Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a truly incredible exhibition at the Grunwald Gallery. Ana Teresa Fernández’s “Of Bodies and Borders” seeks to draw attention to the tens of thousands of migrants forced to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt in search of asylum. Though the crossing is incredibly dangerous, it has received little press coverage from Western media in recent years. Fernández’s exhibit uses performance, paintings, and sketches to draw our attention back to the realities faced by migrants forced to leave their homes.
Of Bodies and Borders at the Grunwald Gallery
When I stepped into the darkened lobby of the Grunwald, I was immediately drawn to the video projected onto the wall, the light of which cast murky green and blue shadows around the room. The short film shows Fernández submerged in the ocean, dressed in an elegant black dress, high heels, and a white sheet that does not allow a glimpse of her face. Weighted down with 13-pound weights, she struggles against the sheet and the waves for what feels like hours. It is beautifully filmed, yet leaves the viewer with an intense sense of claustrophobia and discomfort from witnessing the ongoing physical struggle.
The second room of the exhibition displays oil paintings and charcoal documentary sketches of the performance. The oil paintings are absolutely stunning. Each one captures different elements of the artist’s performance, playing on the contrast between color and darkness, positive and negative space to create four different perspectives of her body suspended in the ocean. One painting captures the artist illuminated from behind, her arms and legs elegantly arranged as though she is posing. In another, harsh white light from above obscures both the vibrant blues and greens of the ocean and the artist herself, creating an eerie portrait of an uncertain form in a shroud against the dark water.
As I walked around the gallery, I was struck by how Fernández’ work manipulates the viewer’s perception of the body. In some scenes, the artist is only recognizable as a human figure through the glimpse of a hand or a heeled shoe emerging from the sheet. In this way, Fernández calls attention to how little is publicly recognized of the identities of the migrants who are forced to cross the Mediterranean. The exhibit simultaneously critiques the "invisibilization" of these stories and the reduction of migrants’ lives to mere bodies, and also encourages the viewer to consider more carefully the intersections of gender, race, and immigration in our contemporary politics.
Ana Teresa Fernández will present a public lecture on Friday, February 8that 5 PM in the Fine Arts Auditorium. Following the lecture, guests are invited to the opening reception of the exhibit in the Grunwald Gallery from 6-8 PM.