“Security Blanket” (2018) by Luis Varela-Rico in “¡Americanx!” at Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery.
An artist snuck a child past the borders of academic infused art.
It was “Security Blanket” (2018) by Luis Varela-Rico, as seen during the run of “¡Americanx!” at Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery from October 1 through November 21. That was the lone figure standing in the midst of visual conversations by other artists, many who graduated from UNLV, or teach within the Nevada Higher Education system. “Security Blanket” was one of a number of art objects seen in “¡Americanx!”
Varela-Rico’s sculpture, or installation, can be read as a small boy, a safe presumption by the diminutive size and smaller version of an outfit that refers to male field workers, and what is worn during late-night migration to the U.S. The piece spoke not just to policy, but the collective experience of watching televised news reports of minors separated from parents attempting to cross the border into the U.S.
Varela-Rico keeps the topic visible, even as attention of left-behind children has slipped away due the noise of White House policy and tweeting.
Varela-Rico’s art wasn't just an artist’s interpretation of slipping in unnoticed. This entry came in after the opening. It was a late add. Not from disenchantment by the artist of being part of the exhibition, but having to work through a busy schedule of producing large-scale public art sculptures. Yet, in its simplicity, “Security Blanket” added a needed bite of social-justice-authenticity to “¡Americanx!”
On the small figure a plaid workmen shirt is just visible, so clothing becomes code for seeking labor. The pattern and material is often worn by immigrants to cope with the weather, and a subtle wardrobe item that refers to protection. There is the obvious symbol of protection; an emergency thermal blanket, as those supplied when children are in holding pens. The “boy” stood inside an industrial steam table pan. That the only part of this work that was unclear. (1) One cannot tell it was meant to be reference as an anticipated tool of kitchen prep, an implied barrier to the art, or a thread to the artist’s previous works in metal. What is clear was the writing on the pan, Sueno de Libertad, or “Dream of Freedom.”
With “Security Blanket” positioned in the open space of the gallery it gained deeper meaning when viewed with “Entre Espinas Florece Esperanza” in the background. Jess Vanessa’s mural featuring an expectant mother added a reference to others who may be affected by the politics Varela-Rico is referring to.
On its own “Security Blanket” is an emblem of the political wall built from ongoing GOP campaign promises made to red states and is a comment to the mandates pushed forth by Stephen Miller, the political advisor of current immigration policies. Miller has been accused as being an advisor of hate and isolation, a hunter that uses gestures of authority, like having children confiscated from anyone attempting to enter the country with them if they do not adhere to his interpretation of immigration law. That method became a warning shot and talking point: Dreaming of freedom may cost you your child.
The installation, or sculpture, made of real objects and clothing is a dream interrupted. The child is made anonymous by a thermal blanket over his head, and he waits to be shuffled off next by immigration authorities.
The piece, and its relationship to other works in the exhibition stayed on my mind after “¡Americanx!” closed. Always present in Varela-Rico’s work is a committed to craft that can be complicit to cultural systems that intersect in unexpected places. His metal origami birds hung on random power lines was a form of street art infiltration. Near the City of Las Vegas City Hall, a pair of 16-foot stainless steel forms are framed as Southern Paiute baskets, a public art reminder of the original administrators of the region.
“Security Blanket” political statement is an powerful use of a collective conscience that shared the larger media experience of seeing footage of children lined up like small prisoners steered into U.S. makeshift facilities. The work reminds us that minors are still a symbiosis between a voting base and a White House administration. All of the artworks on view revealed how social and political commentary is the readymade for Latino/a/x artists. In this piece we are reminded of the aftermath of legislation can change a person from its original function, to hope and dream, into an object controlled by those who enforce policy.
Legs visible under the silver that reflects sun and light, the artist may also be saying that the government use of shiny objects distracted some to think children were being cared for. That had the work give larger context in this exhibition of works by local Latino artist who had different experiences living in the American West. The child, and the family that brought him here, wanted to be part of that experience. Here he is portrayed as being hidden in plain sight and unable to witness the conversations around him. The young prisoner of politics is patiently waiting to be shuffled into the next room.
(1) Luis Varela-Rico writes in to say "The steel container, which had an American flag sticker on it, was meant to represent being contained within metal."
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“Through the Muddy”
2017-18 480” x 144”
Oil on Canvas
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February 2 – March 31, 2019
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