Miami-based Brazilian artist Jônatas Chimen highlights the role of women on immigration and family preservation in his latest exhibit 5 Madonnas in Exile, (or The Refugee Cathedral of the Ascending Bull).
As a first-generation immigrant and a descendant of Sephardic exiles who suffered forced-conversions, persecution, and expulsion during the Spanish Inquisition, Jônatas explains that much of his family's legacy only survived a 500-year Diaspora due to the bravery of a few women:
"They made sure the family did not crumble while in exile, by being relentless spiritual, cultural, and business leaders. They were addressed by the title of Dona. But because they were so selfless and virtuous, I call them Madonnas."
The artist's own history of exile and religious conflict play an important role in his discourse. Elements such as a cathedral and bull are borrowed straight from this narrative.
"The ever-reliable bull is willing to provide necessary strength at a very low cost, but in times of euphoria, upheaval, and famine, it is often sacrificed in the bull-fighting arena. Similarly, immigrants are appreciated at times of bountifulness and peace, but in moments of crisis they are sometimes singled out and sacrificed, often not only rhetorically."
Within this fabric cathedral installation, one is confronted by a spiralling maze also made of textiles. This further emphasizes the disorienting experience of being in exile and living in a situation of limbo, as it is currently happening to children sent to immigration detention centers.
At the end of this maze there is an altar, where several screens show a performance in which Jônatas drifts on a raft through water channels and the open ocean. Jônatas is wearing a suit and a bow-tie, signifying composure in the face of the unknown. Sojourning through the waters brings to mind that most asylum-seeking immigrants arrive to his home state of Florida via the ocean.
Deep within this fabric sanctuary, one is reminded of what his five Madonnas were clearly aware of; that alone we are nothing but threads, but together we can be as strong as the very fabric of society.
The exhibit counts with the important participation of assistant artist Rachael Kfare and scholar Reina Barreto, PhD.
Opening Reception: September 12th at The Art Gallery of Broward College South Campus, from 6 – 9:00 p.m.