Migrant Reenactment (Skull) (2016)
Alfredo Ginocchio (Mexico City)
“My practice is about art and collaborations,” says Damian Ontiveros, a conceptualist who uses the medium of painting to engage with sensitive communities stricken with violence or political oppression. In his most recent series, the artist has been working as an art teacher at a halfway house in Monterrey devoted to sheltering migrants who come from Guatemala and Honduras, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs, with the intention of illegally crossing into the United States.
A usual stay is three nights, so over that brief time Ontiveros gave his itinerant students an ambitious assignment: to paint a faithful copy of Basquiat’s 1981 Untitled(Skull), now a centerpiece of the Broad Collection. To help them, he broke the painting down into several sections of five layers of color each and projected them onto the canvas, coaching the migrants to paint over the lines and encouraging them to intuitively fill in the gaps, with feeling.
Why Basquiat? Because that artist “embodies a history of transculturalization,” says Ontiveros, because of his immigrant parents and his continual rise across social and economic classes. (The Skull painting had also been exhibited in Monterrey’s MARCO museum in 1990.) The activity was about empowering the migrants through art, he explains. Now their names are written on the back of the canvas; Ontiveros has no idea what happened to them after they left.