Artists showcase work digitally during pandemic, social unrest


Juan Diaz / Hilltop Views

La Pena was founded by sisters Lidia and Cynthia Perez. The gallery is located on 227 Congress Ave.

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 and still showcase powerful works of art, La Peña gallery hosted a virtual exhibit last week. The event consisted of three parts: an online gallery, an in-person gallery and interviews of the artists posted online. The website encouraged making an appointment to see the pieces in person, but the gallery was open to those without one. 

Fernando Muñoz, curator of La Peña, said the virtual exhibit came from a need to display artists as they try to work through the frustration, confusion and anger that has manifested from the global pandemic and social unrest. Aptly titled, “Art in Times of Pandemic and Resistance” shows the work of several local artists including J. C. Amorrortu, Ambray Gonzales and Susan Holland. 

The artwork available online shows the fear Austin residents have sat with since early March. In one piece, Holland showcased a quilt made of fabric from around her home. She explained that the original design resembled a Confederate flag and that she hated it. Because of the pandemic, she couldn’t buy more material or switch the pattern without wasting material, so instead, she finished the piece and titled it “Embedded Systematic Racism.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Morris used his piece “American Nuckelavee” to depict a “violent distortion of a police officer and police horse.” He explained the motivation behind his work was the chaos and brutality seen here in America and across the globe. 

Carlos Barberena and Stephen Powers tackled the issue of police brutality with their prints “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter.” Both prints were available for purchase at La Peña, with the first showing George Floyd’s photograph made from tiny black lines and the second displaying the names of people killed by police this year.

Artist Liliana Wilson showcased the loneliness she felt during quarantine with her pieces “El viaje” and “Niña y violín.” She said the pieces are about people “not knowing what is coming” throughout the pandemic, though she tried to make them seem beautiful to offer solace to those around her.

At a time when police brutality, racial injustice and a global pandemic intersect, artists are using their art to open the eyes of viewers. In J.C. Amorrortu’s “Bully,” a person wearing tactical gear presses their fingers into the eyes of Lady Liberty while Uncle Sam holds her down. The artist said he believes all art should “not only please or disturb your eyes, but also communicate a message.” Even online, the piece is striking. 

As protests and COVID-19 cases rise, we are left with the frustration and fear captured in these works, and even in the digital space, we are forced to face these emotions. La Pena’s online gallery allows us to experience these works of art. Hopefully we can continue to use art as a means of expression during this tumultuous time.