Artist couple Dìaz-Lewis work with students on “socially aware” works

Haley Mullen, Assistant News Editor

The University’s first annual Ekard Artist-in-Residence, Díaz Lewis, spoke in the Gallery Theatre of the Elaine Langone Center on April 19. Díaz Lewis is an artist collaborative comprised of the couple Alejandro Figueredo Díaz-Perera and Cara Megan Lewis. Their work draws connections between personal and political narratives. Upon introducing Díaz Lewis to the audience, Samek Art Museum Director Richard Rinehart called their work “smart and socially aware as it has made an impact on campus.”

Díaz-Perera and Lewis began their talk by thanking the University for selecting them for the Ekard Residency.

“We were honored to be selected. This has been such a dream,” Lewis said. The couple met in Havana, Cuba in 2012. At the time, Díaz-Perera lived in Havana and Lewis lived in the United States. The couple explained how the political and physical divides between their respective nations deeply influenced their work.

In their 2014 piece titled “The Other’s Voice,” each artist, separated by panes of glass, bleached their respective nation’s flag. Through this piece, which took place immediately after Díaz-Perera traveled to the United States from Cuba, “an action that began as personal became political,” Lewis said. Additionally, the couple described how they both found the act of “cleansing the flags” to be highly cathartic within their reunion.

A recent theme throughout their work is audience participation. For example, in response to the 2009 congressional mandate known as the “detention bed quota,” which requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold at least 34,000 detained immigrants per day within its facilities, Díaz Lewis began their piece “34,000 Pillows.” The piece, which is composed of used and donated clothing repurposed into pillows stuffed with Kapok fiber, uses a pillow to represent each immigrant detained as a result of this mandate. Many of the articles of clothing have been donated by undocumented immigrants or former detainees.

“Much of the clothing on these pillows carry stories. A man who crossed 18 borders from Somalia donated his pants. We made a pillow with his pants,” Lewis said.

Each pillow is sold for $159, which is then donated to organizations and causes that aid those affected by the detention system. This donation is the amount the United States government spends daily to detain a single immigrant.

For the duration of the couple’s time in residency at the University, students were invited every Friday to create pillows with the artists.

“Doing workshops in the 7th Street studio has been such a warm and inviting place as well as has working in classrooms,” Lewis said.

In addition to “34,000 Pillows,” Díaz-Lewis has begun a new piece while at the University. This piece is made of lint collected within and by the University community.

“We became really in love with all the elements and particles and DNA that are embedded in this material and the possible metaphors this could express,” Díaz-Perera said. Díaz Lewis is constructing coats reminiscent of 17th century English settlers of America and traditional British military attire from the lint.

The couple explained how this piece was inspired by the discovery that “this ancestor [of Lewis’s] had purchased land from Native Americans for 30 coats. We thought this was strange and wanted to take ourselves back to this transaction and learn from this and touch these coats.”

This developing artwork, like “34,000 Pillows,” is created with audience participation, including audiences from within the University.

“We harvested a lot of our lint from Wash Tubs and from students and faculty here, so you all might have lint in this work,” Lewis said.

“I’m excited to have the artists known as Díaz Lewis in residence here at Bucknell. They express social awareness and community engagement through their work. I’m really excited to see how they further interact with our community,” Malachi Musick ’19 said.

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