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Sofía Córdova eyes the other side of apocalypse

The Boston Globe 9/27/2022 Cate McQuaid
Installation view, "A Touch Could Be The Spark, How Will I Recognize You?" Inkjet print series in "Sofía Córdova: Backed Up Into Dawn" at Tufts University Art Galleries, 2022. © Jake Belcher Installation view, "A Touch Could Be The Spark, How Will I Recognize You?" Inkjet print series in "Sofía Córdova: Backed Up Into Dawn" at Tufts University Art Galleries, 2022.

“The slavery of Europa, of the Americas, enters through the keyhole of the Antilles,” says a narrator in Sofía Córdova’s “GUILLOTINÆ WannaCry: Act Green: Sauvage, Savage, Salvaje,” the incantatory film at the center of her commissioned installation presented by Tufts University Art Galleries/School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts.

The installation, part of Córdova’s show, “Backed Up Into Dawn,” has chilling relevance as Puerto Rico once again begins recovery after a devastating storm, Hurricane Fiona, and Puerto Ricans have again been left in the dark.

Córdova uses film, sculpture, and photography to examine colonialism’s terrible wounds, and to imagine the lives of marginalized people on the other side of an undescribed apocalypse. Systems of oppression have crumbled, and the land is viewed as a collaborator, not property.

The Oakland-based artist was born in Puerto Rico. Her work unpacks fraught issues of power that she embodies as a “Black Antillean, as a descendant of slaves and Indigenous peoples exterminated, as a colonial subject both under Spanish royal rule and currently U.S. Imperial rule,” she says in a booklet produced for the show.

This installation features a kind of post-apocalyptic museum. Taxidermied birds, all lime green, might share a genetic mutation — perhaps it saved them during the climate collapse? Hand-drawn screens depict walls and fences, suggesting that notions of borders and property lines are now relics.

In photographs, Córdova and collaborators Rashaun Mitchell and Meg Jala awkwardly enact social customs, as if learning a new way to be together.

“Sauvage, Savage, Salvaje,” a poetic, sensual film, is steeped in an unrelenting history of erasure and violence, with both sweeping and granular references to revolutionary acts — from the Haitian Revolution to Ramsey Orta, who was arrested in 2014 for criminal possession of a weapon and later sentenced to four years in prison after filming New York police putting Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold.

Córdova, Jala, and Mitchell, dressed in white overalls, dance in the woods and along a lake. The verdancy and the movement affirm what a gift it is to be in a body on this earth. The narration is a tapestry of pain interlaced with the hope that fires revolution. The film is a ritual of witnessing, grieving, and laying ground; the rest of the installation feels like the first deep breath after struggle. What’s next is untold.

SOFIA CÓRDOVA: BACKED UP INTO DAWN

At Tufts University Art Galleries/School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts, 230 The Fenway, through Oct. 23. https://artgalleries.tufts.edu/exhibitions/27-sofia-cordova-backed-up-into-dawn

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