top of page

A Visual Journey Across the Border: New Exhibit Highlights Latin American Perspectives in Literature

By Maria Santacrose | November 6, 2023

UAlbany Art Exhibit

Photo Credit: Maria Santacrose / The ASP

Within the University at Albany Art Museum’s exhibit “Libros/Artes” dozens of handmade books from Latin American and Caribbean artists are on display, but few, if any offer visitors the opportunity to flip through its pages and read the work in its entirety.

However, one book, José Manuel Mateo’s “Migrar” folds out, spanning the length of a tabletop to reveal all nine pages of Mateo’s prose and the continuous accompanying illustration by Javier Martinez Pedro. Spanning hundreds of miles and generations of history, “Migrar” invites observers to engage in the complete journey of the text, one which mirrors the experience of being a migrant facing the decision to leave behind an idyllic homeland for the promise of opportunity.

UAlbany Art Exhibit

Photo Credit: Maria Santacrose / The ASP

Starting under the face of a smiling sun begins a journey of ups and downs within Pedro’s dense monochrome illustration. Crammed full of life, figures, often donning traditional Mexican sombreros, take up most of each panel’s surface area. Their path weaves in and out from small villages surrounded by palm tree clusters and plentiful crop fields to calm waters enjoyed for both swimming and fishing potential.

In this forward progressing motion, foot travel transitions into mechanized movement, as figures ride along the tops of train cars and inside packed buses. As tracks and roads zigzag through the landscape, wandering eyes may notice the dangers looming ahead. An unavoidable impasse at the U.S. southern border is displayed, with police cars being among the first to welcome new migrants into the second leg of their journey.

The journey has no clear path drawn out except for forwards; a movement visitors mimic themselves when engaging with UAlbany’s display of “Migrar.” Berly Brown, the Education and Public Engagement Coordinator for the museum explained that placement was a conscious choice by curators within the “Libros/Artes” exhibit and “Migrar” is no exception.

The book’s presentation was manipulated to stand folded with Pedro’s illustration spread across four distinct ridges rather than being laid flat. As the story progresses, the image travels through the peaks and valleys, forcing viewers to remain uneasy in their stances to follow along with the shifting perspective. Looking down upon the book elicits a similar sense of personal wayfinding, reminiscent of using a map for directions as the creases in the image often signify a change in symbolic location.

Walking alongside the length of the piece, an observer is simultaneously walking alongside the migrants etched in ink, whose possible purpose is to guide audiences, especially Americans, on a path they probably will never personally follow.

With the advent of mechanized transportation, Pedro’s canvas evolves into a post-industrial landscape, as the crowding of vegetation present in earlier panels is replaced with developed infrastructure like highways and skyscrapers. Life is no longer overwhelming the image, with figures now rarely present and thus presumed to now be within American halls of industry like the illustrated Taco Bell and Burger King. A jet plane flying over the Hollywood sign informs a definite shift into the U.S. landscape, but not all signs of home are lost to the migrants.

At the very end of the accordion, standing proudly in front of a row of hotels and fast-food establishments is a row of palm trees. Glancing back up towards the sun shining over the scene, similar collections of palm trees can be found growing around the homes and communities left behind. The palm trees help to reinforce the continuous nature of “Migrar,” for the hope of many migrants is to send the money earned while working across the border back home, and after enough resources are saved, to return to their families and live comfortably.

This journey is long, hard, and nearly impossible to accomplish for most, but Pedro’s illustration reflects the massive numbers of individuals and families from Mexico and further South attempting to enact their own “American dream.” The UAlbany Art Museum welcomes visitors to reflect on this journey themselves, as to read “Migrar” is to travel through its prose and orient yourself within its pictorial landscape.

The “Libros/Artes” exhibition will be on display through Dec. 4, 2023 at the UAlbany Art Museum. The exhibition is located on the first level of the Fine Arts building and is free to all visitors Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m..


bottom of page