Press Release

Artist Rodrigo Lara Discusses His Solo Exhibition, “Deportable Aliens” with Curator Dolores Mercado (NMMA) and Critic Daniel R. Quiles (SAIC)

This behind-the-scenes look at Lara’s exhibition marks the first event in a six-part series presented by Illinois Humanities. The series, entitled Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, is part of an NEH and ALA series that explores the past, present, and future of Latino/a Americans.


Chicago – June 16, 2015 – Illinois Humanities is excited to announce that the first installment of the new program series, Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, will feature a behind-the-scenes look at Rodrigo Lara’s Deportable Aliens, which will soon open at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Join us on Wednesday, August 19th at 6pm for a conversation with artist Rodrigo Lara about how his work and creative practice speaks to historical and political events, also featuring exhibition curator Dolores Mercado, and SAIC Professor of Art History, Theory & Criticism Daniel R. Quiles.

Lara’s exhibition features a site-specific installation that depicts the little-acknowledged forced deportation of between 1 and 2 million American citizens and legal residents of Mexican descent during the Great Depression. This mass deportation, known as the Mexican Repatriation, took place from 1929 to 1939, but has only recently become an object of study for scholars.

The exhibition features large-scale sculptures of distorted facial features protruding from contorted thumbs, as well as other iconic imagery that evokes official identification documents.  Despite the gravity of the underlying topic, Lara portrays these historical events in a provocative, ironic, yet contemplative tone.  He states, “I grew up in Mexico in midst of music, dance, death, corruption, colors, and a good sense of humor, all of them characteristic of Mexican culture. All these things marked my view towards the world, and today play an important role in my life and my artwork.”

Cesáreo Moreno, the Visual Arts Director of the National Museum of Mexican Art, noted: “As the Mexican population in the U.S. continues to increase, our stories within this country become ever more vital. The tremendous struggles and contributions of Mexicans to this nation of immigrants are still being written by historians, curators, and artists alike. Without first-voice institutions and the perspectives of individuals like Rodrigo Lara, shallow sound bites and stereotypes broadcast by celebrity politicians will continue to cast negative views of the Mexican people who helped forge and defend the United States. Deportable Aliens is a reminder that history is too easily substituted by perception.”

Following an inside look of Lara’s exhibition, visitors will attend a talk in which Lara, Mercado, and Quiles will discuss the artist’s practice and intentions, and in what ways exhibitions like Deportable Aliens help to recover lost stories like the Mexican Repatriation. They will also discuss the ways in which past stories can resonate with contemporary stories about immigration, as well as the role of the artist in social justice and political practice.

Some questions they’ll consider:

  • How can art be used as a form of historical documentation?
  • How can Lara’s work allow us to reflect on the state of immigration today?
  • How can art help to frame discussion about immigration, politics, and social justice? 

This talk is the first installment of the six-part series, Latino Americans: 500 Years of History and will be followed by a screening of the documentary In the Game on September 29, 2015 in Urbana.

Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, a public programming initiative produced by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Library Association (ALA), is part of an NEH initiative, The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square.


About Rodrigo Lara
Rodrigo Lara was born in Mexico in 1981. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Guanajuato in 2003, and received his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013, where he graduated with the Raymond James Nelson Fellowship. He has received several awards including: 3Arts Grant nominee, Chicago 2015; “Teaching Artist Scholarship, Center Program,” Hyde Park Art Center in 2014; “Artist’s Grant” Residence, Vermont Studio Art Center in 2014; International Graduate Scholarship 2012-2013 SAIC; and the “John W. Kurtich Travel Scholarship,” SAIC Berlin/Kassel, Germany 2012. He won the first prize in sculpture at the “National Award for Visual Arts 2010” Querétaro, Mexico. He had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in the state of Mexico in 2011. Lara has upcoming solo exhibitions in Chicago area, including Hyde Park Art Center in 2016, the National Museum of Mexican Art in 2015, as well as participating installations at EXPO Chicago in 2015, the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and at 6018 North, among others.

About Dolores Mercado
Associate curator at the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) in Chicago, Illinois, and former associate director of education and senior arts educator. She was co-curator of Rastros y Crónicas: Women of Juarez; co-curator of Quilt Me a Story: Nuestros relatos (Immigration Stories); curator of Women Artists of Modern Mexico: Frida’s Contemporaries; coordinator and assistant to the curator of Nahui Olin: A Women Beyond Time; and curator of El Proceso y la Creación, Punto de Encuentro, and De Cuentos y Reencuentros. She served as juror for Mirando al Sur: Looking South at Woman Made Gallery, Chicago. She has hosted Camino Tierra Adentro radio program at WRTE 90.5 FM (1999 to 2004, MFACM), and Alquimia radio program at WRTE 90.5 FM. (2004-2006) MFACM. She was coordinator and collaborator for the Women Artists of Modern Mexico: Frida’s Contemporaries catalog, NMMA 1998. She was also coordinator of Nahui Olin: A Woman Beyond Time catalog. Mercado studied at the Art School La Esmeralda in Mexico City, La Academia de San Carlos de la UNAM in Mexico City, The School of Video of the University of Guadalajara, and at the School of Visual Arts of the University of Guadalajara.

About Daniel R. Quiles
Daniel Quiles is an Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he teaches courses on the theory and history of postwar art of the Americas. His research has appeared in academic journals such as Art Journal and ARTMargins, and he is currently writing a book manuscript titled Ghost Messages: Oscar Masotta and Argentine Conceptualism. He is also an art critic who has written for Artforum, Art in America, and DIS Magazine, among other publications. He was a 2003-2004 Critical Studies Fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program, received a 2013 Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, and was the 2013-2014 Post- Doctoral Fellow in the Institut d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine at École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

About Illinois Humanities
Illinois Humanities is an independent, nonprofit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with a mission to strengthen society by fueling inquiry and conversation about the ideas and works that shape our culture. Illinois Humanities engages communities across Illinois in conversation in a variety of humanities programs that focus on Public Policy, Media & Journalism, Business, and Art. Illinois Humanities lowers barriers to participation and offers access to programs, events, and grants to all Illinoisans, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds. For more, visit