Layers of history are referenced in the minimalist language of Adriana Corral’s most recent series, A Palimpsest. Her blurred ink texts and carefully drawn surfaces reveal fragments of archival documents identified during her Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, where she amassed documents, telegrams, photographs, and blueprints from the National Archives and Records Administration and Library of Congress. In each work, Corral creates a layered veneer that is both delicate and rigorous in process. She prepares each paneled surface so that it is ready to absorb her transfers and drawings, which reveal the political targeting of Mexican immigrants as contagious carriers for disease and the subsequent creation of an atmosphere of racialized paranoia in California, Texas, and the Southwest—a sentiment that public officials capitalized on to implement harsher border-control policies.
Corral’s series focuses on the delousing practices used along the United States and Mexico border in which toxic chemicals were applied to the bodies of men and women entering the nation—a practice that began early in the 20th century at the height of the Mexican Revolution, World War I, the Typhus epidemic, and the Spanish flu pandemic. This atmosphere, coupled with the Eugenics movement, lead to enacting strict border restrictions. As part of the “sanitization” process, the American Federal Government used kerosene, cyanide-based chemicals, and Zyklon B on individuals seeking to enter the United States from Mexico, as well as on their personal belongings. The headline regarding the “Riot Among Juarez Women: Auburn-Haired Amazon at Santa Fe Street Bridge Leads Feminine Outbreak” highlights how descriptive language is placed upon the bodies of Mexican women to visualize them as a physical threat and concern to public health and safety. The riot and the shutdown of the Santa Fe bridge between El Paso, Texas and the city of Juarez, Mexico, was due in large part to women protesting the delousing procedures, which required them to completely undress, in addition to rumors that nude photographs of the women were being circulated. While the demonstration, spearheaded by 17-year-old Carmelita Torres, protested against these cruel and unjust procedures, newspaper coverage of the event fixated on the women’s disruption to the public rather than on their calls for humane treatment.
Corral’s work echoes a similar pattern of social-political content found throughout art history. Illustrated in Francisco Goya’s Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disaster of War) (1810-1820) etchings, both operate as visual records to the world’s cruel acts as observed in the artists’ lifetimes. Corral’s work functions not only as a form of documentation, but also as a method for unearthing and dissecting the language and architecture that has helped enact this treatment of othered bodies. Influenced by a family background of medical professionals, the artist holds a strong interest in the medical field. Her comprehensive, research-based practice frequently broaches topics related to hegemonic power, as well as violent and repressive treatment of marginalized individuals. By visualizing unacknowledged and erased histories, Corral reveals scars within our American landscape, exposing racialized sentiments and the dehumanizing treatment of individuals in order to highlight the need for these to be addressed and repaired for future generations.
Artist texts by Marissa Del Toro
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Adriana Corral’s subjects are framed by human rights abuses, memory and erased historical narratives. Corral’s work is rooted by her experiences from her birthplace of El Paso, Texas in which she examines the nuances of immigration, citizenship, economic trade, labor, public health, and policies from a local to national and international level.
Adriana Corral’s interdisciplinary, research-based practice boldly explores memory, loss, human rights abuses, and unacknowledged histories. Often working across international borders, she mines state and national archives for primary documents and engages historians, anthropologists, journalists, gender scholars, human rights attorneys, and victims’ families for information that materialize in her performances, sculptures, and installations. These refined, contemplative works aim to facilitate the restitution of memory and to stand witness to the past in order to empower humane acts in the present and future.
Corral received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin and completed her BFA at the University of Texas at El Paso. She was invited to attend the 106th session of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary disappearances at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland (2015) and awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Grant (2016). Corral attended the McDowell Residency (2014), Künstlerhaus Bethanien Residency in Berlin, Germany (2016), the International Artist-in-Residence at Artpace (2016) in San Antonio, Texas, and an Artist-in-Residence at the Joan Mitchell Center (2018), New Orleans, Louisiana. Corral was an Artist Fellow at Black Cube, A Nomadic Art Museum (2017), an Artist Research Fellow at Archives of American Art and History at the Smithsonian Institution (2018) and selected for the Latinx Artist Fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation (2021). Corral is the recipient of the Houston’s Artadia Award (2019), Harpo Foundation (2020) and exhibitions include, Suffering from Realness, MASS MoCA (2019-2020), Bodies of Knowledge, New Orleans Museum of Art (2019) and Prospect 5, Yesterday we said tomorrow (2020-2022).