Cardboard discourse visited Capitol Hill this week when the ethereal statements by L.A. installation artist Ramiro Gomez Jr. were timed with the Senate hearings on immigration policy.
The National Day Labor Organizing Network flew Gomez to Washington D.C., and provided the paint and cardboard that was waiting for the artist. It was not the usual size he was used to. "I had to source larger materials at Costco," he said by phone from D.C., adding that it helped make the work he had developed in Los Angeles stay authentic.
That home connection, as least as a process, was needed. It was his first trip to D.C., and the landscape was uncharted territory for him to seek out an immigration worker narrative. "I have to physically be here to do the work," he said. "I had no idea what to do at first. . . as soon as I got here, power radiated from the city, especially when I walked around."
There was little time for him to be reflective during his day tour of the city, since it was quickly followed by a Washington Post reporter and photographer doing a story on his work.
It was only at night when he had a chance to reflect on what he saw and determine how his art could respond to the city.
The new set of almost life-size cardboard and acrylic paint figures include a field workers in the East Front of the Capitol and outside the Rayburn Building, which houses offices for the U.S. House of Representatives.
His masterpiece may be the Latino family installed as tourists taking pictures of the White House through the gate.
"The area I intended to place them was initially closed to the public, so I set them up here first," he said. "Then I was told by secret service to move them after a while. The section (in front of the White House that) I wanted to place them in miraculously opened up, just as the sun was setting." He reinstalled the family of four as as he first pictured it.
The idea is based on a Gordon Parks photograph, reports the Washington Post, who was with Gomez as he worked out ideas.
The immigrant message is subtle and strong. With his reflections coming from Los Angeles, where workers are seen everyday, Gomez is finding a new perspective from this visit. "Everything is internal, secured, and we are on the outside looking in," he said.
It also made him think of his family and partner, he said, and they were whom he thought of when he presented his installations in formal and informal presentations. His art, now as seen on the Hill, became a different kind of personal experience.
Gomez is in D.C. until February 14; he will arrive in Los Angeles Friday in time for his first solo gallery show titled "Luxury, Interrupted." It will be at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) and opens Wednesday, February 20. A reception will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Top: Latino family in front of the White House. Photo courtesy Ramiro Gomez