THE FARAWAY NEARBY
Solo exhibition by
Pinky Ibarra Urmaza
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Pinky Ibarra Urmaza’s latest series is her ode to books, the main source of material and inspiration for several of her past shows. She has been particularly drawn to old books because of their history, textures and physical condition, often incorporating fragments of them into her collages.
The show’s title, “The Faraway Nearby” is taken from Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays which meditate on the purpose of storytelling. It refers to the delicate balance between distance and closeness that allows connections formed between author and readers through stories. Although books have the same architecture- cover, spine, pages — reading them opens entire worlds that go beyond ink and paper. As Solnit muses, “Some books are toolkits to fix things from the most practical to the most mysterious, from your house to your heart, or to make things, from cakes to ships … In some books you meet one remarkable person; in others a whole group or even a culture. Some books are medicine, bitter but clarifying. Some books are puzzles, mazes, tangles, jungles. Some long books are journeys, and at the end you are not the same person you were at the beginning.” This power that comes from the sharing of stories is a gift of immeasurable value.
Like Solnit, Urmaza’s fascination with books began in her childhood, when she found herself inside her grandfather’s ancestral home, surrounded by old books and encyclopedias, damaged by floods and weathered with age. Her love for books continued in adulthood, important for both research and pleasure in reading.
Urmaza, who is based in New York City, was recently moved to create this ode to books upon realizing that book banning is becoming increasingly common in some states. The piece called “USA (United States of Anxiety)” is a grid of burned book covers, a reconfigured map of a country that is alarmingly moving towards censorship and conformity. The set of collages called “Remembrance of Things Future” is meant to portray books as relics, bits and pieces of what remains from the past. Urmaza’s research on the rationale behind book banning has led her to the following statement by author Rebecca Knuth: “Books are targets because they are the embodiment of ideas, and if you hold extreme beliefs, you cannot tolerate anything that contradicts these beliefs.” This analysis points out the lack of tolerance and divisiveness that are at the core of book banning. Journalist and author Susan Orlean highlights the greater impact that books as cultural records may have on civilization: “Books are a sort of cultural DNA, the code for who we are as a society…Destroying books is a way of saying that a culture no longer exists, its history has disappeared, the continuity between its past and future is ruptured. Taking books away from a culture is to take away its shared memory. It is sentencing it to something worse than death…sentencing it to seem as if it never lived.”
The collages are made from fragments of old books that seem to have been burned, broken or destroyed. Torn and cut up parts of covers, spines and pages leave us wondering about the stories they carried, now partially rescued and reconfigured for the artist’s intention. As viewers of art, we conjure our own stories by looking, imagining, thinking curiously and critically of what has been and of what can still be.
– by Stephanie Frondoso