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After a nearly two-year shutdown, Centro de Artes will reopen Wednesday with a new exhibition.

The San Antonio-focused, city-run gallery opens the New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program Exhibition – Round 2 on Jan. 26, featuring 34 Texas-based artists who participated in the program either as mentors or mentees. All have experience with immigration either directly or within their families.

The distinction is deliberately ambiguous in the exhibition, said filmmaker and photographer Guillermina Zabala, one of four artists to propose the exhibition for the Centro gallery, along with Richard “Ricky” Armendariz, Kim Bishop and Luis Valderas.

“We didn’t want to do that,” Zabala said of identifying the role of each artist, “because we wanted to celebrate the art, and we wanted to find the connections between mentors and mentees, and let the art speak for itself.”

Throughout the exhibition, in artworks of various media including photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and video, themes of connecting personal experience with the larger realities of immigration dominate, Zabala said.

Near the entrance hang an array of photographs by Francisco Cortés, who relocated from southern Mexico to San Antonio. Cortés captures images of residents of Cassiano Homes, in order to preserve their stories as the aging public housing development deteriorates.

Hanging nearby is the visually striking 10-part La Inmigrante, a series of photocollages by Zabala that document her multi-year journey from her home country of Argentina to the United States. From a distance, large block letters spell INMIGRANTE, while close up the piece reads as a self-portrait in documents and national symbols — its first letter ‘I’ superimposed over the Argentinian flag, its last image behind the letter ‘E’ showing the artist’s face on an ID card draped in the red stripes of the American flag.

In Round 1 of the New York Foundation of the Arts mentoring program exhibition, titled Admitted: USA and which took place at Centro in 2019, similar issues were addressed by 26 mentors and mentees.

For Round 2, Valderas said he and Armendariz created conversations among works in each room that address the “900 pound gorilla” of immigration issues impacting the lives and public conversations of San Antonians.

In placards featuring information about each artist in the show, several explain the positive impacts of the mentorship program on how they approach their work.

One artist previously known primarily for his paintings, José Ballí appears in Round 2 as a deft sculptor, with two hefty pieces centering on hunks of concrete in the familiar shape of the lower 48 states of the U.S. In Barew, 2021, the shape is half-buried in sand in the belly of a steel wheelbarrow, while the 2nd floor of the exhibition is anchored by Parachute Analogy, 2021, a large piece of billowed fabric stretched overhead, grounded by two of the same concrete U.S. shapes set flat on the floor.

Zabala emphasized that the mentor-mentee relationship is not one-sided teaching, and that the program allowed many participating artists to expand the possibilities of their work.

“The whole process was reciprocal learning, because I was inspired by my mentees the same way, hopefully, they were inspired,” she said.

Artwork is on display as part of the New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program Exhibition – Round 2 at the Centro de Artes Gallery in Historic Market Square on Tuesday.
Artwork on display as part of the New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program Exhibition – Round 2 at the Centro de Artes Gallery in Historic Market Square. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The Round 2 exhibition was originally scheduled for June 2023, but was in a ready enough state to be brought together early.

Krystal Jones, who began the pandemic serving as the city’s film and music commissioner but now heads the Department of Arts and Culture as interim director, reflected on the path from March 2020, when the gallery closed for an indeterminate amount of time, to today.

“It’s an emotional experience that we were able to continue to keep this as an art space,” she said, once City Council restored funding for the gallery that had been on pause during the shutdown.

Jones said she and the show organizers appreciate “having a space that’s free and accessible to the public, for people to come and learn about really important topics that impact us, and also the nation, and the globe.”

The New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program Exhibition – Round 2 continues through July 3, with gallery hours Wednesday through Sunday.

A grand reopening reception will take place Feb. 22, with an evening of film and performance Apr. 26 and an artist talk and catalogue release on June 7.

More information on the exhibition and events is available on the Department of Arts and Culture website.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...