The modern-day resistance movement is getting a makeover at ASU Art Museum, where an exhibition called “RE:SISTERS” is turning traditional ideas of protest on their head.
It’s the work of artists Janelle and Lisa Iglesias, two sisters who collaborate under the name Las Hermanas Iglesias.
The show’s title references their relationship, and the central role of resistance in their work.
Before “RE:SISTERS” opened on Saturday, July 8, the artists spent four weeks using the gallery as an art studio as part of the museum's artist residency program.
The residency is designed to help artists develop and experiment with new bodies of work. Participating artists are housed at Combine Studios in the Roosevelt Row arts district.
During their time at the museum, the sisters transformed objects, and aspects of the space itself, as part of their unique twist on what it means to resist dominant culture.
Rather than focusing on anger or fear, like much of what we're seeing in the Trump era, Las Hermanas Iglesias undertakes resistance as an act of joyful collaboration, optimism, and play.
Using primarily prints and sculptural installations, they disrupt conventional ideas and relationships – including the use of borders to divide people.
It’s a powerful approach, partly explained by their heritage. It beckons viewers to consider barriers affecting their lives and communities, and prompts consideration of creative ways to address them.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, the Iglesias sisters are mindful of the immigrant experience at the heart of so much heated political rhetoric. Their mother hails from Norway, and their father from the Dominican Republic.
Now, Lisa lives in Gainesville, where she teaches at the University of Florida's School of Art and Art History. Janelle maintains a sculpture studio in San Diego. They've collaborated for more than a decade, even co-creating and sharing work by mail while attending graduate schools in different states.
That was an act of resistance, designed to counter the critique culture of art school.
The sisters are strongly grounded in feminism and the idea of intersectionality, meaning that different groups’ struggles are related. For these artists, that includes women and people of color fighting for equality and social justice.
But they bear little resemblance to stereotypical protesters, raging against the dying of the light.
They work joyfully, bouncing ideas and passing materials back and forth. Laughter infuses the space where these sisters work, often while donning cheery yellow jumpsuits.
Yellow is an important signifier throughout this exhibition. It saturates an entire wall inside the gallery. And it seems to drip from a hanging sculpture called Too much (yellow flag), which casts heavy shadows that echo the artists’ unease with perverted displays of nationalism.
It’s also repeated in another sculpture comprising a large panel placed low to the ground with a single fruit on top, which sits in one corner of the gallery. Atop the panel, the color bleeds into oranges reminiscent of the cycle of sunrise and sunset.
Basically, it’s another means of channeling optimism during an age marked by nihilism. There’s always a new day, and the power of collective action to effect change. This too shall pass, the sisters’ work signals – but with collaborative action, not passive resistance.
There’s something else that sets this exhibition apart.
Both artists, who also have individual art practices, have a profound reverence for place. They’re known for creating work that reflects their surroundings. Here in Arizona, that includes landforms and plants that adapt and rise inexplicably toward the sun’s harsh rays.
For “RE:SISTERS,” they created a fractured landscape inside the museum, using found and made objects such as drink coolers, fool’s gold, plaster casts of cellphones, and a large sculptural piece created with a trio of temporary museum walls.
The portable walls are placed side by side near the center of the gallery. But rather than blocking one’s view, they enhance it. Using saws and other tools, the sisters cut out portions of the walls.
Sometimes, the cutouts function like windows, letting viewers see through them. Other times, they reveal interior spaces that would otherwise go unseen, where the sisters have placed assorted objects from a small pile of rocks to the image of a single eye.
By breaking through the museum’s own walls, they breach the traditional boundary between museum and art. A wall isn't merely a surface where objects are displayed. It's material for artmaking.
That same sculpture includes several plaster casts of the artists’ own hands undertaking various actions.
One hand grasps a thickly braided white rope, as if being rescued. Another clenches a rope as if fighting to save the life of someone on the other end.
Yet another hand holds a round, yellow form the size of a grapefruit, reminiscent of the Grapefruit artist book Yoko Ono first published in 1964.
It’s one of many objects that prompt reflection on women artists who’ve come before Las Hermanas Iglesias.
Another comprises a paper pulp palm print that hangs on a white gallery wall, which was inspired by renowned feminist artist Ana Mendieta. Her 2016 “Energy Charge” exhibition at ASU Art Museum explored the relationship between landforms and the female body.
Variations on similar shapes, colors, and materials abound in “RE:SISTERS,” reinforcing that there are different sides to people, places, ideas, and objects encountered in everyday life.
The curves created by twisting rope, resembling the wavy lines that commonly symbolize water in many cultures, are repeated in their prints, So, too, are circle shapes, which they cut then fold away from the print’s surface to belie the expectation that certain materials are always flat.
Part of what the sisters are resisting is a tendency to see things just one way, or in isolation, rather than celebrating multiple perspectives and interconnections.
Sometimes that resistance takes the form of word play.
Consider the case of Mount Suspicious, a sculpture created using a stack of Styrofoam coolers, which references Arizona’s own Superstition Mountains. Only the top cooler is set upside down, topped by a large egg-shaped form that bears marks of being molded with the artists’ hands.
There’s also Force Field, a sculpture made with a metallic pink collapsible tent form. It’s placed askew at one end atop small acrylic cylinders like those used quite differently in other parts of the space. Its metal peaks are dotted with rocks and other natural elements, as well as hand-formed shapes that reinforce the relationships between land and those who traverse or inhabit it.
“RE:SISTERS” is a playful and powerful exploration of barriers and borders in American culture, and the power of collective action to break through them.
Through choice of materials and artistic processes, Las Hermanas Iglesias conjure a new path for the present-day resistance movement – one that's grounded in creativity, collaboration, and play.
“RE:SISTERS” continues through Saturday, October 21, at the ASU Art Museum. Find details on the ASU Art Museum website.
Correction: A previous version of this post noted that the Inglesias sisters' father is from Puerto Rico. He is from the Dominican Republic.
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