This exhibition presents more than fifty Mexican retablos, folk paintings dedicated to Christ, the Virgin Mary, or saints to commemorate a miraculous event. Vibrant and emotive, they span the entirety of the twentieth century and serve as public expressions of suffering and salvation, faith and family. The votives on view were offered by Mexican migrants at churches and pilgrimage sites in Western Mexico and the United States to commemorate the difficulties of crossing the border in search of employment in the United States. They eloquently relate subjects of greatest concern to the migrants, from the difficulty of finding work or falling sick in a foreign land to the relief of returning home.
The term retablo, from the Latin retro tabula (behind the altar), originally referred to painted depictions of saints or the Virgin that hung behind altars in Catholic churches in Europe and later in the Americas. In Mexico, reflecting traditions embedded in the culture by Spanish colonization, retablos came to denote the small paintings on tin placed as votive offerings in home altars, shrines, or churches in gratitude for divine intercession. Usually produced by anonymous artists but signed and dated by the supplicant, retablos flourished in Mexico in the nineteenth century. When retablos were revived in the early twentieth century as an art form, they not only expressed national identity but also profoundly influenced Mexico’s leading modern artists. An exploration of both iconography and identity, Miracles on the Border presents retablos as material expressions of human resilience and transnational migration.
From the collections of Douglas S. Massey, the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University, and Jorge Durand, Professor of Anthropology, University of Guadalajara. Massey and Durand are co-directors of the Mexican Migration Project, sponsored by Princeton University and the University of Guadalajara.