In Latin America, kites are serious business, flown, depending on region, on Easter and the Day of the Dead. They’re also widely used for sport. With his “Papalotes en Resistencia” (Kites in Resistance), Federico Cuatlacuatl, an assistant professor of new media in UVA’s art department, uses the culture, heritage, and traditions of that region as tools of activism. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, Cuatlacuatl immigrated to the U.S. in 1999.
Two of Cuatlacuatl’s large gold foil kites are currently on view in Second Street’s Dové Gallery. Sparkling gaily under the gallery spots, they seem joyful and light in both weight and connotation. But the kites contain a deeper, more urgent message: Asylum- seeking children continue to be detained in centers across the U.S.
Cuatlacuatl makes the kites personal to a Charlottesville audience by repurposing tiki lights, like the ones used by neo-Nazis during their August 11, 2017, assault on UVA, to construct the framework.
Generally, in this country, kites are seen as an innocent child’s toys, so there’s a dark irony that these objects of play are used to draw attention to
an appalling human rights crisis.
Originally scheduled for April, Cuatlacuatl’s show included a field trip to Washington, D.C., where UVA students planned to fly the kites in a peaceful protest on the National Mall to showcase the migrant children’s plight. Because of COVID-19, the exhibition was postponed and the kite-flying protest canceled. The project was not lost, though, because Cuatlacuatl’s kites offer the perfect complement in content and form to the “Bearing Witness” work on view in the main gallery.
Many will be shocked, as was I, that one of the migrant children detention centers, the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (which houses seven of these children), is located just over Afton Mountain in Staunton. Visitors to the Second Street show are invited to write letters to the children. (They will be delivered through a contact of the artist’s.) The gallery is also collecting supplies for the migrant children detained in Staunton. Please contact Second Street (secondstreetgallery.org; 977-7284) if you are interested in donating.