“Metaphysical Body II” (2023) is made of cotton rope dyed with terra cotta. “Emotional Body II” (2023) features very similar materials, as does “Internal Body II” (2023), which consists of cotton rope and low-fire terra cotta and aluminum armature. As for “External Body” (2023), it’s a mashup of cotton rope, low-fire terra cotta, flax and found objects from the Los Angeles River: tumbled bricks, glass, pavement and cement, river root, dyed with terra cotta clay and aluminum armature.
If all of the above doesn’t help paint a picture of Tanya Aguiñiga’s work, the title might help: “Swallowing Dirt,” on view at Volume Gallery, is an exhibition of earthy colors and natural materials that is serene and comfortable and simultaneously borderline grotesque. There are body parts—hands and feet, as well as livers and other internal organs—trapped into rope that vaguely resembles marine life caught in a fisherman’s net. Her pieces can be described as unconventional portraits—abstractions of the human experience.
The artist has a long history of weaving and working within (and beyond) traditional craft techniques. She adds layers in the form of meaningful materials that nod to her Mexican heritage. Think reddish-brown ceramics, clay and natural fibers. The outcome is a heavily textured work that feels tactile—soft and powerful at once.
Another major influence on Aguiñiga’s artistic and activism practice: her childhood. The Los Angeles-based artist was raised in Tijuana, and had to cross the border daily as a child to attend school in San Diego. This binational experience has proved incredibly formative of her perspective and has heavily impacted her life and career. To this day, this memory still feels fresh.
Working between art, design, social practice and activism, Aguiñiga’s work takes many shapes and forms—from weaving and sculpture, to performance and site-specific installations. As she explores the notion of the physical and emotional space, she hovers across media, breaks away from preconceived notions of craft and pushes the limits and confines of tradition. By doing so she traverses cultural boundaries in order to ultimately find identity and belonging within her community and within herself. The places she creates are textured, colorful and unique—much like her work.
With “Swallowing Dirt,” Aguiñiga masterfully taps into the viewer’s emotions at a personal and a collective level. Her work evokes understanding, empathy and a sense of proximity that rises beyond the fact that the Mexican border is unequivocally closely tied to American life: it forces a look inward—into your own otherness, into the parts that make you unique. Whether soft and fuzzy or hard as clay, embracing them is a positive and necessary step toward human and cultural connection. And this is exactly what Aguiñiga’s work is all about.
“Swallowing Dirt” is on view at Volume Gallery, 1709 West Chicago, through June 17.