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Visual Art

rafa esparza — bust: indestructible columns

23 Sep 2019


The White House


Performance Space New York


rafa esparza

Ballroom partnered with Performance Space New York to co-present rafa esparza’s bust: indestructible columns. This two-act, co-commissioned work began in the streets of Washington, D.C., with a public action challenging and reframing antique architectures of American power that support a continued legacy of oppression—considering the symbolism of the Ionic columns supporting various structures within the U.S. capital. The work progressed, across its two parts, from the artist in a place of isolation and confinement to one of community and support. It culminated back at Performance Space New York, where esparza and invited collaborators Patrisse Cullors, Timo Fahler, Raquel Gutiérrez, Sebastian Hernandez, Risa Puleo and Yosimar Reyes to share the theatre space with their communities for an eventful symposium/public dinner conceived by celebrated chef Gerardo Gonzalez. Attendees collectively witnessed readings that took a cue from the invited artists’ and writers’ respective knowledge, ideas, and experience of change.

As an artist who considers himself brown and queer, raised by working-class, immigrant parents, esparza seeks to build connections with nontraditional art audiences in communities with similar histories and origins. With his action, esparza addressed the symbolic multitudes of the neoclassical columns of D.C. government buildings—at once architectural examples of the parallels of colonialism with the outward trajectory of a dominant Eurocentric narrative of art history, as well as literal support systems for the structures that have housed and given an image of dominance to a legacy of white supremacist governance. The White House, whose porticoes are lined with such columns, now houses the 45th president, whose rhetoric has aided in the inhumane violence of separating families, caging children, detaining adults in intolerable conditions, and instigating hate crimes.

As he built a counter-narrative, esparza referred to the collaborators he gathered as “support columns for the communities we work within, building this other system working toward social justice.” He says, “On a very personal level, the progression of this work from action to community dinner symposium is a way of creating a symbolic counter-image to what we’re being bombarded with—traumatizing videos going viral of families being torn apart, people being raided at their jobs, children crying. I’ve seen a lack of counter-narratives, or even information on how to stop that from happening—how to protect each other, how to protect these families. We’re not just leaving it up to the image or symbol itself to function on its own—we’re inviting folks to hear people read from their writing, people doing the actual work of organizing, and have a communal gathering afterward.”

Act II: Dinner Symposium was held on September 23 at Performance Space New York.

Artist Profile

rafa esparza

rafa esparza (b. 1981, Los Angeles; lives and works in Los Angeles) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work reveals his interests in history, personal narratives, and kinship, his own relationship to colonization and the disrupted genealogies that it produces. Using live performance as his main form of inquiry, Esparza employs site-specificity, materiality, memory, and what he calls (non)documentation as primary tools to investigate and expose ideologies, power structures, and binary forms of identity that establish narratives, history, and social environments. Esparza’s recent projects are grounded in laboring with land and adobe-making, a skill learned from his father, Ramón Esparza. In so doing, the artist invites Brown and Queer cultural producers to realize large-scale collective projects, gathering people together to build networks of support outside of traditional art spaces. Esparza is a recipient of the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant (2015), California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Arts (2014), and Art Matters Foundation grant (2014). He has performed in art institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, and Ballroom Marfa. His solo exhibition Staring at the Sun is currently on view at MASS MoCAASS MoCA in Massachusetts.

Partner Profile

Performance Space New York

Performance Space New York provides incomparable experiences for audiences by presenting and commissioning artists whose work challenges boundaries of live performance. Performance Space New York is dedicated to supporting the creative risks taken by artists from diverse genres, cultures and perspectives. We are an innovative local, national and international leader in contemporary performance.