Rigoberto Gonzalez presents his exhibition “Baroque on the Border.” Photo by Yasmin Persaud

About 70 students, faculty and community members came to the April 4 opening reception of Rigoberto A. Gonzalez’s exhibition Baroque on the Border, a series of classically-inspired paintings of contemporary life on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Art Professor and Gallery Director Gary Goldberg said he got the support of the multicultural office to put a cultural spin on what would have been a typical gallery reception.

“I thought it would be fun to make a full multicultural experience out of it just to do something a little different and broaden the experience,” Goldberg said.

Mexican pastries and Jarritos joined the usual soft drinks and snacks offered, and The Gypsy Kit, a local restaurant, provided goat or pork tacos free of charge to attendees to increase the authenticity further.

Shontesa Jones, multicultural services coordinator, said she helped fund the cultural food additions and advertised the event on to reach non-students.

“I thought it was something different to use the university’s funds for because usually we do typical programming,” Jones said. “This was outside of the box. It’s more of a visual art that students can see and talk about the diversity within the art.”

Gonzalez, a Mexican-born artist, said his exhibit focuses on themes of the border, largely the violence caused by immigration and the drug war.

“I myself have not experienced any of the deep suffering that you see, but it’s stories that are told to me by friends from relatives and just people I meet,” Gonzalez said. “Usually at shows I’ll have people come up to me and tell me stories, so it comes from people that are as close to me as relatives or as distant as people that I meet at a show.”

Mariachi music quietly played over the gallery speakers, which Gonzalez said represented the music one would hear in border towns.

“I told them to play the music low because it’s like what you would hear in a bar,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said Baroque on the Border shows the beauties of the war as well as the grim realities, and how even the cartel members are victims.

“Largely because that is all they have. That is the only way they can provide for their families,” Gonzalez said. “A family will commission a video in memory of a son that was killed, and he was killed because he was in the cartel. It’s just like a memory to them, but he was doing all kinds of terrible things.”

The Baroque-style paintings feature life-size characters that Gonzalez said are meant to draw the viewer in and “make this contemporary story more monumental.”

Katie LaForge, graphic design senior, said she admired the scale that Gonzalez created in his paintings.

“Everything is life-sized,” LaForge said. “He lowers the horizon line so they feel even more monumental.”

Gonzalez said many of his paintings feature a single subject that looks directly back at the viewer, which he said is meant to draw the viewer into the work.

“It’s hard to ignore somebody’s gaze. When someone is looking at you and you’re not looking at them, you sense them,” Gonzalez said. “It’s that power of that gaze that I wanted people to latch onto.”

Baroque on the Border will be in the Juanita Harvey Gallery until April 18.