Cultural Affairs Office

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MOCA Concludes 2022 Exhibition Series, Putting Down Roots: A Series of Exhibitions on Art and Immigration

Artwork by Veronica Gaona

Artist Veronica Gaona fixes a banderole with the Mexican adage, “Hacer de Tripas Corazón,” for an exhibition in the City Hall Rotunda.

October 31, 2022 -- The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) presents its last exhibition of the year connected to Putting Down Roots: A Series of Exhibitions on Art and Immigration, with a show at the City Hall Rotunda featuring Trans-----fer.  Trans-----fer, an exhibition that consists of photographs and mementos of artist Veronica Gaona’s family, pays tribute to immigrants and bookends the series in a contemplative way.

MOCA presented the exhibition series as the City resumed its public-facing activities. Putting Down Roots celebrates the lives of Houston immigrants and their descendants as they create new lives and put down new roots in this global city. Victor Ancheta, Community Liaison for MOCA, envisioned the series and curated the exhibitions. Ancheta, an immigrant artist himself, was born and raised in the Philippines and immigrated to Houston in 2001. He has called the city home since then. “It is important to me to showcase exhibitions that speak to me as an immigrant,” says Ancheta. “Leaving home is not easy. For many Houstonians, however, leaving behind everything and starting anew is exactly what they have done. To immigrate is an act of immense courage.”

To MOCA Director Necole Irvin, the exhibition series highlights the connection between immigrants and the city. “One out of every four Houstonians is foreign-born, making Houston the most diverse city in the country. It’s a characteristic that makes Houston, Houston,” says Irvin. “The series, Putting Down Roots, reflect immigrants' lives and their contributions to making our city a global city and one of the best places to live in the world.”

The exhibitions have been successful in illustrating immigrant life through many activations and collaborations that MOCA helmed. In collaboration with the Houston Public Library, artist talks were held in the Central Public Library virtually and in person. The talks gave artists space to discuss their works displayed in the Rotunda of City Hall, as well as to genuinely connect with their audience and talk about their lives as immigrants or descendants of immigrants. MOCA also collaborated with Harambee Art Gallery for a joint summer exhibition, as well as with FOTOFEST to make City Hall a participating space for FOTOFEST’s famous biennial show.

MOCA’s objective to lift up local artists continues with the exhibition series and has showcased the works of Anthony Pabillano, Sol Diaz, Rochella Cooper, Mathieu Jean Baptiste, Melissa Aytenfisu, and Veronica Gaona.

MOCA’s inaugural show of the series began with Filipino artist Anthony Pabillano, a first-generation immigrant and member of the Filipinx Artists of Houston. Pabillano  put together a powerful and emotional exhibition of artworks that re-examined his difficult childhood back in the Philippines and how those traumas resurfaced as brought on by the Great Freeze of 2021. One of the works he displayed is titled, I Weave to Unravel a Past, and the Further the Unraveling Goes, the More Complete I feel I become. A paper sculpture that is reminiscent of traditional Filipino weaving and with its complete incompleteness, is evocative of the immigrant state of feeling.

Like Pabillano, Gaona’s current exhibition at City Hall offers a glimpse into immigrant life. Clothing and photographs of her immigrant uncle and grandmother become sources of inspiration for her work and when displayed in the hallowed space of City Hall become not just cast-off objects but reliquaries of immigrant life.

Gaona, a second-generation Mexican-American artist, pauses and looks at a colorful bouquet of flowers and fixes a banderole with the Mexican adage, “Hacer de Tripas Corazón.”

“It means to muster up the courage, despite the fact you are going through a difficult situation,” she says.

Second Artwork by Anthony Pabillano

An artwork by Anthony Pabillano titled, I Weave to Unravel a Past, and the Further the Unraveling Goes, the More Complete I feel I Become.

Aside from the series on Immigration, MOCA has also displayed other exhibitions this year. In celebration of Juneteenth, MOCA collaborated with A.B. Anderson Elementary of Acres Homes for an exhibition about Freedom featuring the works of its students. While in August, MOCA worked with Ground Zero 360 for a 9/11 Memorial Ceremony and exhibition showcasing the winning works of students from Bellaire High School and Sharpstown High School. MOCA also hosted His Royal Highness, the Aga Kahn, for an exhibition on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. 
Stay tuned for MOCA’s next series of exhibitions which will be about Expressions and begins in January 2023.

Trans-----fer, as a FOTOFEST participating space, is on view at the City Hall Rotunda thru November 6th, 2022. We encourage you to visit and share your thoughts with us.