@ the Riverside Art Museum

August 22 – October 15, 2023

For this exhibition, poet Juan Delgado and photographer Thomas McGovern created a series of expressive art installations designed to draw visitors into and throughout the galleries at Riverside Art Museum. Pairing Delgado’s piercing poems with McGovern’s photographs of people and metal signage, “Discrete Skins + Signs + Sites + Poems” celebrates the narrative and visual cultures of the Inland Empire with its vibrant landscapes and communities flowing with street art, cultural intersections, and graphic interruptions. Installations include tattoos and scars of bodies, the insightful phrases of wrestlers, the alarming train signs that allude to La Bestia and immigrant crossings, the concrete poem and drawings of El Dorado Fire, and the verse found in fortune tellers (“cootie catchers”), swap meets, and book covers.

There are six art installations in the first gallery. “La Bestia/The Beast” focuses on the dangers of crossing borders. Bold graphics, which resemble signs at freight train crossings, are accompanied by a written and audio poem. The “Wrestling” section features eight portraits of young professional wrestlers and a thematic poster designed to be read in multiple ways. A circular “Snake + Poem” features arrows made of rusted metal with words coiled on the wall. The layout of the poem was designed by Ariel Gonzales. A three-foot by three-foot “Cootie Catcher” by Deana Romo beckons visitors to a nearby station to make their own, and six oversized torso portraits that address issues of male identity are accompanied by quotes exploring this theme. Last is a cluster of metal signs with “concrete poetry,” which could be described as using “language that incorporates graphic space and the visual arts to create meaning.”

The second gallery presents three art installations. The “Swap Meet” section combines McGovern’s photography of vendors, shoppers, families, tarps and asphalt with words, phrases, and poetry by Delgado. The next section, “Poems on the Fly” is influenced by how Brazilian street vendors display and promote Literatura de Cordel (literature on a string). In the spirit of the Cordelistas, Delgado uses book covers to draw and print poems, dramatizing a wide range of topics and events in humorous and clever ways. Strings of 20 artist-created booklets are displayed along a mural, next to a stool and “poet hats” for visitors to wear and to take selfie photos. The drawings are done by Juan and Marco Delgado. The murals are designed and painted by Mariah Green, and the poet hats are designed and made by Ariel Gonzales. In the “El Dorado Fire” section, the artists share their forewarning photos, drawings, and poetry about the 2020 wildfire that devastated 22,744 acres in San Bernardino, California.

IMAGE: “Mexican Blanket Sign” by Juan Delgado and Thomas McGovern. Courtesy of the artists.