Victor Cartagena, “Sites/Sights of Intervention” at Richmond Art Center

by admin on March 28, 2014

Installations and artworks by local artist Victor Cartagena on view at Richmond Art Center in “Sites/Sights of Intervention” act almost as the artist’s autobiography. Appropriating imagery which reflect his own experiences and responses to world events to explore broader socio-political issues, Cartagena in many ways surrenders his private experiences and personal, difficult memories to public view to not only provide healing, but to facilitate meaningful conversation and perpetuate lasting change to the troubling issues and attitudes he has faced and witnessed.

At 19 Cartagena left his native El Salvador in 1985 and came alone to San Francisco to flee his country’s civil war. His early work drew upon these experiences, boldly exploring memories of that difficult time. Some of the most pressing themes his work expresses are the challenges and discriminations immigrants like himself endure in America. Since the beginning of the civil war, between 500,000 and one million El Salvadorans have come to America. Thus in many ways the artist tells their story while also making a powerful statement about all immigrant experience through his work. Passport portraits, strung together hanging from the ceiling and projected in grand scale in installations like “Transparencias” at the Center act as a combined symbol of travel and identity, but stripped from original intention, these floating and dislocated images of now anonymous persons are often interpreted with ominous undertones and solemn connotations.


Now living in San Francisco, Cartagena and his artwork are also influenced and informed by local struggles, and community concerns. Many of the artist’s works interpret and respond to pervasive issues in the region, like gang warfare. “Bang Bang Toy Gun,” an installation composed of several toy guns suspended from the ceiling, while a video image of one in a white hoodie that masks his face makes a panorama of the gallery space with a gun clutched tightly in his hands and pointed directly at the camera. It creates a foreboding and intimidating environment that speaks to a culture of violence and suspicion in America that has now seemed to trickle down even to the very young. Drawing parallels between “play” violence and real violence, Cartagena may be questioning how or whether one contributes to the other, or indeed simply if perpetrators of violence are able to comprehend the reality and severity of the situation.

“I go into a place of frustration ” says Cartagena, “and the only way I can do something, is just doing my art.” His work thus is both a kind of catharsis to heal and relinquish the affectations of the memory and also to relive in order to learn from it. Cartagena’s artwork has much to reveal about the world, and audiences have much to experience, and learn.

 

“Victor Cartagena: Sites/Sights of Intervention” will be at Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Avenue through May 30, 2014