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The artists' gritos

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'ATLANTA': A detail from Hugo Crosthwaite's mural in "El Grito (A Cry for Independence)."
  • 'ATLANTA': A detail from Hugo Crosthwaite's mural in "El Grito (A Cry for Independence)."

"Humane Borders Water Station," Delilah Montoya's documentary photograph of water tanks labeled "agua" along a dirt road in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, is one of the most affecting pieces in an exhibit of Chicano artworks at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The dimension of the photo — 45 5/8 inches wide, 18 inches tall — emphasizes how big, empty and arid this track is. It is Montoya's grito, a cry for mercy and a rare depiction of actions on this side of the border to give the thirsty water, no questions asked.

"Humane Borders" is part of UALR's exhibit named for the Grito de Dolores, the Mexican battle cry for independence. "El Grito (A Cry for Independence)," which is part of the Arkansas Mexico 2010 commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution and 200th anniversary of independence, features work by contemporary artists from Mexico or with Mexican heritage that addresses immigration. The works in the show throw light on the maquiladoras in Mexico that assemble "Made in the USA" products with cheap labor, racist attitudes and what people will go through to make a better living and more.

An enormous (13 by 10 ½ feet) graphite and charcoal mural by Hugo Crosthwaite ("Atlanta") dominates the exhibit, though it is hard to absorb. Crosthwaite's chaos is intentional — it is his subject matter — and while his draftsmanship is representational, almost photographic, not all of the drawings are strictly realistic.

One of the pieces in the show is from the Arkansas Arts Center's collection: Luis Jimenez watercolor and crayon on paper "The Good Shepherd." Its subject matter is Esequiel Hernandez Jr., an 18-year-old shot to death while he was tending goats near the border by Marines who thought he looked dangerous.

"El Grito" includes a variety of media, including videos and photographs of performance art (Richard Lou in front of the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis, Camilo Oltiveros-altered road signs along California interstates) and fabric art (Margarita Cabrera's cacti sewn from border patrol uniforms). There is also glasswork by Einar and Jamex de la Torre and Vincent Valdez' lithograph series "Stations," 10 images of boxers arranged as in the Stations of the Cross (also from the Arts Center).

Gallery director Brad Cushman and assistant Nathan Larson deserve credit for curating the exhibit: "El Grito" is as visually satisfying as it is informative. I was still thinking about what I'd seen in the show when, on leaving the building, I glanced at the construction site north of the Fine Arts Building. Every laborer I saw was Hispanic. Ironically, they were taking down a fence, chain-link surrounding a parking lot.

As ever, a word about parking. There are no longer spaces on the drive that runs in front of the Fine Arts Building. Park in the Jack Stephens Arena parking lot.

The Laman Library gallery opens a new exhibit, "Small Works on Paper: Retro Works," 30 significant pieces from past exhibits of the Arkansas Arts Council annual show, on Sept. 7. The works were created between 1989 and 1997 and were purchased with grants by International Paper and donated to the Arts and Science Center of Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff. Laman's exhibit is the final stop in a year of traveling for the show.

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