In “Celdas” (Prison Cells), I use the absurdity intrinsic in magical realism to address the consequences of violence on the Central American people and the perpetuation of those consequences on the Central American immigrant in post 9/11 U.S.
The economic and social situation in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras along with the fallout left behind by civil wars in Central America have contributed to the gravity of this problem. In an effort to escape the situation, marginalized youngsters immigrate to the U.S. where they end up joining gangs, eventually getting deported and bringing “Gangster” culture back to their homeland. Gang related crimes, drug cartels and political instability are the major sources of violence in the area today.For illegal immigrants, most leaving their countries in a desperate attempt to escape poverty and violence, the pervading anti-immigrant sentiment encouraged by extreme immigration laws in states such as Arizona has forced them to live in a state of constant fear and alienation.
The sense of alienation and isolation present in Celdas, recalls the paranoia experienced by these individuals as they search for respite from the threats of the outside world. The spaces represent imposed limits, restrictions, while cultural elements such as catholic iconography guard against adversity. Mayan iconography is presented as mere decorations, relegated to a long forgotten past. The juxtaposition of catholic and Mayan iconography, recall Spanish colonialism and the history of violence in Central America. The play-scapes or scenes allude to actual violent crimes and even memorialize some of the victims caught up in the endless cycle. Home aesthetics recall the need for sanctuary, while frail building materials such as fabric and cardboard recall the necessity of making do or coping with the situation.The imaginary transposed environments, which I create in my studio and then photograph, are metaphors for the constant state of isolation and seclusion these individuals experience in their homeland and in their quest for the “American dream”.
Originally from the Honduras, Alma Leiva is currently based between Miami, Florida and Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and her work has been presented internationally in numerous group exhibitions at venues including Humble Arts Foundation (NYC), Arteles (Haukijarvi, Finland), Daniel Azoulay Gallery and Art Basel (both in Miami, FL). A solo exhibition of her series “En La Celda” (Inside the Cell) was on view at 6th Street Container (Miami, FL) in 2011. She was a resident of the Vermont Studio Center in 2011 and her work been published in Artpulse, Fader, and the Miami New Times, among others.