Without further delay, installment 4
of the PINTURA:PALABRA Workshops
L to R: Cristina Correa, Alejandro Ramirez
Natalia Treviño, Michael Mejia, Fred Arroyo, Julia Aragón y Fatula
Laura Bylenok, Jessica Alexander, Stephen D. Gibson, Carolina Ebeid
missing: Ruben Quesada
Jane's Home hosted our Friday evening reception
Cristina Correa, Carolina Ebeid, Michael Mejia
Natalia Treviño, Jessica Alexander, Alex Hudson
Michael Mejia, Ruben Quesada
Steve Gibson, Juliana Aragón y Fatula
Juliana Aragón y Fatula, Fred Arroyo*
Utah Museum of Fine Arts
University of Utah, Salt Lake City
View from our second floor conference room
The workshop is underway
small group work, day 1
small group work, day 1
small group work, day 2
Jessica, Alex, Laura, Cristina, Carolina
Juliana, Natalia, Michael
outside the museum
Natalia and Fred before the reading
"Mestizo" by Francisco X. Alarcón
printed on the large window of Mestizo Coffeehouse
I have only fond gratitude and joy when I look back on the Pintura : Palabra workshop in SLC. It was a very moving weekend filled with memorable reading, writing, conversation, and community. Beyond the process of trying to create a rich workshop experience for the participants, I was grateful as a writer to have the opportunity to take part in the workshop. The writers had such an open willingness to engage the workshop materials and the exhibit. They brought to our meetings intelligence and enthusiasm, creativity and wonder, and they helped and inspired each other to write in new and meaningful ways. It is clear that the time and space offered to view and create from the artworks was essential. The writings created, as well as the smart discussions in the workshops, were accomplished, filled with creativity, possibility, and the energy and materiality of the ekphrastic—and, I need to say, accomplished precisely because of the pre-workshop investment the writers gave to their reading and writing, and how they intended to participate within the Pintura : Palabra community. It has been years since I’ve left a workshop filled with such inspiration and urgency to write. And it was wonderful to hear the writers read their new ekphrastic brief prose at Mestizo Coffeehouse and Art Gallery.
The Utah Museum of Fine Art offered us a wonderful boardroom for our workshop. When I remember that room there is the sound of diverse, strong voices, the splendor of the mountains and the sky pouring through the room’s large windows, filling the room with a special, colorful light. I want to remember that light, those colors, our words and our art. I also want to thank the workshop participants for helping me to understand how Latino art can speak within our writing, how our writing can speak within Latino art, and thus how we are helping to bring art and words together, how we are bringing stories together that help to nurture participation and community within our America.
Having little background in ekphrastic writing, I was initially terrified by the prospect of having to produce multiple works in dialogue with the visual arts. I feared too that an ekphrastic workshop might impose limitations on my craft and perhaps impede my creative process. Yet, when I began immersing myself in the workshop readings, I discovered, to my surprise, that many of the selections were narrative driven, others lyrical, some performative. These models challenged any easy definition of ekphrasis and far from limiting and regulating my engagement with the art they presented an inspiring and diverse array of possibilities. Over the course of a weekend, I rapidly acquired a wide range of techniques that will continue to shape and inform my writing. Fred Arroyo, the workshop leader, challenged the participants to think beyond description, to think beyond translation, and allow language to perform an engagement, a process, or dialogue with the art. We were fully immersed in so many sources of inspiration—the “Our America” exhibition, the community of talented and encouraging writers, the workshop discussions, the selected readings—that it would be difficult not to produce work that reflected this.
I believe I said it several times over the course of the weekend without overthinking: I am changed by this experience. The PINTURA:PALABRA workshop instilled understanding and urgency, and it distilled reflection and praxis. I am absolutely grateful to the artists for their work and to my fellow writers whom I now happily call friends. The range of art was matched by the range of writing—necessarily political, historical, personal, fictional, lyrical, suggestive, poetic, incendiary, hypnotic. One of my first conversations during the reception was with Fred on the explosive potential of lyric time, and as the workshop continued the conversations themselves became lyric: explosive, persuasive, full of insight and delight. The support that the workshop gave was invaluable as the means to build community, to encourage and be encouraged by others to think critically and imaginatively about the intersection between visual art and writing. Even as I was struck and moved and challenged by the art and its historical moment and impact, I came through the workshop to understand that ekphrasis is about conversation, about the dynamic living experience, as much about the future as the past. These few short days felt like months, went by in moments, felt momentous. I am grateful to Fred for being an outstanding workshop leader, and above all to Francisco for his vision and for his incredibly important sense of community. Thank you.
Juliana Aragón y Fatula
"I arrived in SLC March 27th for a reception to meet the other writers. We met at Jane’s Home and broke bread together. The energy in the room was palpable.
March 28, and 29 we visited the art exhibit and workshopped our prose, written for this event. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and work with writers hand picked to collaborate and to create la familia de Latino Art. The facilitator, Fred Arroyo, guided us through the process of writing ekphrastic prose by providing plenty of reading material and art to accompany the writing. After the readings for Saturday and Sunday, I felt more knowledgeable about what I was about to take on. Spending time in Utah Museum of Fine Art with the exhibit gave us a feeling of inspiration and a shift in the time/space continuum. Time seemed to stop for us as we sat on the floor, stood, or pulled up a seat. I was drawn into the painting, sculptures and altars. I forgot I was in Utah, forgot I was nervous about being included in this master writing class.
I’ve never experienced anything quite like this workshop. It was so intense during our group work that I went home exhausted every afternoon. I studied and wrote and listened and gave feedback to writers and worked so hard my brain hurt. I felt part of a community. I felt loved. I felt appreciated.
I met some young writers who floored me with their writing. I knew I was witnessing something incredible. I literally felt high on art. The chance to spend time with “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” changed my life. I realized I needed to do more research, writing and workshopping with other writers. I feel empowered after this workshop. I can feel my social activism coming out of hibernation and ready to take on the way Americans look at Art and Latino Art. I’ll be talking about this event with my family and friends for a long time.
On Sunday evening a reading was held at a great venue, Mestizo Coffeehouse, to share our ekphrastic prose with the community of SLC. This was my favorite part of the workshop. Giving the work a voice and hearing the response from the audience moved me down in my soul. I met some incredible people from the area and fell in love with Salt Lake City."
“The PINTURA:PALABRA experience was remarkable in its uncomplicatedness, as I learned ekphrasis can also be. We spent our days reviewing the readings, sitting with the exhibition, eating lunch together, talking about what was working and how to build on it. The usual things. But the loving nature of every interaction was unmistakable—in Francisco's ever-snapping lens, Fred's precise references and suggestions, and the warm, respectful candor of my fellow participants. We came together to honor the artwork and the word work, each other and ourselves. And in the process, I gained a deeper sensitivity that inspired me to listen and see with more care, that still does. The space we made together was truly fulfilling, and I couldn't be more grateful for having shared it with such kind, brilliant people.”
When I received an invitation to attend Pintura:Palabra this year, I was not certain what to expect, how the weekend would be useful/meaningful, or why my presence there would matter. Now that the weekend is in hindsight, the picture becomes clearer. There was a kind of synergy--one that is still hard to describe--that rose out of our daily meetings in which we tried to understand the work and spirit of ekphrasis. Our group was made up of writers from various parts of the country, with different histories, and with different aesthetic interests, and for that weekend we formed a community of minds, enriching the body of ekphrastic writing with our responses. The exhibit is beautiful and important; I was glad to have the opportunity to be introduced to these artists. But I am especially thankful to have seen these pieces in the context of Pintura:Palabra. With Fred Arroyo at the helm, I was invited to participate in a new (to me) way of looking. I'm excited to move forward with the work I began at the conference.
Stephen D. Gibson
“I’m honored to have been part of PINTURA: PALABRA and “Creative Dialogues: An Ekphrastic Workshop in Brief Prose.” As the best workshops are, it was a welcoming, wonderfully safe place to try new approaches to writing and join a new community. For me, our work together was so focused and powerful because of the outstanding art and the preparation and investment of the participants. Moving from the exhibit to the page and then to collecting feedback during the workshop made the weekend incredibly productive. I hope to share this kind of productivity with my students by using an ekphrastic methodology. Most of all, I’m glad we’ll be able to continue the conversations we started at PINTURA: PALABRA.”
I am so grateful to Francisco and Fred for putting this workshop together and for inviting our students and me to participate in it. As others have noted, the weekend (a weekend!) went by so quickly—making the experience incredibly challenging—but it also felt limitless because of its fullness of thought and conversation, looking and writing. It was really unlike any creative working experience I've had before. I learned a lot from Fred and my fellow participants, not just about ekphrasis and Latino art, but also about how much a workshop like this can accomplish. Naturally, none of our work would have been possible without the remarkable and varied exhibition, which offered a number of points of entry, so many thanks are due to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for their vision and to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts for bringing "Our America" to the state and for hosting us. Fred did a masterful job planning our time together. His thoughtful and extensive readings not only provided a valuable and varied array of models for the theory and practice of ekphrasis, they also illustrated his extensive, focused, and highly developed thought about this approach to text and image. That focus was key to managing the workshop's significant task of producing strong works-in-progress and quickly developing a shared critical language for talking about them. The generosity and insightful readings of art and text of my fellow participants, my friends, completed the experience. I'm very glad to have met them all and that we'll be able to continue our conversation for the next few months, and hopefully beyond that.
Before arriving in Salt Lake City, I had been writing ekphrastic poems for the last couple of years and visiting museums around the country, but the experience in the Pintura Palabra workshop changed something in me. It changed my perspective on the type of artwork I had been responding to. During recent visits to the National Gallery in DC, the Art Institute of Chicago, and MoMA in New York there was always something missing—Latino artists and their artwork. I had been writing from a place of absence, about a space where people like me didn’t exist.
I started to look for artwork by Latinos in museums around the country. I questioned the lack of representation of Latino artists and of their artwork on display. Here, in Salt Lake City, for the first time I was surrounded by artwork made by Latinos. It was stunning. It was awesome. I was filled with wonder, excitement, and fear of encountering, until then, something unknown to me.
The artwork was varied, colorful, and its images familiar. The faces and landscapes of these works looked like me and like those I knew—the artwork was a showcase of Latinos from my past and present. This exhibit may be the turning point for my writing about art.
I always thought of ekphrasistic work as a lucid, stream-of-consciousness, and reactive (or reactionary) for of writing that maybe it make sense if you know the artwork that inspired the writing. I now realize how simple that view was. This workshop exposed me to a style of writing that is flexible, challenging, and actually more common than I realized. More than anything, I realized that ekphrastic writing is a way to engage in and expand conversation within the art world, bridging the gap between literary and visual, giving life to ideas, interpretations, memories, and, of course, stories. It was honor to be included among so many brilliant and talented writers, including our workshop leader, Fred, and I have to give my sincerest thanks to Francisco for the opportunity.
“We started the workshop with a meditation of our purpose—a gathering of poets and writers interacting with great moments and artifacts in Latino art that address the Latino experience in the US. "This is historic," said Fred in earnest because we writers are intersecting with, translating, and generating new work in response to other Latino thinkers and artists. Culturally, we are increasing the momentum of all art and humanity as we expand the tapestry that is American Art—the world needs to know about this work because so much of this human trajectory has been erased. So much consent to marginalization. That kind of erasure could end in my lifetime, or at least brought into the light to be examined and questioned by future generations. I loved meeting these amazing writers at this workshop, and I am excited about the urgency this creative space brought to my own work. Many thanks to the University of Utah's faculty and the staff at the Museum of Fine Arts. Many thanks to the Smithsonian for this collection. I have to add that Francisco's long term vision, tenacity, and labor for this project is exactly the kind of work that can create a significant revolution of ideas inside the hearts of generations to come.”
Fred and Juliana
outside Red Iguana Restaurant
breaking bread to conclude our fourth
PINTURA: PALABRA weekend...
The PINTURA : PALABRA workshops
are made possible thanks, in part,
to the generosity of the Weissberg Foundation.