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Fantastical Transcendence

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by | Feb 2, 2020

“Growing up Latinx in rural West Virginia definitely shaped me. There was a lot of racism and homophobia where I spent most of my childhood.” Allison Maria Rodriguez ’03, a first-generation Cuban-American whose large family had just relocated from southern Florida shares.

Portrait of the artist inside her installation at the Boston Center for the Arts (2019)

“I always felt like an outsider and I experienced a lot of trauma there. It put me inside my head a lot. Daydreaming and fantasy saved me. But existing in that space—it forced me to think ‘outside the box’, because, to be honest, I wasn’t allowed ‘inside the box.’”

“I chose Antioch because I imagined it to be the exact opposite of what I was experiencing.”

Allison’s sister Amanda Rodriguez ’04 is also and Antiochian, and years later her youngest sister, Angelina Rodriguez ’18, would graduate from the newly independent Antioch College.

After graduating with a BA in Language, Literature, and Culture at Antioch College—where she also studied at Oxford University in England and Kyoto Seika University in Japan—Rodriguez earned her MFA from Tufts University and made her home in Boston. There, her Antiochian interdisciplinarity and passion for social justice would become evident.

Rodriguez identifies primarily as an artist, but she is also an educator, an organizer, and a curator. “Part of my practice is providing opportunities for other artists whenever I can, as we are all stronger together.” Her interdisciplinary art—predominantly in new media, film/video, and installation—addresses themes ranging from human migration to environmental loss and species extinction. Her work converges on a desire to understand the space within which language fails and lived experience remains unarticulated.

Throughout her time in Boston, Rodriguez has been passionate about the need to lift others up as she herself finds her platform. She is deeply involved with different arts activist organizations, one focused on queer artists (Boston LGBTQIA Artists Alliance) and another on artists of color (CreateWell), both of which work to support and provide resources to marginalized artists. She has also curated numerous exhibitions focused on marginalized artists, such as “one highlighting queer artists with disabilities and another with LGBTQIA Latinx artists. All of my advocacy work focuses around the art community; I truly believe in the power of art to change lives.”

Portrait of the artist inside her installation “Wish You Were Here: Greetings from the Galapagos” (2018) at the Boston Children’s Museum

“My newest body of work, Legends Breathe,” which she will be installing in her upcoming solo exhibition at the Herndon Gallery this summer through fall “is about the power of the imagination in transcending trauma. I interviewed non-binary and female-identified artists about childhood fantasies that helped them survive traumas.” Together with them, Rodriguez is exploring and constructing their inner fantasy worlds through a co-created video collages; all of which become part of an immersive, but intimate, installation for other bodies to engage with. She explains, “Trauma is isolating, but art is about communication, and I felt there was an unseen power there.”

Rodriguez approaches darkly difficult subject matter unflinchingly, and yet while her work explores loss and grief, it rarely ever feels hopeless, and is sometimes quietly liberatory. She possesses a real empathy with her subjects and subject matter and that is communicated through her work.

“I see my work as fundamentally about interconnectivity, between all existence. It’s a bit spiritual in that regard. I look to find ways of exploring these themes (trauma, climate change, extinction, etc.) that are more intimate, personal, than usually presented in scientific data.”

And, running deeply through her work there is evidence of a strong storytelling influence, one of her rich Cuban heritage, a kind of visual, metaphorical Magical realism telling a deeper and ‘truer’ truth and a rewriting of the narrative in fantastical ways—making possible transcendence.

“I understand what it is like to be the outsider and to exist in-between cultures, and of course there is trauma—I think this forced me to think differently, to see things differently, because ‘the (dominant) narrative’ didn’t work for me.”

Still from “In the Presence of Absence – José María & Ike”

Published in the Fall 2019/Winter 2020 issue of The Antiochian, a magazine for alumni and friends of Antioch College.

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