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Exhibit unites Latino poets, artists

Nicole Zook | Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Two art forms merged into one as “Poetas y Pintores: Artists Conversing with Verse” opened in the Moreau Art Galleries at Saint Mary’s Jan. 27.

Twelve Latino visual artists chose works by 12 Latino poets and used them as inspiration for brand new artworks ranging in style from abstract to digital representation. The poems were displayed next to each piece of artwork exhibited, creating a truly multi-genre experience for the over 75 patrons who visited the gallery on opening night.

The Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership (CWIL) Fellow and Saint Mary’s assistant English professor Maria Melendez, one of the exhibition’s founders, gave a presentation during the opening that included a reading of her poem “Remedio.”

“[The exhibit is about] artists responding to poetry,” Melendez said.

Melendez said the inspiration for her poem – which is hung next to Saint Mary’s alumna Regina Diaz’s work “Pass Back Through Me” – dealt with wolves returning to their native area in Colorado.

“[The poem is about] what it might mean to live in an area where wild wolves are present as well,” Melendez said.

Diaz shared her own process as an artist, first reading all Melendez’ poems, choosing “Remedio” and creating a work inspired by the “nature-based, engaging” poem. Diaz said her particular choice of poetry was due to the deep connection she felt to the work.

“It hit,” she said. “I knew what it was saying. Not necessarily the wolves part … but it went a lot deeper.”

During the presentation, Melendez also read “La Bufadora,” by Emmy Perez, and a note from the author. Esperanza Gama, the artist who based her painting “Luna de Siempre” on Perez’s work, told the audience the poem touched her personally and reminded her of experiences with her own grandmother.

“Memories of my grandmother’s house inspired the colors [of the painting],” Gama said.

The exhibit – which, after leaving Saint Mary’s on March 3, will travel to museums and galleries nationwide – was first conceived in 2003 when National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Dana Gioia visited Notre Dame’s campus and suggested a project that spurred dialogue between two forms of art.

Notre Dame Institute for Latino Studies Fellow Francisco Aragon and Melendez developed the project with backing from both the University and College and help from the NEA that included a grant and Gioia personally helping select artists, according to Aragon.

“We wanted to pursue proposals that fostered dialogue between art genres,” Aragon said.

Both art and poetry enthusiasts who viewed the exhibit Friday night said the project was a success, and the gallery was indeed abuzz with “dialogue,” as Aragon and Melendez had hoped.

Notre Dame associate professor of French Louis MacKenzie, a poetry aficionado, said he was struck by the work and impressed with the exhibit as a whole.

“It’s very … present,” he said. “It has a kind of vibrance that I like.”

zook8928@saintmarys.edu