UN/belonging in the Land of Milk & Honey at BEST PRACTICE Gallery

UN/belonging in the Land of Milk & Honey
March 11 – April 15, 2023

1955 Julian Ave, San Diego, CA 92113

Under the rhetoric of empire, and to use the words of scholar Hazel Carby, belonging functions as a way to settle with colonization—giving us the impression that its violence has somehow been resolved. Throughout history, the role of landscape representation has functioned similarly; it has sought to enclose nature as a place where bodies are meant to belong “naturally.” But the dimensions of how, why, when and who belongs in these spaces has shifted through time. The distortion consists precisely in naturalizing which identities belong (and do not belong) to certain landscapes. Both the art of Ed Gomez and Luis G. Hernandez place the meaning of Landscape to an active verb, that is, they highlight the natural environment as process, raising the questions, why, what, when, and who landscapes. In this exhibition, UN/belonging in the Land of Milk & Honey Gomez and Hernandez’s active artistic inquiries disrupt the fixity of belonging by manipulating the conventions of landscape representation.  

Ed Gomez’s panoramic canvases explore the mythification of ancestral US Southwestern lands, and their appropriation by the Hollywood film industry with the purpose of normalizing Native extermination.  Referencing surveillance technologies via the fiction of popular “alien” culture, Gomez’ hypernatural brushwork reclaims the supernatural space that these landscapes occupy in the popular imaginary. This naturalistic yet uncanny landscaping of the SW ultimately displaces the idea of belonging by way of uncanny encounters with the fictionalized Southwest.   

Luis G. Hernandez landscapes the space of the border via detailed studies of discarded objects left along the divisory line between the U.S. and Mexico. This gesture de-centers the perspective from artist to spectator. The careful rendering of these objects embeds them with an infinite amount of signifiers. How, who, where, and why these garments were left behind is only but one of the many stories that could be told through them. The ambiguity of banal objects receiving an academic rigor reinforces the ambivalence of the space surrounding the border. A stark reminder that regardless of how they got there, they are part of an ever fluctuating and highly politicized space of UN/belonging

In UN/belonging, obstruction becomes a concept that unites both artists. Through his kaleidoscopic screens placed as filters from which to discern the gallery space, Gomez offers views by denying us entry. This first encounter with the space aims to disorient and remind the viewer—in a similar gesture as Hernandez’s placement of his “Welcome” neon sign—that the landscapes of the Southwest and its borderlands are contested territories. Fundamentally, both artists exploit the art of landscape through the volatility of its conventions—centering notions of UN/belonging to explore how we identify with others, ourselves, and the landscape itself and to mirror the infinite processes of distortion that landscape representations have always embodied.  

UN/belonging in the Land of Milk & Honey is a special program of the MexiCali Biennial, a non-profit contemporary visual arts organization that focuses on the area encompassing California and Mexico as a region of aesthetic production. The organization is migratory in nature and showcases exhibitions on both sides of the California/Mexico border. Its 2022-2023 programs, collectively titled Land of Milk & Honey, focuses on broad topics associated with agriculture, land and foodways. UN/belonging not only serves as a platform for questioning land and place within the Californias, but also cements the identities of the founders of the biennial by re-centering their arts practice within their collaborative projects. For more information, please visit mexicalibiennial.org.

Guest curated by Emmanuel Ortega (PhD, Art History, University of New Mexico) is the Marilynn Thoma Scholar and Assistant Professor in Art of the Spanish Americas at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As a scholar and curator, Ortega has lectured nationally and internationally on images of autos-de-fe, nineteenth-century Mexican landscape painting, and visual representations of the New Mexico Pueblo peoples in Novohispanic Franciscan martyr paintings. Springing from his research interests, Ortega has curated in Mexico and the United States; his latest endeavor is the exhibition titled Contemporary Ex-Votos: Devotion Beyond Medium, at the New Mexico State University Art Museum. An essay titled, “The Mexican Picturesque and the Sentimental Nation: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Landscape,” was published by The Art Bulletin in the Summer of 2021. His book project, Visualizing Franciscan Anxiety and the Distortion of Native Resistance: The Domesticating Mission is under contract with Routledge. He is a recurrent lecturer for Arquetopia Foundation for Development, the largest artist residency in México.

BEST PRACTICE is a non-profit exhibition space located in the Logan Heights neighborhood of San Diego, CA for projects from regional, national, and international artists and curators. BEST PRACTICE was founded by Joe Yorty and Allie Mundt in 2016.