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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Abuelas: The Thread Connecting Generations

La Casita commemorates Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month with an exhibit celebrating abuelas (grandmothers).

Sept. 30, 2020, by Dan Bernardi

Abuelas Balcon Exhibit
The Balcón Criollo (Creole Porch) installation, curated this year by Bennie Guzman and Tere Paniagua, depicts the sewing room of an abuela, with photos and memorabilia provided by Syracuse University students and community partners.

In Latin culture, grandmothers ensure a family’s heritage is passed down and embraced. Sometimes known as the thread that connects generations, they are entrusted with ensuring family stories and traditions are carried on. They also serve an important role as a stable pillar within a family, providing advice and encouragement during challenging times. As our world grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, financial worries and social unrest, the support and guidance of an elder is more important than ever.

“Abuelas,” (grandmothers) is the theme of a year-long art installation at La Casita Cultural Center. The exhibit, which opened in mid-September in commemoration of Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), highlights the impact abuelas have on their families and features works by Latinx artists Juan Juarez, Juan Cruz, Bennie Guzman, Peggy Robles-Alvardo, Daisy Arroyo, along with a collection of community sourced photographs, video, poetry and shared narratives depicting family stories about abuelas.

“These are ultimately stories about all of us,” says Tere Paniagua ’82, Executive Director of the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community at the College of Arts and Sciences and co-curator of the project. “This showcase serves to establish a common thread that unites us as a community by examining the vast range and depth of experiences that have an imprint on who we are and shape our future generations.”

As part of this year’s exhibition, the Balcón Criollo (Creole Porch) depicts the sewing room of an abuela, with photos and memorabilia provided by Syracuse University students and community partners, curated by Guzman and Paniagua. The Balcón Criollo is a permanent installation in La Casita's gallery space that transforms each year to fit the annual theme of the exhibit. The ever-changing installation was inspired by a 2014 visit from renowned contemporary Puerto Rican artist, Pepón Osorio, who is known for his large-scale installations. Just as programs at La Casita actively engage the communities that they serve, this installation displays artifacts and art works that come from both the Syracuse-area and University community and the permanent exhibit was even built by Syracuse-area carpenters.

“This porch-like installation is meant to represent that part of our homes where we connect and interact with the world around us – where we watch the kids playing outside and where we chat with the neighbors,” says Paniagua. “It was wonderful to have Pepón share with us his vision of exhibition spaces as representative of the social architecture of communities, the kind of work for which he is famous.”

Other installations this year include: “Virgen de Guadalupe,” a recreation of the iconic painting of the patron saint of Mexico surrounded by photos of grandmothers who are fighting for social justice; “The Abuela Stories Project,” an installation of photos and poetry capturing abuelas as artists, dancers, drummers and rebels redefining themselves; “The Roses that Grew From the Concrete,” a series of portraits by artist Bennie Guzman highlighting the five generations of women in his family; and many more.

According to organizers, this project will encourage visitors and student researchers to make cross-generational connections between their own histories and the photographs, narratives and family keepsakes on display. The showcase runs through March 2021. Email lacasita@syr.edu for details on guided visits and live or recorded virtual tours. For more information on other events, visit La Casita Cultural Center.

This program is part of the Syracuse Symposium 2020 “Futures” program. Support comes from the Syracuse University Humanities Center, the Latino-Latin American Studies Program and Equitable Financial.

La Casita is a program of the College of Arts and Sciences established to advance an educational and cultural agenda of civic engagement through research, cultural heritage preservation, media, and the arts, bridging the Hispanic communities of Syracuse University and Central New York.