The Armory Center for the Arts hosts the fourth iteration of the MexiCali Biennial, CALAFIA: Manifesting the Terrestrial Paradise, a series of exhibitions and related programs taking place throughout the California region north and south of the US/Mexico border that explore the myth of the indigenous Black Queen Calafia and her island "California."
The word ‘California’ was first written in the sixteenth-century novel Las Sergas de Esplandian (The Adventures of Esplandian) by Castilian author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvoand, regarded by many to be the etymological source of the region’s name. This chivalric romance exoticizes Queen Calafia and her Black Amazon pagan women, who are armed with golden weapons and ride upon mythical beasts, living on a prosperous island called "California," filled with gold and precious stones. The Eurocentric narrative ultimately ends with the colonization of the land and the subjugation of the queen and her army through marriage and proselytism.
The 2018-2020 Mexicali Biennial reactivates the mythology of Calafia and the island of California through artworks that combine fiction and fact to rethink the extended region that was conceived and intended to be – from a colonial perspective – a “Terrestrial Paradise.”
This particular chapter, the third in the exhibition series, features 29 artists and collectives using diverse aesthetic strategies to engage with the consequences of being in a place continuously framed as a “paradise” through a colonial project of erasure and dominance. Artworks reclaim and rewrite the myth of Calafia to deactivate the concept of the “paradise” and show its contradictions, as well as to outline and re-image the island of California in contemporary times. Futurisms, land poetics, critiques of immigration politics, an analysis of gentrification processes, the myth-making connected to surveillance and militarization, and deconstructions of race and gender are just some of the lines that shape the shore of the island of Calafia.
Artists in the exhibition are: #SNATCHPOWER, Juan Bastardo, Chelle Barbour, Mely Barragán, Miguel Buenrostro, Enid Baxter Ryce, Chris Christion, Cog•nate Collective, Nikki Darling and Dean Erdmann, Yutsil Cruz, David de Rozas, Melora Garcia, Invasorix, Maya Mackrandilal, Noé Olivas, Abigail Raphael Collins, Adee Roberson, Mónica Rodríguez, Sandy Rodriguez, Timo Saarelma, Paulina Sánchez, Julio M. Romero, Amanda Trager & Erik Moskowitz, Hillary Mushkin, Chinwe Okona, Jeniffer Pereda, Jessica Sevilla, Diane Williams, and Kim Zumpfe.
CALAFIA: Manifesting the Terrestrial Paradise is organized by the curatorial team of the MexiCali Biennial: Ed Gomez, Luis G. Hernandez, and Daniela Lieja Quintanar, with coordinator and researcher April Lillard-Gomez. The exhibition is on view in the Armory’s Caldwell Gallery from October 6, 2019, through January 12, 2020.