Notre Dame’s Galeria Americana is currently exhibiting Regalos del Amanecer (Gifts of Dawn) featuring paintings by Liliana Wilson, a Chilean artist based in Austin, Texas. Wilson uses painting as a medium to highlight the struggles unique to individuals discovering selfhood and placement in a constantly shifting world. Within this group, Wilson focuses particularly on immigrants, those who have left their homes and all they know for permanent residence in another country.
Wilson writes of her collection, “Many of the figures I create appear in ‘other-world’ environments: their outward composure in direct contrast to their inner turmoil…. Often my compositions represent single moments in the lives of individuals that serve as metaphors in those lives.”
All subjects in her paintings are of Latin American descent, and all face the audience directly with open, honest eyes. Wilson’s dreamlike images iterate surrealistic and vaguely incongruous symbols such as butterflies, stars, birds, fish, and isolated figures. “Niña Inmigrante” (Immigrant Girl) depicts a young girl in a white dress with black patent leather shoes. She is young—too young to have gotten there by herself, although not too young to sit patiently on a rock, as if waiting for the arrival of something or someone. A flag emblazoned with “inmigrante” floats peacefully above, anchored down by a strong hand, while the other hand cups a sparrow. The bird traditionally symbolizes protection in numbers and hardship endured. The background is a dark, burnished brown, mellowing to a center of gold behind the girl. Butterflies flutter around the bottom edges, symbols of the soul—of endurance, change, hope, and life.
Another painting, Seahorse Dreams, portrays a young boy with a hollow chest, a canvas there instead. Clouds drift in and out of the hole in his chest, and he holds a seahorse tethered to his hand. The boy wears pajamas. His eyes seem almost closed, almost asleep, but he stands firmly on a small pile of dirt. Wilson’s work integrates the natural beauty of the universe to emphasize their necessity as components of our human experience. Though the audience is not the boy in the painting, they see him. Though they do not share the same experiences, for a brief moment the viewer does—a connection forged between art and reality.
Only twelve in number, Wilson’s paintings share the same themes throughout: loneliness, hardship, change and living in a new world. None of her paintings are situated in a realistic location, tending to be simple color backgrounds instead to further remove them from reality. Although her series is not rooted in the realistic, the viewer understands its implications for today—a time when children are being threatened by deportation to worlds they do not know. America’s status as a melting pot, a nation of immigrants, is daily challenged by those in authority who refuse to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. Rather than oppose any governmental decision directly, Wilson strives to depict the immigrant’s experience in an honest light. She approaches the viewer with open eyes and butterfly wings and ultimately engages the audience’s emotions—a poignant request and plea to understand the worlds of others we do not know.