By Jon Crawford
Jon Crawford: For someone who hasn’t seen your joint exhibition at Marshall Arts, Capas, in Memphis, Tennessee, can you describe your individual styles?
Lilia Hernandez Galusha: I have a need to seek home and familiarity, but I also require distance. In the show there is a little house with embroidered ribbons coming out the front door. The embroidery says, “I was looking for distance to find myself…when I found myself…I realized I was alone.” The need to find myself requires me to leave my home and look for something else, something that goes against tradition. When I found myself, I was so far from home, I realized I was alone. Alone in a different place with a different language. These feelings and thoughts find ways to seep into the work.
Morgan Page: In Capas, my aim is to explore my ancestral inheritance through interactive installation, collage, painting, and information systems. Representing each of my grandmothers through immigration documents, textile patterns, and census data are some of the ways I have illustrated our multigenerational experiences as a first-generation Mexican American and a descendent of Irish immigrants. My practice is very research based, and in some ways, I would refer to it as art-based research. I love to collect information: photographs, data, immigration documents, postcards. With this particular body of work, it’s important to me to anchor my work to real, tangible evidence. Maybe it’s because of the loss of my paternal grandmother, Beatrice, 17 years ago. I sometimes think I’m reconstructing her for others to witness, visit, even learn from.
JC: Why Memphis for this show?
LH: In college I attended Repair Days at the Metals Museum, and as a kid we would visit a lot. We lived in Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is only about an hour away from Memphis. For a while, my dad worked as a jeweler there, and he would drop us off at school on his way to work. He would play the same Sonora Santanera tape every day. He was also a big Elvis fan, so we visited Graceland every time someone would visit from out of town.
When Morgan mentioned Memphis, I was really excited; for nostalgic reasons, but also to be able to return to the South. Living in Portland has really made me miss it, and, well, the South is home to me. Additionally, it’s a perfect midpoint location for family and friends from Jonesboro and Little Rock to attend.
MP: I lived in Memphis for a year after undergrad. It’s a city very dear to me. I am always inspired by the creative energies and history when I’m in Memphis. I participated in a two-person show illustrating personal and historical narratives related to gun violence at Marshall Arts with artist Dusty Mitchell back in 2015. I had wanted to return to the space with new work for a while. Lilia also has a connection to Memphis, and more so to nearby Little Rock.
JC: How does the medium of textiles and fabrics speak to those experiences?
LH: My great aunt taught me how to sew and embroider. My grandmothers taught me to knit and crochet. I use this medium as a connection to my female family members. Every time I would visit my hometown in Mexico, they always had a new project for me. Their lessons were a way for me to connect with them, a way to become rooted in my heritage.
In my work, the embroidery application changes depending on the surface. Sometimes it adds texture and warmth, sometimes puncturing surfaces is necessary. Mark making with thread or floss is labor intensive and takes a lot of time. It requires dedication and intention.
MP: My textile sketches derived from research I did at the Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca and the Irish and Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. I knew I wanted to design patterns that would combine traditional Mexican and Irish textiles in a way that was complementary. While one is very geometric and hard-edged, the other is very organic. It was a challenge to make the two connect gracefully, but after physically spending time with textiles from both places, I began to see how similar the nature of the people were, and that actually helped me to connect their traditional approaches to textile design. It’s hard to explain, but I hope it comes across a little bit in my work.
JC: With your perspective on inheritance, and craft being thought of as something passed down from generation to generation, do you feel your work is more craft or art?
LH: My father, my grandfather, and my uncles are jewelers. My grandmothers and great aunts taught me to embroider, knit, sew, and crotchet. Working and making things with our hands comes naturally, and it has been handed down by generations. For me, it was a way to connect and engage with family members. It connects generations and continues conversations. The distinction of craft and art within Western art culture leans into the hierarchy of fine art, a hierarchy that devalues cultures and traditions.
Craft goes beyond medium and craftsmanship; it’s about community and tradition. Although I feel my work falls under fine art, I approach my work with a craft pedagogy. To me, craft is more inclusive, it is grounded in tradition and culture that unites us as humans.
MP: I think there is less and less of a distinction between craft and art in Western art. It would seem that many major museums have been and continue to embrace textiles and woodworking in important exhibitions. I think that the current role of the artist implies that you will find the means necessary to illustrate your idea in whatever media best represents that idea.
LH: I believe craft has been more accessible than fine art. I also think that the lines in contemporary art and craft have blurred more throughout the years. I enjoy seeing interdisciplinary work and love that the South has a lot to offer in craft and art. Southern craft is rich, and I hope people keep seeing the value in that.
JC: Why did you want to explore landscapes and figures, and how do these images represent your intersectional experience as women?
LH: The figures that I explore are mainly my own. For me, the process requires me to reflect on myself. I don’t feel one can truly reflect on others without doing the work on themselves first. The self portraits are nudes with abstract textures attached to the body. To me, these abstract shapes represent the world around me; microaggressions, expectations, gender roles, traditions, culture, etc. I was most interested in my body’s reaction. Was my body still and letting these things attach or was it moving and directing a bit more?
My self portraits of discovery are me. It’s how I think about my experiences so that I can have a better understanding of the world around me. It was necessary for me to redefine the roles that were handed to me as a woman and immigrant. Through those drawings I developed more agency and became more comfortable in my own skin.
MP: The figures I illustrate are typically birds that I use to represent my grandmothers. I use birds because they each had/have a special relationship to specific birds, but I also find a strong correlation between the life of a bird and the life of an immigrant, one that travels great distances and in some ways lives a pluralistic identity based on the geography that they have grown in and moved to. For example, my maternal grandmother’s favorite bird is the Roseate spoonbill. Spoonbills are found along the Texas Gulf Coast from March through October but prefer the coasts of Central and South America during the winter. My paternal grandmother, Beatrice, loved chickens. She kept them as pets and decorated her home with them.
JC: The South has a large tradition, both in literature and visual arts, of defining place. How does your work deal with psycho-geographical context and what have you learned in preparing and creating this show?
LH: The ability to show near my hometowns has become necessary for me. Being able to include my family in conversations about immigration has been healing. The different space provides a platform for a different style of conversation. Designing the panel in an inclusive way allowed me to have a different conversation and connection with cousins that were younger than me. Sharing our stories united us.
MP: Psychogeography is very important to me, both in my artwork and in my pedagogy. I actually first read Yi-Fu Tuan’s book, Space and Place: the Power of Perspective, while living in Memphis so many years ago. Since reading that text, I have continually explored space and geography through alternative means, relating my direction to memory, historical events, and feeling. I have my design students explore space similarly.
Capas, a joint show by Lilia Hernandez Galusha and Morgan Page, opened at Marshall Arts in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 14, 2020.
Jon Crawford is a filmmaker and writer living in the Bay Area.