Jesus Benavente: “Que No Quede Huella” at Home Gallery, New York (Review)

Jesus Benavente: “Que No Quede Huella” at Home Gallery, installation view, New York City, 2022

Jesus Benavente
Que No Quede Huella (Let There Be No Trace)
Curated by Elisa Gutiérrez Eriksen

May 2 – May 28, 2022
opening May 5, 7 – 9pm
291 Grand St New York, NY

Some four or five blocks east of Broadway, on 291 Grand Street, slightly north of Chinatown, Home Gallery has a window in which artwork is shown. The piece “Que No Quede Huella,” which in English means “Let There Be No Trace,” is spelled out in red neon letters against a 55-inch monitor with a series of videos looping 24/7, from which cables descend. The artist Jesus Benavente comes from San Antonio. Born to native Mexican parents, his art focuses on social awareness, in particular the prejudice and regularly violent treatment of Mexicans and others from Latin American culture. The phrase “Que No Quede Huella” comes from a 1989 pop music hit in Mexico. It is ostensibly a love song, but its cultural and political implications have made it an anthem of contemporary Mexican life. As the Latin American population of New York City and elsewhere increases, more and more artistic voices are speaking out, pointing at the casual and not so casual disregard of current American cultural practices. Thus, a simple neon phrase in Spanish turns out to be an assertion of intent, which the Mexican-American diaspora reaches for greater recognition and better treatment.

Jesus Benavente: “Que No Quede Huella” at Home Gallery, installation view, New York City, 2022

Three videos play in an hour-long loop that can be seen behind the letters of the quote “Que No Quede Huella,” which comes from a song of lost love, written by Jose Guadalupe Esparza. The first scene describes an image of Benavente’s hands as they press dozens of roses to a block of concrete, staining the block with the tinted liquor resulting from the artist’s action (the colors, from the rose petals and leaves, are purple and green, respectively). The second scene presents a set of seven lit candles with religious motifs. And the third consists of a two-minute video, recorded by Benavente’s parents in their San Antonio backyard. Unlike the first two videos, the last differs in that it lasts only a short time and has been shot in a blurred manner. These filmic sequences are at once highly romantic, even with devotional overtones, but the implications of loss, of consecration to the dead, and to the simple domesticity of a backyard establish an environment in which the song is embellished by memories, some of them affiliated with personal experiences, both private and public, and some of them suggestive of a darker atmosphere.

It was explained to me that the song “Que No Quede Huella” is more than a hit in popular music; it has accompanied Mexican people throughout their struggle in finding new, safer homes, while also reasserting their cultural belonging. How can a love song, in which fears about lost love and the memory of such loss, document a larger, less subtle difficulty such as social suffering and cultural disregard? We can only hope that social antagonisms, and the continuous racial violence against minorities, will dissipate as the fight against white supremacy and fear of otherness continues. The song, which Benavente so carefully chooses for its full-blown embrace of a culture of Mexican origins, thus becomes not only a private lament but also a political message: Mexicans are not alone in the States, despite the long attempt here to limit the population. The final words of the neon sculpture, “no trace,” can be understood not only as an attempt to forget a former affair by the love-stricken singer but also, perhaps, the desire to erase a memory whose origin will remain rooted in their culture.

Although Benavente is a Mexican-American artist, he not only speaks to people like himself; he addresses the Mexican people wherever they can be found.

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Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art–for such publications as Art in America, the Brooklyn Rail, Whitehot Magazine, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

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