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Paletas de la Frontera by Judy Baca


Photo: SPARC ART on Facebook

On the front panel of the ice cream cart, vibrant orange butterflies sweep through depths of blue while a beaming young brown-skinned girl with two braids spoons a mouthful of silky smooth vanilla ice cream. The young girl wears green and purple beaded necklaces and bracelets. One long side panel depicts in black and white people handing out plastic bags of food to those on top of a freight train entering from the south to the US border. The other long side panel portrays South American families climbing the fence out of detention camps while blimps decorated with American flags fly overhead. Bright red roses and popsicles punctuate the ice cream cart, and a slot in the top of it awaits notes of blessings from onlookers to the migrants depicted.

This ice cream cart, “Paletas de la Frontera” (2021) by Judith F Baca, is part of the Poetic Justice exhibit in the New Mexico Museum of Art. I was instantly intrigued by the juxtaposition of vibrant and black and white colors of the ice cream cart standing in the center of the room. I wandered around the sides of the playful cart taking in the grave images of those struggling to cross the US border. The cart’s arresting imagery combined with its serious message spurred me to think about the lack of social and political emphasis placed on the immigration crisis in art and ignited my curiosity for how artists use their work as social justice statements.

Traditionally, museums have represented a Eurocentric view of history by white male artists. Baca’s piece challenges and redefines norms of the museum space in which Latine struggles are represented.

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