The Immigrant Artist Biennial: Priscilla Dobler Dzul

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Priscilla Dobler Dzul, The Performance of Labor, Class, Race and Gender, 2020. Artist interviewing migrant workers. Photo courtesy Rebecca Dobler-Chale

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.

Born in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, Priscilla Dobler Dzul, is an interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, ceramic, film, fiber arts, and performance. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She has shown at A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; The Bellevue Art Museum, Bellevue, WA; Consulate of Mexico, Seattle, WA; NARS Foundation, Brooklyn, NY; 125 Maiden Lane, NYC, NY; Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, WA; Form and Concept, Santa Fe, NM; The Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Ana, CA; Decentered Gallery, Puebla, Mexico, and DAC Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. 

Dobler Dzul has been an Artist-in-Residence at Project Empty Space, Djerassi, MASS MoCA, Arquetopia, Mexico and Marfa Contemporary. As a public artist, her work has been commissioned by Seattle Art Museum and Metro Parks Tacoma. She is the recipient of awards from Pratt Institute, Artist Trust, and Tacoma Artist Initiative. Priscilla received her MFA in Sculpture from the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Do artists have political responsibilities at this moment, if so, what are they?  

Personally, I believe all humans, regardless of career path, have a responsibility to be political. As artists we should be using our platforms to address inequality, exploitation, displacement, land destruction and educational rights. Currently artists are working in many aspects at different levels to connect, create and heal people by uniting and mobilizing communities to combat these issues in institutions, educational systems and everyday systemic structures.

Reflect on an encounter of displacement, becoming, belonging, trauma, healing, or simply comic relief from your journey of immigration. 

I have always been called Pocahontas or a mestiza, and have never truly felt a sense of belonging anywhere. I wasn’t white enough for my European family or Mayan enough for my indigenous friends and family. It wasn’t until I left for college at eighteen to attend the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque that I embarked on my journey of healing. There I meet Navajo and Pueblo natives that were welcoming and encouraging. During my visits to the Navajo reservation, people would often ask, “Sister what tribe do you belong to?” I would always respond I am not Native American. To which they would smile and reply, “Sister, you belong to a tribe, which one?” I would shyly tell them “I am actually Mayan from the Yucatan.” To my relief they would say, “see sister you are from a tribe, we have a long history of trade with the natives in Mexico. You are a migrant tribe sister to us.” This gesture and my subsequent education about migrant tribes, and their journeys, instilled my desire to rid myself and help others move away from the misconceptions about indigenous people taught in the western schooling system. Thinking about the notion of ‘belonging’ has also created a desire to understand the histories of migrant trade routes among indigenous tribes, the term immigrant, and helped me heal the trauma my indigenous family and I carry.

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Priscilla Dobler Dzul, The Performance of Labor, Class Race and Gender, 2020 wood and thread. Photo courtesy the artist

How has the turn toward the digital and virtual affected your artistic practice?

The digital tools and virtual technologies have affected the interactive element of my installations. My work is based on scent, touch, and sound, interviewing migrant workers, and incorporating the installation’s local environment. However, I am learning slowly how to readjust. For example, with The Immigrant Artist Biennial, instead of recreating the lumber department from the Home Depot, I placed all woven frames into the space as a method of taking up space, the audio was then edited and upload online so the viewer can get a sense of the relationship of craft, invisible labor of immigrant workers, and the societal regard for women’s artwork.

Tell us about the work you are exhibiting Immigrant Artist Biennial.

The Performance of Labor, Class, Race and Gender is about weaving narratives together and creating spaces for underserved communities. By providing the platform for migrant laborers to discuss issues that affect them in their own voice, a voice that often goes unheard in society. I interviewed migrant laborers (mostly men) who work in construction trades, waiting for employment outside of Home Depot. These interviews are all in Spanish based around the stories of immigrants crossing the US/Mexico border due to violence, lack of income/work, searching for “freedom” and the hope of achieving the American Dream. While interviewing the men, all were asked to weave the structures that are representational of 4×8’ panels, 4×6’ posts and crates and were paid fair wages for their labor. Once completed with the interviewing all structures were installed in Home Depot. The interviews are triggered automatically when a viewer enters the space. It’s also important to address the challenges with this project because of the restrictions of Covid with interviewing and the cultural sensitivity migrants live in America as well as fear of ICE. I had to make sure not to over expose images and interviews on social media to protect participants. Each individual’s comfort level was respected and permission was granted for photo and audio documentation.

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Priscilla Dobler Dzul, The Performance of Labor, Class and Race, 2020. 4×8’ wood and thread, woven by migrant workers placed in Home Depot. Photo courtesy the artist

Please share a piece of advice or a resource that may be useful to an immigrant artist. 

Research organizations, artists, and curators who are creating platforms and fighting for equality and be open to collaborate with them. Reach out to organizations that have built a community around immigrant polices and rights and protection. A lot of the artists creating and working around these issues will be able to connect you with the resources you need, including the female-led team of The Immigrant Artists Biennial.

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Priscilla Dobler Dzul, The Performance of Labor, Class Race and Gender, 2020 wood and thread photo courtesy the artist

The Immigrant Artist Biennial’s virtual exhibitions are open through December 18th 2020, visit them here and a list of their ongoing events here.

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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is a New York-based Swedish/Guyanese independent curator and the founding editor-in-chief of Cultbytes, an online art publication focusing on interdisciplinary and non-hierarchical art criticism. Alongside an all-female volunteer team, she currently serves as an advisor and co-curator for the inaugural “The Immigrant Artist Biennial.”