Reader review: Claudia Alvarez challenges notions of growing up


March 14th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Claudia Alvarez: History of Immigration shows the artist’s provocative and emotive point of view on childhood and the human condition. The Reader’s Sally Deskins has this review.

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History of Immigration, by Claudia Alvarez, 2010. (Photo courtesy the artist)

Currently dividing her time between Omaha and New York, international artist Claudia Alvarez has never addressed her own ethnicity in a solo show. She says she’s never wanted to label herself in any particular way.

But she did explore her Mexican-American ethnicity for a series of work included in Wildly Different Things: New York and Dublin, a group exhibit at Blue Leaf Gallery in Ireland in 2010.

Jewel Noll, the Art Gallery Manager at Metropolitan Community College, approached her to address the idea further with a solo exhibit. And Alvarez agreed, taking it as an opportunity to examine her personal story of immigration to the United States at age three.

Though her own memories of growing up in California amongst segregated Mexicans and Chicano populations and not knowing English very well play a large role in the work, Alvarez says hers is “just a metaphor for people migrating.” She says she hopes it can be read from any culture… “as anyone can come to the US and start a new life.”

Dark Ponytails, by Claudia Alvarez, 2007. (Photo courtesy the artist)

Her ceramic shoes, for example, which have never been exhibited in Omaha, can take on many meanings.

The hundreds of unmatched little girls’ shoes range in color, some appear used, some new, with straps, laces or buttons. For Alvarez, the shoes represent her work as an ambulance driver, working with children and adults with serious diseases or in critical condition—all afraid, vulnerable about what might occur. She counts the work experience with these people a “blessing,” and the shoes a reflection of transitions, miracles and fragility in human condition.

Though much of her work, like the shoes, takes on subjects of childhood, much of it is about adult themes. Other work in the show will include her ceramic children and figurative paintings.

Her about life-size ceramic children seem to be walking, staring somberly, again almost scared of what lies ahead. Her watercolor and oil work, too, reveals uber-emotive and action-oriented children staring hard at the viewer, eyes shut or off into the distance as if pondering something beyond their reach.

History of Immigration, by Claudia Alvarez, 2010. (Photo courtesy the artist)

Provocative and emotionally intense, Alvarez’ work subtly challenges our notion of what it means to “grow up” through these children and shoes, in looking at the world through their eyes and remembering our own.

In this way, History of Immigration is successful at opening a dialogue about the general human condition; though it would be complimentary to be able to see more into Alvarez’ personal story with direct implications about her own family’s immigration’s impact on her life.

Alvarez is a graduate of the California College of Arts in San Francisco, and was an artist-in-residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in 2005. She will give a public lecture Wednesday, March 14, from 4-5pm on Metropolitan Community College’s Elkhorn Campus. Following the lecture will be an opening reception in the Gallery of Art & Design. The exhibit will be on view through April 9.

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