The Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs here at the University of Dallas are rigorous, such that they challenge and in some ways reinvent the artists who pursue them. It is undoubtedly an effort that requires constant work and attention, and each artist’s last semester and last show are fundamental to advancement. It is the culmination and solidification of the graduate student’s university experience. Friday, March 13 was the opening reception for painting graduate student Eliana Miranda’s show “Depraved Documentations.” This show is in partial fulfillment of her MFA.
“Depraved Documentations” is about trust. The show is a series that deals with the issue of the United States/Mexico border, as portrayed through the lens of the media. Miranda received her undergraduate degree at Hamilton College, located in upstate New York, and her M.A. and MFA here at the University of Dallas. In the transition from a state far from the border of Mexico to one that shares it lies some inspiration for her theme.
“Going to Hamilton was a great educational experience that shed some light on the type of work I wanted to make,” Miranda said. “The problem was I was so far removed from experiencing and witnessing social repercussions regarding political issues. Eventually, during my graduate experience, I became intrigued by the border conflict.”
The size of the paintings ranges from large to small. Some deal with children, some with farmers, others with faceless masses of people surrounded by trash and clothing. The paintings are striking in that they are mostly in shades of gray with startling swathes of vibrant color, almost cheerful in contrast to the dread and in some ways, the despair of the subjects.
“When I was researching and shuffling through news imagery I noticed a pattern,” Miranda said. “I realized that most of the imagery that I found associated undocumented people with an accumulation of clothing and trash. It was as if there was a hidden message in these images and someone could easily dismiss the undertones because of other unnecessary visual noise in the photograph. So I began to use vivid color and the sketched line as mechanisms for emphasizing these stereotypes.”
Another feature of her work is the lack of identity. Most of her paintings have faceless human subjects. Very few have personal features. Miranda uses identity as a way to manipulate the feelings of the viewer.
“I used anonymity as a way to take identity away from individuals,” Miranda said. “By keeping them anonymous, I wanted to emphasize the generalization of undocumented people. On the other hand, the pieces that portray undocumented people with identities, are meant to instill the reality of the situation. When dealing with this issue, we’re not just dealing with one type of immigrant, we are dealing with a plethora of individuals with different backgrounds and different reasons for wanting to migrate.”
The lack of faces is a powerful tool; Miranda is able to communicate the emotions of the subjects even without portraying their faces, the most easily recognizable indicator of emotion. And it works. Miranda is not painting real people, she is painting the people described by the media.
“When it comes to political and social issues, we get a lot of our information through various news sources,” Miranda said. “Unlike the people who live around the United States/Mexico border and witness the turmoil first hand, the rest of the American public gains a lot of knowledge about this dilemma from what they see and hear through media.”
This is a topic fraught with political turmoil and artistic implication. By taking on such a contentious dilemma as immigration and its portrayal in the media, Miranda is projecting her own bias and manipulation onto the issue. And because of the nature of art, viewers will see the paintings and create their own interpretations of it. Judgment is simply unavoidable, and Miranda said she realizes this.
“Although my show is a reflection of my perspective of the border situation, it also addresses the dangers of not reading appropriately into the media,” Miranda said.
By doing this, Miranda places responsibility of interpretation on the viewer in the same way that the individual must interpret every bit of information he receives, in this case not only regarding the border crisis, but also the larger issues. Miranda is advocating civil responsibility and open discussion.
“Since certain news sources have specific agendas, it’s important to acknowledge bias[ed] perspectives and differentiate fact from opinion,” Miranda said.
“Depraved Documentations” is, in a sense, a visual compilation of the biases that exist in society. And because these biases exist, this is a show to pay attention to.
“The border dilemma is something that affects our country politically, socially and economically,” Miranda said. “When addressing the issue it is crucial to consider different sides of the situation and to open it to a discussion.”
Miranda shows great technical skill, an awareness of the deeper significances of her place in society as an artist and a deep sense of justice for the misrepresented.
“I would also like to take a moment to thank the entire art faculty and my peers in the graduate program for guiding me through this experience,” Miranda said. “It’s been a privilege to have been taught and challenged by all of the art professors. I feel very honored to have worked among so many talented and wonderful people. Thank you.”
Miranda‘s show “Depraved Documentations” will be on display at the Ro2 Art gallery, 110 N. Akard St., from March 11-24,