Sarabia gives us a literal window into the hidden world of drug lords overflush with cash in The Gift (2008), the exhibition's pièce de résistance. First seen through a wire-embedded window and consisting of an odd assortment of multiple ceramic objects and shipping boxes stacked on industrial shelving common to big-box stores (yes, they have Costco in Mexico), the installation was inspired by the strange, usually garish acquisitions narcos are wont to acquire and display as booty — quite flagrantly in recent years on Twitter and other social media. Some dealer favorites popping up online include bricks of cash, gold- and silver-encrusted assault weapons, exotic pets like lions, tigers and jaguars, jewel-pocked hand guns, expensive cars, baggies of sinsemilla, over-the-top houses in the mode of Scarface's cheesy Tony Montana (labeled by the media as narcotectura) and, of course, big-busted party pretties. Sarabia's take is a latter day, high-tech Mexican version of those 18th-century European wunderkammer, or cabinets of curiosities, filled with strange objects to show off one's sophistication and wealth.

Each of Sarabia's objects, some of which appear to be half-submerged, is a story unto itself, with sub rosa references to kitsch, smuggled drugs, ill-gotten gains, illegal immigration, and Mexican mythology. An in-your-face allusion to killing federales (Mexican federal police) comes in the form of a reclining fiberglass officer on one of the shelves. He bears a close resemblance to Juan Soldado, a folk saint executed for raping a young girl in the 1930s but very popular in Tijuana. Be sure to look for the ceramic mermaids, with their amputated tails on show separate from their torsos; they resemble blond versions of 19th-century Mexican religious images of la anima sola, a female soul burning in the flames of purgatory, shackled arms reaching heavenward.

Hand-thrown, painted talavera pots from Eduardo Sarabia's "Desert Dreams" series.
Kathleen Vanesian
Hand-thrown, painted talavera pots from Eduardo Sarabia's "Desert Dreams" series.

Location Info


ASU Art Museum

51 E. 10th St.
Tempe, AZ 85281

Category: Museums

Region: Tempe


"Moctezuma's Revenge" continues through April 26 at ASU Art Museum, 10th Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe. For more information, call 480-965-2787 or visit

Not to be discounted are the artist's large-scale paintings of photos taken during his travels and used as paint palettes in his studio. Opaque swirls and globs of paint partially obliterate the photos' subject matter. Toying with illusion and reality, Sarabia makes it hard to tell whether these are actually paintings or merely photographic blow-ups of defaced photos. In the context of this show, the imagery takes on an unshakably sinister quality, as does the rest of the work in "Moctezuma's Revenge." Deceptively artisanal in form, Sarabia's folk art-like creations in this noteworthy exhibition pack a punch you don't see coming, one that lingers for a very long time.

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