Raising awareness through urban art (Ruta Memphis)

en español / Originally published by Ruta Memphis.

With the participation of culturally diverse Memphis families, multidisciplinary artist Yancy Villa-Calvo will be taking her latest artistic adventure to the streets. Titled “Barrier Free: A socially Engaged Art Installation”, the exhibit will be set up at Overton Park, on May 12th and 13th.

Yancy Villa-Calvo’s urban art project “Barrier Free: A socially Engaged Art Installation” will be featured at the Latino Memphis Festival and will travel to different public places around town.

Yancy Villa-Calvo’s urban art project “Barrier Free: A socially Engaged Art Installation” will be featured at the Latino Memphis Festival and will travel to different public places around town.


The urban art project will premiere at the Latino Memphis Festival, and is scheduled to be traveling to different public spaces around the city.

In an interview with Ruta Memphis, Yancy Villa-Calvo shared the details of her work, which will be at least 8 feet high by 30 feet long.

“Historically, there have been barriers and walls all over the world, and these barriers have been to protect, define or divide. Many are physical and others are intangible, but it always comes down to prevent people from reaching a destination or a goal”.

“This project is definitely a response to the political situation we are experiencing. It’s about the promises made by the new President to massively deport, regardless of people's situations and not just focusing on people who have committed crimes, but including everyone who has had to emigrate to the United States and has no documents. This is a response to that,” explains Villa-Calvo.

“It's not just about immigration. It's about the Muslim ban, the new laws targeting the LGBT community, the racial and religious discriminations against many segments of our society. It touches all the issues that potentially divide a family or prevent a family from being formed,” adds the artist.

Regarding the content of the piece, Yancy points out that “It pretends to be inclusive and open to interpretation, I mix symbols that refer to walls, religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity and socioeconomic equality. It has three components, one that is literally a wall, a barrier, but it is composed of real people in our community.  It includes all the diversity that exists, from Latino to European and Asian, etc. to different types of religions and the gay community. It’s a sample of individuals and families portraying how Memphis really is.”

Inspired by a poem from Martin Niemoller “The Holocaust”, the piece mixes figurative and abstract elements.

The multidisciplinary artist highlights that “the first element is the wall of photographs. It is the barrier that exists. The second element are the life size figures and the mirrors. The silhouettes are from families- not necessarily traditional- and then the mirrors’ role is precisely so that people who are in front of them, can see themselves in this situation. It’s to create the idea that his could happen to them or could happen to their family. In the photograph, I will only put the outline of a person who is absent in the family- either because he/she has been deported; because he/she couldn’t come because of the ban that is being placed on different Muslim countries or because he/she is against LGBT rights and is against same sex families.”

“The silhouettes and the mirrors are, for me, very strong elements of the display. I want people to stop and see what is happening and reflect on it. Maybe incite them to think that it could happen to them if they do not act or help the rest of society. These silhouettes are in response to all those people who say that they are not concerned about the situation because it doesn’t affect them. They continue to live their lives without even being aware of the news or marches, without being part of any civic participation.”

According to Villa-Calvo, the third element is a grid where people can express their feelings, frustrations and prayers for people who didn’t make it.

The artist of Mexican origin reveals that the diversity in Memphis was her main motivation to carry out this project. “It motivates me to expose myself physically and visually to what is happening in the community. I want it to reach different types of audiences, not necessarily the one that always supports Latino Memphis or immigrants, but rather to focus raising awareness on what is happening and physically see the diversity that already exists. See how communities are being attacked by what is currently happening or what is about to come,” she says.

A month ago, Villa-Calvo called different families and people to be part of the project.

“The photos I took are from real people. It would have been easier to buy some images that fit and look different on the internet, but my purpose was to get in touch with all kind of diversity that exists in Memphis and make them part of this exhibition,” she concludes.

After Memphis, the exhibit might travel to Nashville, Miami, Arkansas. Because the theme of the installation is quite universal, Villa-Calvo is hoping to present it at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance (Museo de Memoria y Tolerancia) in Mexico City.

The exhibit is designed to raise funds for Latino Memphis, an organization that helps migrant families. A local donor will match up any donations. To make a tax-deductible donation, visit: www.ioby.org/project/barrier-free-socially-engaged-art-installation

For locations and dates of installation in Memphis, check out the social network.

Yancy Villa-Calvo