Important Papers at SPACES
Students in Liz Maugans’ Artists In Communities class at Cleveland State University are visiting Cleveland galleries to familiarize themselves and respond to the work. The following is one student’s response to Important Papers, Gabrielle Lajoi-Bergeron’s current exhibition at SPACES. — ed.
In 2019 French-Canadian multidisciplinary artist Gabrielle Lajoi-Bergeron found an envelope full of documents, labled “Important Papers.” She soon found out they were immigration documents from a Mexican woman born in 1923 who married an American citizen. In this envelope was a woman’s life, a story, and how all of that was reduced to forms and documents – how a human being appeared as just a number. Lajoi-Bergeron felt a deep connection to her story being also raised between two cultures. She began her further development of this project by finding and connecting other immigrant stories of mothers settling in Ohio and Cleveland. It became the basis for an exhibit called Important Papers, on view at SPACES February 5 through May 26, 2022. The work questions ideas of territory, belonging, disorientation and identity. What changes must be made in the process of uprooting one’s life? What kind of weight does that carry?
Her work is a compelling array of collage and installation. From graphic rugs to painted green faces, Gabrielle has no shortage of ideas when it comes to telling her story. Fifty doll heads are scattered throughout, representing the 50 states and also how these faces are different- yet similar and subject to scrutiny. Familiar household items like a large plant or books extenuate feelings of home while doomed over with a large painted wall that states “Do Not Bring This To Your Interview.” Uneasy questions from these government documents are scattered on collages, through paint and other various materials.
Although there is a certain playfulness in her use of color and medium, when looking closely we can see the pain and the darker underbelly of her work. One cannot help but feel a sense of sadness, uneasiness, and pain for immigrant lives and what it must have been like to get here and pave a new path for themselves and family while going through such a strenuous process such as this. I was deeply touched by this exhibit because my grandfather was also an immigrant who came from Greece when he was just sixteen. He recently told me a story about how on his twelve-day boat ride over he had not a single cent to his name, just a few shirts and pants in a small suitcase, not an idea of what he would do when he arrived, did not know a word of English. He prayed the boat would sink.
Gabrielle’s work is a profound voice of many and rings through generations, with heavy hearts. Work like this hopefully seeks to open the eyes of others who have a lack of empathy for immigrants and to realize we are all fragile humans trying to get home, wherever that place may be.
February 5 – May 26
2900 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44113