Some heroes are invisible in life, and what makes them visible is that artists like Guillermo Bert, who listen to their voices, bring their messages about social life to the forefront with their works.
Contemporary artist Guillermo Bert, who has almost become the muse of Latin immigrants with his artworks that reveal the spirit of the labour force in recent years, tells the experiences of people and families entering the United States through the US-Mexico border and the future of migrant workers in America with his latest work, Journey.
While he invites art lovers to an intercultural identity journey with his work Journey, exhibited at the Nevada Museum of Art, he also focuses on the travel experiences of immigrants who left their home countries behind and entered the struggle for a new life, with works of art based on the fusion and convergence of cultures.
Establishing a personal bond between art lovers and immigrants with Journey, the artist aims to explain how individual, family, and cultural traditions are assimilated as a result of migration and colonization by pushing them to question prejudices. In this way, it emphasizes the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Reduce Inequalities by using the power of the representation of art and touching the lives of marginalized individuals.
In his artworks, which he created based on his personal story as an immigrant born and raised in Santiago, Chile, but living in America, he primarily deals with desert landscapes under difficult conditions while also highlighting the metaphorical relationships between the commodification and objectification of American value judgments. This approach is a project with social content in which Bert criticizes colonialism and capitalist systems by blending the traditional and contemporary approaches he has focused on throughout his career and discusses how Indigenous identities, traditions and religions have succumbed to time.
Inspired by the Chinese Terra-Cotta Warriors, which are clay soldiers unearthed in Shaanxi, China, and buried with China's first emperor, Bert weaves an experiential narrative about the life struggles of today's immigrants. With his sculptures created with complex laser cutting techniques, Bert pays homage to the frontline workers who shoulder the burden of society.
Bert brings together iconic pieces from his private collections in the Journey exhibition and offers a comprehensive narrative about his art career. Combining ancient traditions with modern technology in his works, the artist undertakes a realistic project with a highly archaeological background, aiming to make the voices of individuals who are marginalized, silenced and ignored, just as he has done in his series such as The Warriors, Encoded Textiles, Tumble Dreams and Border Zone.
The Warriors, a series of 20 life-size sculptures consisting of highly detailed 3D scans of real immigrants working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic period, is also brought to the centre of the artist's latest work, Journey. Each of the people depicted in Bert's sculptures, depicting workers whom he replaces with the invisible warriors of the 21st century, represents real immigrants with their names.
The hidden voices of workers tasked with stocking grocery store shelves, picking fruits and vegetables from fields and orchards, driving delivery trucks to fulfill millions of online orders, and functioning as an on-demand economy become real through his sculptures.
Bert likens the front-line workers to the Chinese Terra-Cotta Warriors, believing that, like the clay soldiers, they are individuals fighting for society. In an interview with KUNR Public Radio about his life-size wooden sculpture installation at the Nevada Museum of Art, he refers to warriors.
"This whole army of warriors was buried for 3,000 years, and they suddenly excavated them and unearthed them. These [frontline workers] are millions of warriors that you have around you and keep the world together," Bert said, commenting on the relationship between the individual and the collective group
"You never saw them because you were not needed to pay attention to that, but with the pandemic, that everybody was in their homes working through Zoom, somebody has to deliver the food to you or pick up the crops and do all of these things. And then people start seeing them."
The artist encourages art lovers to think about how Latino workers, including nurses, farmers, firefighters and activists, who helped the American economy thrive while the majority of the world stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, were visible but invisible to society. Thus, he emphasizes that these invisible warriors should be respected for their courage and struggle and their fighting spirit should be appreciated.
Encoded Textiles, a series of QR-coded woven tapestries that have shaped the artist's forty-year artistic career and is another important work in Journey, focuses on his experiences with the Indigenous Mapuche community during his time in Chile. The artist's foregrounding of the connection between both Latino immigrants and Indigenous communities through his artworks is an effort to show the invisible side of the mirror to art lovers and to raise awareness.
Encoded Textiles is an online art project featuring video and audio stories in which Bert examines the difficult migration experiences of the Mayan and Zapotec Indigenous populations to Los Angeles, transforming cultural symbols of urbanism, consumption, and displacement into layered storytelling. This contemporary artwork, which is a very large archive of stories through electronic scans, conveys the voice of the Indigenous community to art lovers in a poetic language.
The artist worked with Indigenous weavers from Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, and the Americas to create the tapestries. Each fabric woven includes traditional iconography as well as a QR code that links to the website to share a video or audio story of both the weavers and Indigenous communities.
The idea that inspired Bert to create the QR code emphasizes his style of blending his traditional approach with contemporary art. The fact that the QR code in question is very similar to the Aztec Code, which reveals the graphic works of Indigenous peoples in textile arts with their layered pyramid-shaped structures, leads the artist to reveal a new art form.
The striking stories of Indigenous communities or Latin immigrants bear great traces in Bert's work. With his work Tumble Dreams, in which he hides oral history in the bark of tumbleweed, he tells the fragmented lives of immigrants exposed to the dangers of the journey through interviews, in a way that refers to the name of his latest work, Journey.
By combining a natural object such as a tumbleweed with projected interviews, the artist takes art lovers on a visual journey full of awareness about the difficult choices faced by migrant workers who challenge the threat of borders, confront border patrols, and fight bandits.
Tumbleweed symbolizes an arduous journey for Latin American immigrants, especially with its dry conditions and inhospitable desert landscapes, and centres on the struggle for survival.
Bert, while complementing Journey with pieces from Sound Bites, includes the phrase "You don't have the right to remain silent" in the exhibition, referring to the Miranda Rights law and trying to explain the idea of the need to speak in an environment of political dysfunction rather than a legal obligation.
The exhibition is accompanied by Guillermo Bert: The Journey, an important book published by the Nevada Museum of Art, which includes an interview with curator Vivian Zavataro and Guillermo Bert.
Contemporary artist Guillermo Bert, who sheds light on the destructive effects of migration, immigration, colonization and capitalism by blending traditional and contemporary art, also reveals an art form that deeply affects and invites reflection as a voice of society.