ANN ARBOR — Archives have the potential to be static and unengaging — especially those that range back into the pre-Internet era, when self-documentation was not the refined quotidian art that it is today — but artist and educator Nicole Marroquin has a gift for presenting archival materials in vivid color. With Care, an exhibition at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery, places Marroquin’s ceramic and print work in the context of her research into student rebellions in Chicago public schools from 1968 to 1980 alongside the documentary photographs of Diana Solís, an influential Mexican-born artist, teacher, and friend of Marroquin.
The installation displays Solis’s black-and-white photos, which document Chicana and lesbian organizing from 1975–1990, among a colorful melange of collected movie posters, protest photographs, and graphics — photographs and prints that speak to the history of student organizing and protest in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where Marroquin currently lives.
The exhibition features bubblegum pink walls backdropping a literal rainbow of printed materials. In addition to historic imagery that Marroquin has converted to a kind of psychedelic wallpaper, the gallery rebounds with recurring motifs, from large graphic flowers to women with winged hairdos flipping double birds with both hands. Marroquin’s evocative ceramic portraits emerge from the walls like three-dimensional avatars of historical materials, giving them literal faces, and sometimes showcasing their tattoos as the visual record they’ve chosen to adorn themselves— as with “Never Again”(2010), a disembodied tattooed arm, or “Endurance” (2010), a portrait of Chicago artist, advocate, and art therapist Angela Scalisi, displaying the eponymous tattoo across her chest.
Two different takeaway materials feature archival movie poster images and hairstyles from Diana Solís’s archive of the Latinx lesbian club scene in ‘zine form. One is a reprinting of found materials that resembles the kind of alt-weekly papers that were especially prolific in cultural centers of the the 1990s. Another includes a cover image of a rainbow-colored Latinx character, with the word “NO” embedded in her torso and implied in her crossed arms and scowling face, all framed by wild wings of hair.
“Access to power determines one’s presence in the archive,” Marroquin said, quoting scholar Maria Cotera. “Consequently, some people’s lives and interventions are rarely the subject of historical meaning-making. And that’s what I’m getting at. When I’m looking at images, I’m looking for these people.”
Much of the protest history of this majority Latino section of Pilsen was lost, with materials even discarded or sold on eBay, due to strong backlash against the political organizing from police and other authorities. In addition to Solís’s archive, Marroquin frequently works with imagery and information from the Chicana por mi Raza digital archive and is voraciously collaborative in all her undertakings. In addition to her work as an educator, Marroquin is part of the Justseeds co-op and the political art action group Chicago ACT Collective, and almost always works in conjunction with a print shop as she produces new materials.
Marroquin’s work is largely rooted in her passion for discovering lesser-known archives or pockets of the community with which she feels solidarity or fascination. She cites the Nancy de los Santos Collectio as a particularly compelling resource for those interested in Latinx history in Chicago. Her ultimate aim, she emphasizes, is to “recover and re-present histories of Black and brown youth and women’s leadership in the struggle for justice in Chicago.”