FOCUS: Critical Conversations with Art
Luis Jiménez’s Border Crossing stands in a prominent but unusual place on Iowa State University’s campus. Relatively distant from campus buildings or other artworks, the Fiberglas sculpture occupies an open area not exactly on Central Campus, but not exactly off of it, either. Because the sculpture depicts Jiménez’s own grandparents crossing the Rio Grande, making their way into the United States to start a new life, this in-between location is apropos. Border Crossing appears both at home and ill-at-ease in its liminal space, a massive and monumental artwork that somehow also seems eternally restless, ready to be on its way.
Jiménez’s print, created in preparation for the sculpture, shows a man striding forward but turning his head lovingly toward the woman sitting astride his shoulders. She, in turn, curls over his head with a slight, gentle smile on her face, cradling an infant inside her overwrap. But by the time Jiménez realized his sculpture, the gentle emotion depicted in the print had largely vanished. The sculpture itself conveys the grim difficulty of the crossing. The man faces downward, desperately finding his footing. The woman’s expression has become a stoic mask, and the infant squalls, its tiny hand emerging to clutch at its mother.
Jiménez often worked in Fiberglas. He embraced the industrial material because of its popular connotations, including its associations with lowrider car culture. Jiménez took to heart the “public” aspect of public art. In this, his work resembles that of his influences, the early-twentieth-century Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, who chose the mural format for their works in order to reach broad audiences and to speak about issues of deep social concern. Jiménez chose Fiberglas because its versatility and plasticity allowed it to take a wide variety of forms, suitable for telling the big, colorful stories he wanted to tell. Cast in a mold and then painted with epoxy, the material became mythic animals, cowboys, Aztec warriors—and figures from his own family, whose dramas and struggles seem that much more heroic because they happen to everyday people.
-Dr. Emily Morgan, Assistant Professor of Art History, Department of Arts and Visual Culture, Iowa State University