New ‘female-centric’ art exhibit at Sweet Briar highlights immigrant experience

Barbara Minarro
Barbara Miñarro among her soft sculptures

An exhibition by Mexican-born artist Barbara Miñarro opens with a reception and artist’s talk at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, in Pannell Gallery at Sweet Briar College. “La Jaula de Oro,” or “The Golden Dream,” will be on view until Dec. 14.

Miñarro was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and currently lives and works in San Antonio, Texas. As an artist “influenced by and making a life between two cultures,” her work explores ideas of the “body in migration,” according to her website. “Her soft sculptures, installations and paintings utilize the tactile memory of clothing, the earth, and the physical body to express the emotional journey of immigration.”

Miñarro’s departure from her home in Mexico to the U.S. has shaped the way she navigates and adapts to new surroundings. She works with textiles that are personal to her: her grandmother’s bed sheets, her mother’s clothing and her own garments. Along with collected materials, they act as signifiers of identity that she has brought with her from her homeland.

Miñarro will be on campus to meet with students and install her work beginning Monday, Sept. 24. The project is commissioned by Sweet Briar College as an extension of the theme “Bridging Distances,” which unites sections of the course Expression and the Arts in the new leadership core curriculum. The exhibition is organized by guest curator and Sweet Briar College Friends of Art board member Céleste Wackenhut ’08. Funding is provided by the Friends of Art as part of an initiative to expand its support to the College in new and enriching ways for students and the community.

La Ceiba
“La Ceiba”

“I’m thrilled to be giving back to Sweet Briar in this capacity,” Wackenhut says. “It’s a wonderful feeling to come back to campus — and to the foundation of my learning in art history and arts management — and serve as a guest curator.”

Miñarro “quickly became a clear choice for creating work in Pannell,” says Wackenhut, who had several conversations with Carrie Brown, director of the College’s Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts, about the new curriculum and the “Bridging Distances” theme.

“We wanted to identify a practicing contemporary artist to activate the gallery with a temporary site-specific installation, one that would call for contemplation, conversation and reflection,” she adds. “As Barbara is exploring themes of the body in migration, I knew her approach to the theme of ‘Bridging Distances’ would provide a human element to the curriculum being explored by students across departments. Barbara’s work, which is primarily made up of soft sculptures, is meant to take over a space and allow an audience to walk in, around and through the installation. This ‘soft’ confrontation achieves our goals to have students and the community engage with the work on a deep and meaningful level.”

The artist agrees. “I aim to create an environment viewers must navigate and adapt to,” she says. “This forced movement allows me to engage on another level with the audience about immigration and how a body moves through space. I want this to be a safe place that ignites conversation.”

Miñarro is also an excellent role model for Sweet Briar students, Wackenhut says. “Barbara is a recent B.F.A. graduate who immediately established her practice and has begun to show on a national and international level. She is a woman using a strong and skilled voice through her artwork and as a result, there is an immediate connection between her and the women we educate at Sweet Briar College.”

Miñarro says it’s a special opportunity for her. “My work is female-centric, and it’s an honor to present it to an all-women’s college,” she says. “I look forward to sharing my experience with other women, and to give them a platform to share their own. Our stories connect us, no matter how different our experiences.”

MinarroWackenhut and the Friends of Art are pleased Miñarro’s exhibit offers so much opportunity for community engagement: Sweet Briar student Olympia LeHota ’20 will work with the artist on her installation, classes will be able to meet with Miñarro throughout her time on campus, and the community will have a chance to speak with her at the opening reception.

And they are bound to have many questions for the young artist. In recent projects, Wackenhut notes, Miñarro has incorporated clothing from other women important to her today, resulting in a “tapestry of fabrics from both nations, both homes, and both lives.”

The objects, extracted from their native environment and adapted to their new surroundings, symbolize her own immigrant experience, Miñarro says. Placing her materials in a new location changes their context, she adds, which helps the artist explore the idea that environments can affect identities, dictate relationships and “change the way bodies navigate through familial spaces and abstract borders.”

Miñarro stresses the toll migration takes on the body, but also highlights the strength that comes from such challenges — including the potential for bringing people together, Wackenhut says.

“With every installation, Miñarro re-approaches these themes to create new immersive work based on the architecture of a space,” Wackenhut explains. “Miñarro’s work provides an opportunity to draw an audience in through her playful aesthetic and encourages difficult conversations regarding how bridging distances and differences can influence the human race.”

Pannell Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday or by appointment. For more information, visit the artist’s website at barbaraminarro.com or email Sweet Briar galleries and museum director Annie Labatt at alabatt@sbc.edu.