Sculptor Nora Valdez chronicles immigrant experience

Artist Nora Valdez’s piece “Casitas” was on display Nov. 10 at the Immigration Nation II exhibit at the Boston Sculptors Gallery. (Image courtesy of Shira Laucharoen.)

Fabricated from limestone and wood, a carved boat carrying an embryonic figure dominates the room, a shroud of white cloth draped over its form. The sculpture is one of artist Nora Valdez’s featured pieces on display at The Boston Sculptors Gallery, debuting in her exhibit Immigration Nation II, which held an opening reception Nov. 10.

“I call it ‘Unprotected,’” Valdez said, gesturing towards the round, primordial shape lying within the structure of the boat. “It’s supposed to be the mother and son. You don’t know if they made it or not.”

Valdez’s work draws upon themes of safety and enclosure, travel, and distance, detailing the search for identity and the rootlessness of immigrant life. “Baggage,” combines the image of a single suitcase made from limestone with a neighboring paper bag, evoking the restlessness of flight from another country. One piece, “Casitas,” represents the frameworks of miniature houses, each one containing drawings on wood of blank-faced families. In “Immigrants,” clustered silhouettes without visible expressions are constructed from wood, leaving their backgrounds open to interpretation.

“All of my sculptures are without faces,” Valdez said. “I wanted them to have no ethnicity, and I wanted to describe immigration in general.”

Immigration Nation II is the extension of an earlier exhibit, Immigration Nation I, in which Valdez gathered together first- and second-generation immigrants to design 400 suitcases, each one expressing an individual narrative. In contrast to the colorful, vibrant storytelling of Immigration Nation I, the sculpture work is surprisingly stark, perhaps to evoke the isolation of the immigrant journey.

Valdez came to the United States in 1986, emigrating from Argentina. She began exhibiting her art in 1977 and works principally with the stone medium. Her sculpture and installations frequently grapple with the ideas of change and the search for home in a foreign setting. The messages are certainly political, Valdez said, as she emphasized that the United States is comprised of immigrants, that diversity produces the backbone of the nation.

The artist says that her favorite piece in the exhibit is “Unprotected,” a work that reflects the passages essential to immigrant existence, as individuals leave behind their former lives.

“The boat represents all of the travels of people who leave their countries, who leave their loved ones, for safety,” Valdez said. “I decided to make it a memorial.”

Immigration Nation II is on display until Dec. 10.

Valdez’s work “Unprotected/In the Boat” was constructed from limestone, wood and cloth. (Image courtesy of Shira Laucharoen.)

The sculpture “Immigrants,” designed from wood, debuted at the exhibition. (Image courtesy of Shira Laucharoen.)

“Baggage,” which featured the images of a suitcase and paper bag, was carved from limestone. (Image courtesy of Shira Laucharoen.)

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