“Anamnesis – The Art of Remembering Things” by Christy Ferrato will be the March art exhibit at Henderson Fine Arts Gallery at San Juan College.
Ferrato, a poet, artist and senior director of San Juan College Advising Center, said her mixed media art transcends the limitations implicit in a single form of creative expression and challenges viewers to rethink the definitive boundaries between poetry, music, visual art and performance art.
By incorporating various art forms, Ferrato asks the audience to consider how we might transcend our “stained histories.” She mixes various anthologies, mixed-media installation and recordings of the voices of those referenced and honored.
Each exhibit installation is deeply personal, reflecting Ferrato’s passion for social justice and quest to make her audience remember and reflect inwardly.
“A lot of my work involves working with poetry off the page,” Ferrato said. “The art piece ‘Preservation’ grew out of a poem I wrote, ‘Lessons From Lancaster County’, which was about the 2006 West Nickel Mines School/Amish Schoolhouse shooting.”
“I enjoy my work. The artwork is my passion, but it doesn’t put food on the table. I love working with students – I’ve had a really good run,” Ferrato said about her 15 years as an adviser at San Juan College.
Ferrato received a bachelor’s degree in fine art in printmaking from University of Denver and an master’s in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has been a featured poet twice at the Taos Poetry Festival, has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize twice, for Best New Poets of 2010 and for the Willow Award.
Her work has been featured in lectures, publications, poetry performances and exhibitions such as Lake Eden Arts Festival, Taos Poetry Festival, Re(dress) Poetry series in Los Angeles, Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, Durango Arts Center, Fort Lewis College Art Gallery and Vermont College of Fine Arts.
She is inspired by artists including Joy Harjo, Ann Hamilton and Jenny Holzer.
“When I started applying what I was learning about poetry to my artwork … I realized in poetry every word choice, punctuation and structure – it all takes you closer to the emotional content of the work. Everything’s extremely intentional,” she said about her process.
Ferrato sees a certain historical omission and erasure of traumatic events, giving a voice to what has been lost in the shadows of silence.
Projects included in the show are “Locus Communis,” “Preservation,” “Saffron Threads,” “Ward 54,” “Ghost Image” and “Nana Shrine.”
“Preservation” features a library card cabinet sourced from Rutgers University that has 30 drawers, each one labeled with a school shooting in the U.S.
“The top left hand drawer is for the University of Texas shooting in 1966, and the bottom right hand drawer is Parkland, Florida,” Ferrato said. They are chronologically ordered based on the definition of a school massacre.
Within each drawer is a woolen net, handmade by Ferrato, containing 211 bullet casings with names of each victim in the shooting. Bits of text are embedded in the nets, from sources who inspire her such as Walt Whitman.
“Each drawer is lined with a mirror so when you look inside, you’ll see yourself,” she said. “So I’m kind of this weird installation artist.”
She settled on the idea of a card catalog because it is evocative of schools, but she said it reveals her age because few now know what a library card catalog is.
One of the heroes and victims of the Virginia Tech shooting, Dr. Libiu Librescu, was a Holocaust survivor who put his body in front of the door so others could escape through the window, Ferrato said. “There’s something really compelling about that.”
“Nana Shrine” pays tribute to Ferrato’s maternal grandmother, who she said was “devout, with a touch of rebelliousness. She left no doubt who was in charge.” She descended from Danish lace makers who settled in Beaumont, Texas. “Nana was one of the most influential people in my life,” she said.
With Nana’s death coming when so many others from her family origin had passed, Ferrato felt a “profound sense of everything fading away as I tried so desperately to hang on.”
Ferrato’s family history is featured in the New Encyclopedia of Texas. “Nana Shrine” incorporates Volume I of the 1934 edition.
The shrine includes an altar with heirloom handmade lace, a lock of her grandmother’s hair, excerpts from her diary and a photograph of Nana standing in the distance. It fades into the past, reminding Ferrato of her roots.
“Locus Communis” was inspired by the border situation and is comprised of 16 text-filled plexiglass panels arranged to form an enclosed space.
Ferrato visited El Paso and Las Cruces in 2017 where she walked across the border.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, “this is no different than what I saw growing up. I didn’t see thousands of people trying to crash the border.” She said it was a “sleepy little situation” then. “We’re all immigrants … I started looking at different groups of people and how we’ve marginalized them over time.”
Ferrato, working with Antoinette Oehme at The Big Idea Makerspace at San Juan College, produced the panels using the state-of-the-art laser printer to apply the text. The text for the panels came from research executive orders, laws and ordinances regarding immigration from 1776 forward. She selected four different laws or codes for each of the four featured groups: Native Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans.
The 1942 Civilian Exclusion Order No. 69, Religions Crimes Codes of 1883, Arkansas Streetcar Segregation Act 1903 and the 1942 Executive Order No. 9102 Establishing War Relocation Authority are a few of the laws and orders featured. They highlight issues such as incarceration based on race and culture, the taking of lands and property, separation of families, unequal protection under the law, lack of due process and lack of access to education.
Ferrato said she chose white on black background because “that’s what it’s all about … white imposing their will on color … people of color.” Recorded audio profiles 16 people, four from each featured group, as they recite, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”
She said the recordings are “barely audible, but present enough to show the tension” between the Declaration of Independence and the current reality of inequality.
An opening reception for “Anamnesis – The Remembering of Things” will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2, at Henderson Fine Arts Gallery. The exhibit will run through March 31.