By Maria La Paz Topp
I was born and raised in Germany, went to live in Singapore and then came to the U.S. to go to school. My multiple cultural identities have created many dilemmas for me and it was interesting for me to see how these cultural conflicts could be expressed and perhaps even resolved in the form of art.
At a recent panel discussion at the Nasher Museum, I was particularly drawn in by a conversation about some Mexico City artists’ experiences of cultural exchange in the United States and in Mexico. Maria Alos remembered struggling in her career when she had returned to Mexico City after several years in America and nobody “really knew what to do” with her. She recalled that people were overwhelmed by her impressive background and numerous homes around the world, but were critical of how an individual could represent such a rich cultural variety.
But before I could ponder the role of art in dealing with my cultural heritage, artist Abraham Cruzvillegas, also from Mexico City, made another interesting proposition. He said that, perhaps, it is not even the point for a single individual to represent a diversity of cultures, let alone entirely represent one culture. He asked us how one can “possibly represent an entire country” if one cannot, and should not be expected to, “represent [one]self” in all one’s cultural nuances. For me, this was one of the evening’s most memorable moments since it clandestinely addressed the hidden struggles of an increasingly multicultural global society and the fate of the many multi-cultured individuals I had grown to love and respect during my extended stays in Europe, Asia and North America.
Abraham Cruzvillegas’s comment at the conclusion of the discussion further illustrated this idea in an especially thought-provoking manner. He asserted, almost in passing, that “there is no more dangerous idea than a society that is homogeneous.” In a discreet manner, Abraham had pointed to the strengths of our multicultural society and lifted our burden of having to perfectly express the numerous cultural nuances we each possess. After all, as all three artists at the panel discussion quickly agreed, all of us have the potential to do good in this world, whether it is the remarkable products of art I was fortunate enough to see at the exhibition or simply in the way we challenge mainstream Western ideas that individuals need to be culturally categorized to become valuable members of society.
Image: Trevor Schoonmaker (left), curator of contemporary art at the Nasher Museum, with Julie Rodrigues Wildholm, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; artist María Alós and artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. Photo by Dr. J Caldwell