Artists' work in Washington exhibit focuses on immigrant experience

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Artwork on display in a new exhibit at a Washington museum captures the immigrant experience.

The art by 10 immigrants who left their countries in Latin America for different reasons over the past several decades and have made Washington their home is on display at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.

Titled "In the Looking Glass," the exhibit is sponsored by the Alper Initiative for Washington Art, funded by a major gift to American University from alumna and art advocate Carolyn Alper. The initiative is an effort to understand and appreciate the art and artists from the Washington metropolitan area.

At the exhibit's opening June 18, Cuban-born F. Lennox Campello spoke to Catholic News Service about his painting -- "Happy Bicentennial America! Wish We Were There!" -- and why he fled Cuba.

Born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, in 1956, he moved to the United States with his family in 1960. He relocated to the Washington area in 1992.

His piece in the exhibit is made from a newspaper dated July 4, 1976, and has as its central focus the island of Cuba.

Campello told CNS that if he had stayed in Cuba, his art would be controlled by the government there because it dictates everything, including what constitutes art work. "It would have been my work with an approval stamp by some bureaucrat in the communist dictatorship," he said.

The artwork was his proposal for admission to the University of Washington School of Art in Seattle, where he studied.

A newer piece by Campello in the exhibit is titled "Running Towards Freedom (Heading to the New American Embassy)," showing a young Cuban girl running away from her country to freedom.

"She has left everything behind, naked, and there is nothing but light in front of her and she is leaving all the darkness behind," he said.

During the opening, a woman dressed in a maid costume and wearing no shoes carried a tray as she passed by the visitors at the gallery. She had tape over her mouth.

The woman was artist Carolina Mayorga, 45, who was born in Colombia. She arrived in the United States in 1995 to do graduate studies in sculpture at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Her portrayal of a waitress was her artwork titled "Messera," symbolizing, she said, the struggles of those in the U.S. without legal permission. They are voiceless and don't have rights, so "you get what you get," she explained.

Through her art, Mayorga said, she wishes to be the voice for all people who come to the United States looking for "a better world."

The other artists featured in the exhibit, which ends Aug. 14, are Joan Belmar and Juan Downey, originally from Chile; Ric Garcia and Jose Ygnacio Bermudez, from Cuba; Muriel Hasbun, from El Salvador; Frida Larios, from El Salvador/Honduras; Irene Clouthier, from Mexico; and Naul Ojeda, from Uruguay.