Collection Explore
Video
Interview
Miguel A. Aragón
on Printmaking & Depicting Death in a Border City
Miguel A. Aragón on Printmaking & Depicting Death in a Border City
Atlan Arceo-Witzl ’18 and M Brohawn ’20 interviewed artist Miguel A. Aragón about his work Aplacado (Siete cascos percudidos), 2016, from the Tang Teaching Museum collection.

On November 17, 2017, Skidmore students M Brohawn ’20 and Atlan Arceo-Witzl ’18 interviewed artist Miguel A. Aragón about his work Aplacado (Siete cascos percudidos), 2016, from the Tang Teaching Museum collection. Aplacado (Siete cascos percudidos) was on view in the fall 2017 exhibition Other Side: Art, Object, Self.

This interview was part of a series of interviews with artists conducted by Skidmore students in the Art History course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry.

The video above shows excerpts from the interview with Aragón. A longer, edited transcript of the interview is below.


M Brohawn ’20

War strongly influences the subject matter of the prints in your ongoing series Retratos de pérdida por el Narcotra co and in Aplacado (Siete cascos percudidos). When did you begin focusing your work in this way?

Miguel A. Aragón

What’s happening in Mexico has been happening since the early 1990s in Ciudad Juárez, where I’m from, and so it was always on my radar. When I was studying for my bachelor’s, I started paying attention more to what was happening in the streets. Every single day there would be at least one case of a body being found somewhere, and I started collecting the stories. Eventually, I decided to use this in my work.

At first, the work wasn’t good; I was still learning. When I did my master’s I found the perfect medium and technique to explore these ideas. In 2006, when the official war on drugs was declared in Mexico, then things exploded and it wasn’t just local news anymore, it was national and international news. This made it even more crucial for me to explore it.

Atlan Arceo-Witzl ’18

What was the first series you made that you feel expressed these ideas?

MAA

The Memoria fracturada series. They are white on white, very subtle tones on the paper. I made screen prints, etchings, and wood cuts, and I was never satisfied. Nothing really seemed right to me, like something was missing. During my master’s studies, I heard about a laser engraver in the architecture department. As soon as I saw it I knew that that was the right tool. It took some experimentation. It was about finding the right image or how to create the image, and eventually I had all the right materials to come up with a successful body of work.

2017 21 pr w02
info Created with Sketch. plus Created with Sketch.
Miguel A. Aragón (born Ciudad Juarez, Mexico)
Aplacado (Siete cascos percudidos), 2016
aquatint on Rives BFK paper
Tang purchase
2017.21

MB

You mentioned that the war on drugs affected your interest in your subject matter. How has it done so?

MAA

Yes. The war on drugs affects many different points, political, social, economic, and it is the basis still for my research, but also it’s influenced me to broaden my research and explore the subject from different points of view. For me, the very essence of my work is the loss of life and the generations that we’re losing in Mexico. It’s mostly young men that are getting killed, and there’s just too many of them. The country is losing generations, and this is going to affect the future. Just the loss of life is what makes it so difficult for me.

I don’t know if this is apparent in my work, but it is important to me that I’m not placing any judgement on the people being murdered or executed. Regardless of their decisions, they were somebody’s brother or somebody’s friend, somebody’s parent, probably. And they chose the wrong path, but they shouldn’t be erased out of this world just because of that. This is happening so much and so often; I think people lose sight of that.

MB

The border on which Juárez and El Paso lie is a bridge from one nation to another. Can you describe the relationship between these two places and your relationship with them?

MAA

They’re home. I was born and raised in Ciudad Juárez, but I actually feel that El Paso, Texas, is also my home because they’re sister cities. The only things that really divide us are the Rio Grande and the border-crossing bridges. Within a minute you could go from one nation to the next if there was no traffic or inspections. It’s a very different experience, I’ve learned, to grow up in the border region. We’re like our own country because we’re exposed to two cultures, two languages, and the city becomes a hybrid of both. We’re bordeños, which derives from the word “border.”

Within my work, having these two different experiences of cultures and languages and multiple identities has made me more open to try different things. It’s pushed me within my work to try to make a combination of techniques that were not explored so much.

AAW

I’m wondering about your thought process behind material choices in the work that you’re doing. In Aplacado (Siete cascos percudidos), there are some really interesting physical textures.

MAA

Connecting the idea with the technique and materials is important. I knew that my work had to be connected to the idea of the multiple because these events are multiplied. The more I looked at the images, the more I realized that the photographs repeat. There were different people, different scenarios, or different landscapes, but in the end, they looked very similar, and so that makes a connection to the idea of the multiple, which is a concept in printmaking. And the process has to use erasure that is subtractive in a way. For me erasure is not about trying to forget something or trying to get rid of something but rather it’s more of a cleansing.

For the hand-drilled portraits, as in Aplacado (Siete cascos percudidos), I was looking for a material that allowed for flexibility. Paper is one of the most flexible materials that is also really strong. I was thinking about the fragility of our bodies; we can break bones easily, but at the same time bones are strong, so that was my connection with paper. You can create interesting objects with paper that make it really strong so that you can’t just tear it with your hands, but then, depending on how paper is created, you can tear it pretty easily.

After moving to Austin, I had a realization that many of the immigrants who come into the United States from Mexico work in construction. So there’s also the connection of those immigrants using these materials like the drill.

AAW

Why did you decide to create matrixes and images that are not immediately recognizable as figures?

MAA

That was by choice, making them abstract. Shock value is not the goal of my work, and that is because those photographs exist already. I’m appropriating images from the media. Some of these photographs were on front pages of the newspapers. Shock value is not going to help me because even though the newspapers did sell because of shock value, people were looking at them only for three seconds and then immediately closing them or changing the page. Also, people try to forget the image right away because who wants to live with those images in their brain? I realized that I needed a different approach. I needed to do something that actually lured the viewer in and made them slow down to see the image and to realize what is happening. Then it would make a bigger impact, at least that was my hope.

After appropriating these images, I altered them digitally to remove color and abstract them to the point where they become almost unrecognizable, but I’m still leaving enough details that can, over time, redefine the figure or the image itself. And when the viewer slows down and actually looks at the piece, they’re not going to see anything other than perhaps landscape or an abstraction in textures, but eventually the image reveals itself. And when that happens, the viewer cannot unsee it, and it makes a greater impact than a gory image. This approach is the only way to really captivate the viewer and keep them there and make a strong connection.

AAW

It’s about invoking care and empathy for the community that’s in the images that have been produced and that you’re using in your work.

MAA

Exactly. I’m not trying to take advantage of these events. It’s all about the lives that we’re losing in the country. The figures, or the cadavers, that I’m using for my images, they’re cartel members, they’re members of the law enforcement, and they’re also bystanders.

A figure stands along the left edge of the photo looking at Miguel, standing with his hands on his hips looking at someone outside of the frame to the right
Miguel A. Aragón’s work, influenced by his native city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, interrogates questions of violence, memory, and erasure. His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally and is included in several public museum collections. His awards include a fellowship from Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California, The Print Center’s Honorary Council Award of Excellence, the Mexic-Arte Museum’s Contemporary Artist award, and he was named “Artist of the Year” by the Austin Visual Arts Association and Austin Critics Table Awards in 2012. He is an assistant professor of art at the CUNY College of Staten Island.

Cite this page

video: Aragón, Miguel A. “Miguel A. Aragón on Printmaking & Depicting Death in a Border City.” Interview by M Brohawn and Atlan Arceo-Witzl. 2017. Tang Teaching Museum collections website, last modified October 28, 2019. (https://tang.skidmore.edu/collection/explore/142-miguel-a-aragon).

text: Originally published in Accelerate: Access & Inclusion at The Tang Teaching Museum 2 (2018). “Miguel A. Aragón on Printmaking & Depicting Death in a Border City.” Interview by M Brohawn and Atlan Arceo-Witzl. Tang Teaching Museum collections website. (https://tang.skidmore.edu/collection/explore/142-miguel-a-aragon).

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Other Side:
Art, Object, Self
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Miguel A. Aragón
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