Bienvenidos los Presidentes/Welcome the Presidents

2014

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Bienvenidos los Presidentes/Welcome the Presidents
2014-15, Oficina de Proyectos Culturales
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

Bienvenidos Los Presidentes was a multidisciplinary exhibition about collective memory and mythology that focused on the Cold War era and U.S-Mexico relations.

In early 2014 I was invited by the directors of Oficina de Proyectos Culturales (Office for Cultural Projects (OPC)), a new non-profit arts organization dedicated to cultural programming that explores ideas about Puerto Vallarta, to develop a project for their new art space.

The installation blended archival research and source material with video, transcribed excerpts from community interviews, and my drawings based on historical photographs and on project participants’ family photos of Puerto Vallarta of the 1960s.

Over the summer of 2014, I researched audiovisual collections at the John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon Presidential archives to find historical photographs of the Mexican visits of JFK, LBJ and Nixon, and images from the 1968 student protests in Mexico City. In my studio and on a residency at the MacDowell Colony, I translated the historical photos into large-scale, intensely detailed pen and ink drawings.

In October and in November, I returned to Mexico to interview 15 residents of Vallarta, age 60-93 and collect their memories of the 1970 meeting of American President Richard Nixon and Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta.

Arturo Montero filmed and edited the interviews into a 26 minute documentary.

You can see his trailer here and the full length version here.

In Bienvenidos los Presidentes, Arturo’s documentary played in the gallery alongside a program of silent home movies of Nixon’s Mexico visit filmed by White House Chief of Staff H.R Haldeman that I obtained from the Nixon Library. We integrated text from the interviews (transcribed and translated into both English and Spanish) with my 28 drawings based on images from the presidential archives, from the photos local people had lent me, and from images of Tlatelolco, the student protests of 1968, and the student protests of 2014.

Six binders on viewing tables contained an extensive source library of material I scanned at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, ranging from the mundane—luncheon menus and the contact sheets of White House staff photographers—to declassified CIA documents and memos between Nixon staffers Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, John Mitchell, laying the groundwork for what was to become the ongoing “War on Drugs.” You can read a selection of White House documents here and Mariana Botey’s essay accompanying the exhibition here.

Bienvenidos was made possible thanks to support and assistance from the MacDowell Colony; The John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and RIchard Nixon Presidential Libraries; Marc and Kathy LeBaron and Robert and Karen Duncan, and William Hobie. This project was a massively collaborative effort and I want to thank Pilar Perez and the OPC team, Arturo Montero, Alejandra Guillén (for tireless translation, and Carolyn Park for additional translation), Ryan Pettigrew and Penny Lane, and the community of Puerto Vallarta who generously shared their time, reflections, artifacts and stories with me.