In Celdas (Prison Cells), I use the absurdity intrinsic in magical realism to address the consequences of violence on the Central American people and the perpetuation of those consequences on the Central American immigrant in post 9-11 U.S.
The economic and social situation in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras along with the fallout left behind by civil wars in Central America have contributed to the gravity of this problem. In an effort to escape the situation, marginalized youngsters immigrate to the U.S. where they end up joining gangs, eventually getting deported and bringing “Gangster” culture back to their homeland. Gang related crimes, drug cartels and political instability are the major sources of violence in the area today. For undocumented immigrants, most leaving their countries in a desperate attempt to escape poverty and violence, the pervading anti-immigrant sentiment encouraged by extreme immigration laws in states such as Arizona has forced them to live in a state of constant fear and alienation.
The sense of alienation and isolation present in “Celdas”, recalls the paranoia experienced by these individuals as they search for respite from the threats of the outside world. The spaces represent imposed limits, restrictions, while cultural elements such as catholic iconography guard against adversity. Mayan iconography is presented as mere decorations, relegated to a long forgotten past.
The juxtaposition of catholic and Mayan iconography, recall Spanish colonialism and the history of violence in Central America. The play-scapes or scenes allude to actual violent crimes and even memorialize some of the victims caught up in the endless cycle.
Home aesthetics recall the need for sanctuary, while frail building materials such as fabric and cardboard recall the necessity of making do or coping with the situation. The imaginary transposed environments, which I create in my studio and then photograph, are metaphors for the constant state of isolation and seclusion these individuals experience in their homeland and in the quest for the “American dream”.
Alma Leiva; Miami, FL and Brooklyn, NY
Alma Leiva was born in Honduras and moved to the United States when she was fourteen. In 2007, she received a BFA in Electronic Media and Photography from New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida. She earned an MFA in Photography and Film from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011. Leiva has exhibited her work widely in the United States in such venues as The Center on Contemporary Arts in Seattle WA, Art Basel Miami, The 6th Street Container alternative art space, Miami, FL, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, PA, Ground Arts, The Invisible Dog Art Center, and Hasted Kraeutler, NY. Her work has been featured in Artpulse magazine, El Nuevo Herald, Fader magazine, Time Lightbox, Newsweek and The Washington Post among others. Leiva has completed residencies at Arteles in Finland, Vermont studio Center, VT, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY, and Atlantic Center for the Arts, FL. She was awarded a 2012 NYFA artist fellowship in the category of interdisciplinary work and in 2014 she will have a solo show at Artsapce in Raleigh, NC. One of Leiva’s projects will be featured on “On our Radar”, Creative Capital, New York, NY May-Sept 2013.