Margarita Cabrera: Breaking Down Borders With a Needle and Thread

In Margarita Cabrera’s exhibit “Space in Between” at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, viewers can catch a colorful glimpse of the Southwestern desert through the eyes of immigrants. The exhibit features fabric cacti sculptures decorated with vibrant stitching and symbolic images from the experiences of Latin American immigrants who came to the United States.

Partnering with Arizona State University and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Cabrera created a workshop for immigrants from different Latino communities to build sculptures of native desert plants from the Southwestern United States. The project aims to start a dialogue on immigration, cultural identity, and community.

Using traditional Mexican sewing and embroidery techniques, Cabrera’s workshop participants stitched their stories of immigration, community and hardship into the fabric of discarded U.S. Border Patrol uniforms.

Cabrera’s project was inspired by “nepantla,” a Nahuatl Aztec word that means a space in the middle. “It’s a mythological space and a metaphorical one,” she said. “It’s a space between geographical areas, between cultures, between relationships, between people and even the space between breaths. It’s a transitional space.”

She noted, “We all share a story of transition. All of us here have had an immigration experience. If we haven’t ourselves, someone in our family has. We can all connect to it, and we all share in it. All of us are a part of the nepantla, or the space in between.”

When asked about the significance of the Border Patrol uniform used as the material, Cabrera explained, “Some see the uniform as a representation of security and protection. Others see it as a symbol of resistance, violence or even death. The heart of this project is about taking these differing perspectives and coming together to transform it into something new—something that represents life, growth and the beautiful potential of people working together.

“This project is about telling the real stories of Latino communities and counteracting the stories that are told in the media that are pulling our communities apart. These are stories of hope, stories of dreams. We’re breaking a barrier—a division—that may have been silencing some of these experiences and some of these conversations.”

The exhibit focuses on the promotion of cultural dialogue through artwork—shedding light on the unheard stories of Latino resistance and survival. With “Space in Between,” Cabrera affirms that in the face of adversity, beautiful things can bloom.

 “Space in Between” will be on display at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art until June 10.     

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