In an age where politics play a key role in social and economic turmoil, activists strive to increase a sense of awareness of the consequences of government decisions. This awareness spreads in several ways, such as culture, writing, research, and in this case, forms of art. Through the comparative analysis of the film, Tempestad, and the exhibition of the Schoolhouse and the Bus, I hope to convey the urgency of ramifications that stem from the social dichotomy in society.
Tempestad, directed by Tatiana Huezo, is a road-trip styled film of two innocent women who became victims of the violence and corruption in Mexico. Miriam Carbajal, who works at the airport, and some of her co-workers are wrongly accused of human-trafficking charges. She described as a “pagadores,” a term that means “people who pay for other people’s crimes.” Adela Alvarado, who works as a clown in a family-run circus, is a mother enduring the pain of her missing daughter, Monica, who was kidnapped by the cartels. The stories of these two women are different, yet they share a similar emotional journey of fear, pain, and loss. Huezo also contributes to the depressed, gloomy mood of the protagonists through documenting the bleak, overcast, rainy views on her journey to Matamoros to Cancun on the bus.
The Schoolhouse and the Bus, the collaborative artistic efforts of Suzanne Lacy and Pablo Helguera, highlights the impact of social practice art, a term coined by Suzanne Lacy, which means art that is socially engaging with participants. As a part of PST: LA/LA, the goal of this initiative is to explore how Latin American art is in dialogue with Southern California.
I found related themes in Huezo’s film to the PST: LA/ LA exhibit at UC Santa Barbara’s AD&A Museum. Suzanne Lacy’s Skin of Memories, whose mobile museum responds to the violence in Medellin, Columbia, a place where the authorities contribute to corruption, demonstrates that many of the residents in Barrio Antioquia became victims from the war on drugs. She collects personal, everyday objects that reflect the lives of the victims and features them on her bus. Similarly, Tempestad delves into the lives of Miriam and Adela, which showcases the lives of everyday people, and exposes the intentions of the hindering authorities, who would extort people for money. Furthermore, both works serve as a reminder that the toxic environment and cruelty the residents experienced, in both Barrio Antioquia and Mexico, can happen to anyone.
Due to the extensive travel Pablo Helguera underwent for his project, School of Panamerican Unrest, similarities can be drawn from the traveling endured by the characters in the film. Helguera admits in his personal blog posts that he ran into trouble with the officials. Likewise, Huezo records her project’s encounter with the police, such as the bus being searched. Just like Helguera, Huezo has indirectly encouraged a discussion within the community—particularly the topic of the national legal system. Her film demonstrates how scapegoating the vulnerable is used to protect the powerful.
Neither the exhibition Schoolhouse and the Bus, nor Tempestad aims to be a political statement, but rather, recognizes the problems that occur in the daily lives of our neighbors, and perhaps, ourselves. Although it is hard to relate to loss and pain to the extent of Mirim’s, Adela’s, and the families in Barrio Antioquia, suffering, misery, and heartache is not a new concept to the human emotion. I hope that through engaging in social practice artworks and films, a sense of conscientiousness of injustice will spread.
-Saehee Jong, Communications Intern