Abigail Reyes, “Sí señor” (2016), video (all images courtesy the artists and LACE)

A new virtual exhibition at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) presents video work by six artists living in El Salvador and its diaspora. Titled Borders of Freedoms / Contornos de Libertad, it’s curated by Patricio Majano and features work by Alexia Miranda, Sayre Quevedo, Guadalupe Maravilla, Fredy Solan, Crack Rodriquez, and Abigail Reyes. As the title suggests, each video intersects with the concept of freedom — the artists exploring its limits and how to live with them through the lens of feminism, sexuality, migration, or the 1992 Peace Accords that ended El Salvador’s civil war. Among Majano’s great selection, two projects stand out for their artistic clarity and effective storytelling.

Abigail Reyes’s 2016 videos, “Sí señor” and “Ser secretaria,” cleverly examine how secretaries are portrayed in popular culture. In the first, Reyes compiles clips from telenovelas of women in office settings repeating “Sí señor” (yes, sir). Actresses answer phone calls or take notes — the monotony of “sí, señor” challenged by Reyes’s careful selection and editing. While the video begins almost humorously, the monotony of the phrase wears over time. The longer it plays, the more one notices the eye rolls and sighs, the sense of duty, urgency, or worry in the actresses’ voices. The video segues into “Ser secretaria,” beginning with another telenovela clip of a businessman stating how hard it is to find a secretary who is smart, pretty, and who can transcribe well. Reyes pairs this with recordings submitted by women who have worked as secretaries for 15 to 30 years, each discussing the nuances and hardships of the role. Together, the videos intelligently challenge the portrayal of secretaries as passive subjects, even when their language suggests it.

Abigail Reyes, “Sí señor” (2016), video

In contrast to the fast-paced cadence of Reyes’s video, Sayre Quevedo’s 2018 short documentary “Espera” intimately portrays the end of a relationship between the artist and his lover. It captures a final conversation between the men, speaking nearly in a whisper as they discuss meeting in New York, past relationships, sacrifice and pain, and ultimately why they cannot stay together. The complexity of their relationship is slowly illuminated as Quevedo’s lover recalls revealing he has a wife and kids back home and that he will remain in the marriage for the love of his children. Quevedo reflects on “Espera”: “It’s a piece about two people who are both looking to be liberated from loneliness and it’s an interrogation of the ways we try to do this through our relationships with others.”

Sayre Quevedo, “Espera” (2018), video

Throughout their dialogue, the camera remains on a single window, its translucent curtains billowing in the evening breeze, as the sun slowly sets to a dark sky. The video’s thoughtful documentation of time, light, and words is breathtaking. Indeed, watching it feels like one long inhale and exhale, as we linger on each word, clearly chosen with intention and care.

Sayre Quevedo, “Espera” (2018), video

Both artists allude to the persistence of persecution and discrimination, with Reyes interrogating machismo through a feminist lens, and Quevedo making visible the constraints on freedom that remain within the LGBTQ+ community, particularly within El Salvador, where individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ continue to be persecuted. These artists challenge the status quo, using storytelling and art to emphasize the important strives that have been made, and the many more that must come.

Borders of Freedoms / Contornos de Libertad, curated by Patricio Majano, continues online at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions through November 22. 

Rachel Heidenry is an art writer, educator, and curator currently based in Santa Barbara, California. Her research focuses on modern and contemporary art from the United States and Latin America, as well...