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In 1996, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) issued an open invitation to an intergalactic gathering in Chiapas, Mexico, summoning living beings and allies existing within and beyond the galaxy in demand of democracy, education, and justice. The non-violent Indigenous militant group had officially formed two years earlier, as Mexico joined the United States and Canada in signing the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), standing firm against neoliberal reforms, imagining a world that would belong to no one, and, therefore, everyone. Although no extraterrestrial life forms were in attendance—at least they did not disclose their presence to the Zapatistas—the bonds of solidarity forged among the estimated three thousand attendees had a lasting impact that still resonates 25 years later.
The exhibition Intergalactix: against isolation/contra el aislamiento at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), brought forward the legacy of the EZLN by tracing instances of collaborative resistance among artists and art collectives in the United States, Mexico, and Central America. The exhibition was divided into four “experimental phases” established by curator Daniela Lieja Quintanar, each weaving the stages of communing, crossing, collective action, and looking back through the artists’ practices. In organizing the exhibit this way, Intergalactix affirmed that history exists in a continuum where the present—written today—will become the past, learned about tomorrow.
In the first phase, described in the exhibition map as a “time machine,” Beatriz Cortez, FIEBRE Ediciones, and Kaqjay Moloj honored the Guatemalan Kaqchikel Mayan community. In the gallery’s first room, anthropomorphic stones with rudimentary faces flanked the walls, facing a central metal altarpiece carved with serpents, alligators, and other aquatic animals known by the Kaqchikel to be protective of the universe. Surrounded by pine needles on the floor that cracked and glided with each footstep, a nearby bookshelf contained various titles, including by fiction writer Luis de Lión. One of the most important Maya Kaqchikel authors in Guatemala’s history, de Lión’s works transport readers into the future and work against colonial and hegemonic imaginaries.
In the back gallery, a separate phase in the exhibition contrasted this spirit of generosity, focusing on what happens when immigrants abandon credentials, property, and family in exchange for refuge. Here, the Salvador-based collective known as The Fire Theory presented three films; in each, the voices of Central and South American immigrants play over scenes of city and desert landscapes. In one, a man recalls how, after living in Arizona for a year and seeing his family become ill, they returned to El Salvador, where his father owned a home and his grandparents a farmhouse. Another man from Venezuela explains that U.S. employers seemed to undervalue his Venezuelan bachelor’s degree and, in search of employment, he accepted strenuous work—often, only physically demanding jobs are accessible for undocumented people.
These men describe a world that is safer and yet less welcoming than their birthplace—this is true especially for Central American immigrants who encounter extortion by Mexico’s Border Patrol. These struggles were further explored in Tanya Aguiñiga’s contribution, which focuses on borders as a site for experimentation and porosity. Presented as photographic documentation, Metabolizing the Border (2020) chronicles Aguiñiga’s journey across the U.S.-Mexico border during which she wore a suit inspired by Mesoamerican imagery. Made with wearable blown glass embedded with border fence remnants, it was also functional, holding water for her journey. Aguiñiga’s emphasis on corporeal experiences captures the physical endurance that the Southern border demands of the body. At LACE, the suit was displayed in museological fashion next to Memoria (2020–21), a series of incense burners made in collaboration with student refugees at the Jardín de las Mariposas LGBTQ+ shelter in Tijuana.
Nearby, Cognate Collective’s And it will be again… (2020–21) comprised five LED signs displaying the phrase “… this land was indigenous and is, and will be again”1 in the Spanish, Kaqchikel, Kumeyaay, Mixtec, Tongva, and Zapotec languages. With this nod to the past, the exhibition concludes with “The Intergalactix Station,” a room at the end of the gallery filled with exhibition ephemera and press releases from LACE’s archive. Exhibition materials from shows like El Salvador (1981) and Art Against Empire: Graphic Responses to U.S. Interventions Since World War II (2010) situate viewers within the gallery’s history of—and engagement with—Latin American social justice movements.
It was here that the exhibition connected past, present, and future into an interwoven continuum. A 1999 poster by Robbie Conal (featuring images of Emiliano Zapata, a leader of the Mexican Revolution; Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson for the EZLN movement; and cutouts of Mexican Zapatista dolls) was placed above a selection of Zapatista-related books from the curator’s personal library. The inclusion of this reference material pointed toward the legibility of cultural symbols found throughout Intergalactix; the experience of pacing through LACE while recognizing—and sometimes learning about for the first time—converging worlds that resist destructive methods of historicization. In the corner of the room, I noticed a mat inviting visitors to sit down, talk to each other, and gather in the same way that the Zapatistas did in 1996.
Nahui Garcia is an art historian and curator currently living in Los Angeles. She is an MA candidate in the Curatorial Practices and the Public Sphere Program at USC Roski School of Art and Design.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 25.