Temple for Persistent Spiritual Resistance Against Settler Colonialism, by Esteban Cabeza de Baca

Professor and Alumnus Esteban Cabeza de Baca '14 in Three Exhibits This Fall

BY Audrey Deng, November 8, 2019

Professor and alumnus Esteban Cabeza de Baca ’14 is in three exhibits this fall, two in New York, and one in the Netherlands. He lives in New York but works between New Mexico, the U.S./Mexico border, and the Netherlands.

Cabeza de Baca, born in the border town of San Ysidro, CA, is a painter and sculptor. His bright oil works are brilliantly lit, and use contrasts so stark that his paintings appear three-dimensional, layered. In Cabeza de Baca’s work, he challenges the loss of natural resources and reanimates pre-Columbian mythologies in the Americas with artworks that juxtapose representational imagery and abstraction. He paints abstract oil paintings with maps of the southwest with motifs from petroglyphs. Cabeza de Baca’s landscapes employ certain traditions of white, European landscape painters while shattering this tradition through abstraction.

In a comment to the university, he said, "Having my work exhibited in New York and the Netherlands broadens the exposure to my ideas. [...] Getting people to see the complex layers to not only the history of landscape painting but also of America before 1492 makes me optimistic about the future. I want to be a bridge between communities.”

A New York Times article published earlier this year called “Four Artists to Watch Now,” said, of Cabeza de Baca, “Having trained at Cooper Union and Columbia University, Mr. Cabeza de Baca, 34, is honing a method that draws on the American canon, the insights of Native artists, and his own sense of the Southwest as physical and cultural terrain.”

Cabeza de Baca currently has work at the Drawing Center in New York, in the exhibition Wasteland. Wasteland marks the fifth iteration of Open Sessions, a six-part exhibition program presented between October 2018 and January 2020. Organized by curators Rosario Güiraldes and Lisa Sigal, Open Sessions fosters a dynamic, ever-evolving dialogue with new drawing practices and practitioners, exhibiting and contextualizing the work of early career artists who explore the nature of drawing in its many manifestations through conversation, public programs, and thematic group exhibitions. Wasteland explores image production as an excessive physiological and psychological stimulus. The artists speculate on how digital media, virtual borders, surveillance, and violence impacts our perception. The reception is on Thursday, Nov. 14, and the gallery will be open Nov. 15, 2019 – Jan. 5, 2020

Also in New York, Cabeza de Baca’s work is featured in the Dorsky Gallery show At Sea. The exhibit draws inspiration from the sea’s depiction in art and popular culture to suggest uncertainties associated with momentous voyages and humankind’s reckoning with the formidable forces of nature. In the gallery’s press release, they write: “Esteban Cabeza de Baca’s practice is invested in preoccupations with hybridization as well as the disappearing values of beneficence and open-mindedness in today’s political milieu. His paintings spring from the influences of graffiti art, symbols of native cultures and gestural abstraction legacy. The artist is critical of romanticized and colonial tendencies in historical landscape depictions that approach the ‘other’ as something wild and untamed.” This exhibit closes Dec. 8, 2019.

In the Netherlands, Cabeza de Baca has a solo exhibition at the Kunstfort titled Life is one drop in lim­it­less oceans…. Says the gallery, “His im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tion in the Kun­st­fort’s in­dus­trial, late 19th cen­tury weaponry storage ex­plores the flu­idity of move­ment; this in con­trast against sys­tems in­her­ited out of Eu­rope to America, for cen­turies har­nessing the flow into labor.” This exhibit closes Dec. 15, 2019.

His next projects are a group exhibition at Art Basel Miami and preparing to do a residency next year in Tijuana, Mexico.