In the News: Exhibit Not About 'Prettiness'

Read the Argus Leader feature about Texas-based artist Alice Leora Briggs, the force behind the Eide/Dalrymple Gallery's newest exhibit, "Alice Leora Briggs: Near Impunity." Briggs will speak at a special presentation on Juárez at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, in Kresge Recital Hall. A gallery reception is scheduled for 5-7 p.m., Friday, March 9, with the Artist's Talk set to begin at 6 p.m. In addition,  All events are free and open to the public.

Callison: This Art Show Isn't About 'Prettiness'
By Jill Callison, Argus Leader

For the next five weeks, we all have a chance to take a close look at poverty.

We won’t like what we see. But we’ll marvel at how artist Alice Leora Briggs puts it together.

Briggs began working in sgraffito soon after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001. Something about that event, she says, made an impact on many artists.

Learn More

  • Presentation by Briggs on Juárez: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8, Kresge Recital Hall

  • Gallery Reception: 5-7 p.m., Friday, March 9, Eide/Dalrymple Gallery (Artist's Talk begins at 6:30 p.m.)

  • Exhibit: "Alice Leora Briggs: Near Impunity," runs through April 14

Sgraffito, Italian for scratching through, involves scraping off a dark layer of paint from a traditional clay surface. Think of what children do when they cover a paper with thick crayon strokes, hide it with a dark crayon, then scratch away at a design.

“I like the fact that this comes from such humble origins in decorative art, and it’s migrated to American high schools,” says Briggs, a native of Texas who was raised in Utah.

“It’s like a surgical cut, but every time you make a mark, it’s like making a light in the dark.”

Briggs’ show in the Eide/Dalrymple Gallery at Augustana College, “Near Impunity,” fits into the school’s International Theme for this academic year, “World Hunger and Poverty.”

The International Theme was first introduced during the 2009-2010 academic year when Guatemala was the focus. Last year, Augustana’s sesquicentennial, the theme was Norway.

Several programs and activities have taken place already with more planned.

Briggs’ work will give the greater community – you and me – a chance to look beyond our own concerns.

Briggs first traveled to Juárez, Mexico, five years ago, intending to collaborate with a writer, looking at issues surrounding the drug cartels and political issues with the drug war in general.

“I started going around 2007 before the place went into serious dementia,” Briggs says. “There was already a lot of violence, but in 2008 it totally exploded.”

She met people that she characterizes as saints and those she describes as absolutely evil.

What has caused the problem, Briggs says, is economics and desperation.

“People don’t have enough to eat, and NAFTA is certainly not entirely responsible, but it has played an enormous role,” she says. “It brought American jobs over and paid less than they would pay an American worker, yet the cost of living in Juárez is 90 percent of living in El Paso.”

What Briggs describes as “probably the happiest place in Juárez” will surprise you: It’s what she bluntly calls an insane asylum.

But it was started by one of her saints, a former drug user now known as “El Pastor.”

“He started building the asylum 17 years ago,” Briggs says. The structure holds 100 to 115 patients and had electricity installed about 18 month ago. Water is hauled in and stored in cisterns. Fifteen patients have recovered sufficiently to help El Pastor.

“There are no social services to speak of in Mexico, and sometimes even the police drop people off at the doors.”

We sometimes become inured to the tragedy of other people’s lives, says Lindsay Twa, an art professor at Augustana. The 24-hour news cycle that demands to be fed will periodically focus on drug wars and cartels, then fade away.

Seeing a problem depicted through someone else’s eyes can be unsettling. It also is essential.

“It’s not an easy show, not about prettiness,” Twa says. “It’s not literal of what she saw and experienced but an emotional, symbolic reaction to it. It takes us to a higher plane.”