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Three Exhibitions at Mana Contemporary Complicate the “American Dream”

Isis Davis-Marks

Jun 28, 2022 9:10PM

Installation view, “Hugo Crosthwaite: Borderlands” at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, 2022. Photo by John Berens. Courtesy of the artist and Pierogi Gallery.

Between 1892 and 1954, around 12 million people passed through Ellis Island in hopes of building a better life in the United States. Jersey City, which shares jurisdiction with Ellis Island, remains one of the most diverse cities in America. A new exhibition at Jersey City’s Mana Contemporary cultural center is asking viewers to consider whether the trek was worth it.

Entitled “Land of the Free,” the three-part show (up through September 17th) features Joe Minter’s sculptural installation We Lost Our Spears, Hugo Crosthwaite’s multimedia installation Borderlands, and Vincent Valdez’s suite of drawings entitled En Memoria/In Memory. All three artists consider the multiple meanings of migration and complicate “the American dream”—the idea that people of diverse backgrounds can live together in haphazard harmony and succeed if they just work hard enough.

Installation view, Joe Minter, We Lost Our Spears, at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, 2022. Photo by John Berens. Courtesy of the artist and MARCH Gallery.

Minter’s We Lost Our Spears provides the first answer. The installation features a collection of metal-welded sculptures that the artist created between 1989 and 2013. The work suggests a rusty, ancestral procession: Though Minter fashioned his pieces from found objects such as lug wrenches and chains, altogether they seem like a collection of individuals with shovels for heads and chains for arms. The central sculpture represents a fictitious African couple who have been kidnapped from the continent, ensnared in shackles, and disconnected from their traditions. They’ve migrated to America, but they’re not free at all. “They were forced out of their country of origin, where they once carved their spears, but then after coming to America and losing their spears, they became enslaved,” Shum said.