The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB) is a volunteer, female-led, artist-run project. TIAB 2020 launched in March in New York City at Brooklyn Museum, and continued in September through December at EFA Project Space, Greenwood Cemetery, and virtually, presenting 60+ artists. This interview series features 10 participating artists.
Jorge Rojas is an artist from Cuautla, Morelos, México. He is interested in cultural, social, spiritual and mediated forms of communication. Rojas uses performance to bring people together through participation, interaction, and active engagement. His interests include spiritual histories, interpretations of ancient rites and customs, institutional critique, and responding to abuses of power.
Do artists have political responsibilities at this moment, if so, what are they?
For the last four years the Trump administration has instigated so much conflict, division, anxiety and fear through anti-immigrant laws and hate-filled rhetoric that I’ve felt a renewed sense of urgency and responsibility to make work that responds to these abuses of power, and hopefully helps people heal and feel empowered to take action. That said, my responsibility as an artist is to be true to myself and to my work, and to be informed about the work I make.
AS: Reflect on an encounter of displacement, becoming, belonging, trauma, healing, or simply comic relief from your journey of immigration.
My family moved a lot between Mexico and the U.S. when I was growing up, about every four or five years. This made me think a lot about concepts of home, place and belonging. Growing up between these two countries as a mestizo (a person of mixed race) I was not “white” enough for the U.S. and not “brown” enough for Mexico. Because of this, I experienced trauma in both countries. These experiences helped shape who I am and being an “outsider” made me a careful observer of both cultures and their customs, something that has served me well as an artist. My body and mind feel most at home in my performances, because these are space of my own making, my own creation, a space in between.
How has the turn toward the digital and virtual affected your artistic practice?
In 2009, I founded Low Lives, an international, multi-venue online performance festival, where close to 50 international partners utilized live streaming technologies to present and connect over 300 artists across physical and cultural borders, all live and in real time. So the recent turn towards the digital and virtual feels more like a return to me. Still, digital and virtual performance will never compare to performance in physical spaces and in front of physical audiences.
Tell us about the work you are exhibiting Immigrant Artist Biennial.
tether is a participatory performance where I invite members of the audience to accompany me on symbolic journey as we re-present some of the trauma undocumented immigrants (including refugees and asylum seekers) experience throughout the immigration process: before, during and after.
Please share a piece of advice or a resource that may be useful to an immigrant artist.
Mine your life, cultural histories and personal experiences for ideas. Trust your process and intuition. Make art about what you know. Don’t depend on the acceptance of established systems to measure your success. Create your own path. Do what you love. Try to make art that resonates well after it’s been experienced. Make art that matters.