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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

‘Trauma and Response’ exhibit addresses race, identity, mental health and political turmoil

Left: 'I Just Don't Know' by Annabel Daou; right: 'Critical Mass' by Joachim West.

JANUARY 21, 2021 — The University of Texas at San Antonio's Department of Art and Art History has opened its first art exhibit of the year. “Trauma and Response” features the work of Annabel Daou, Joachim West, El Franco Lee II, Heyd Fontenot and Audrya Flores ’06. They are all professional working artists representing multicultural perspectives and personal experiences on race, LGBTQ and healing mental health.

The exhibit will be open for public viewing from January 21 through February 19 at the UTSA Main Art Gallery inside the Arts Building on Main Campus. Visitors can expect a variety of artistic mediums including video, audio, painting, drawing, mixed-media two-dimensional work, and site-specific sculptural installation.

Scott Sherer, UTSA professor of art history and gallery director, has curated and organized the exhibit at the university for over 16 months. He believes that “Trauma and Response,” a project that started well before the pandemic, has opened at the appropriate time and will resonate with the San Antonio community. 

“It’s especially important now. We have all been living through incredibly turbulent times on a lot of fronts,” said Sherer. “I think more and more conversations among so many people, regardless of ages, focus on considering the character of different lived experiences. For example, social media has very much proved the point that broad frameworks privatize information to the effect of situating individuals relative to, within, and outside group dynamics creating ‘us versus them’ mentalities.”

The artists invited to exhibit at UTSA come from different geographical and identity backgrounds.

West, a first-generation American of Spanish-Jewish descent, creates work that often shocks with an excess of grotesque images that pulse between fascination and repulsion. Fearlessly, West directs attention to aspects of our lives that reflect base characteristics of human nature that may provoke inhumanity toward others as well as generate our own struggles with wants and needs and the security of our own self-identifications.

The artwork of Lee II, a Houston native, considers the horror that our society has experienced in a period in which headlines regularly announce incidents of racial violence. More broadly, his art reminds viewers of the potential for perseverance and to challenge us to consider the relationships between our own personal experiences, witnessing, empathy, actions, and contributions to change.

Fontenot looks into how discourses of sexuality perpetuate themselves and how they construct possibilities and margins. His work considers how meaning lives in the body. Sexuality, especially LGBTQ, is engagement that is both organic and pressured by the influence of norms, margins and their construction of relative differences.

Flores’s work recognizes that trauma affects the individual psyche and life experiences. Her art provides a way to think beyond experience in order to heal. She repurposes textiles, found objects, and organic materials for her assemblage and installation work. The mystical images in her work are influenced by dreams, spirituality, the occult, and roots along the border town of Brownsville, Texas. Using the story-telling traditions of her family, she addresses trauma, mental health, and issues of identity—all with a purpose toward healing processes as a way to promote awareness and solidarity.

Daou, born in Lebanon, considers how the conceptual character and structure of text and image produce meaning. In her work expressed through traditional and new media, she focuses on broad questions about the construction of social and cultural meaning. Her work is global in character, but also addresses the language of power.

“The artists present a range of ideas regarding trauma,” said Sherer. “Their work is situated relative to a range of critical and conceptual contexts, presenting them, challenging them, and offering ways we might be inspired to think and act differently.”

“Trauma and Response” is one of several exhibits scheduled for 2021 at the UTSA Main Art Gallery. Exhibitions at UTSA are held for many reasons and serve as platforms for professional working artists to reach members of the public. Universities are natural locations for research, creative work, and dialogue. Artists who exhibit in educational spaces reach and inspire undergraduate and graduate majors who are trained in interdisciplinary approaches and can learn from new directions in creative fields.


With more than 15 museums and cultural institutions, the art scene in San Antonio has grown in international reputation. According to Sherer, UTSA has cultivated a great reputation developing the next generation of artists and professionals in diverse cultural disciplines over the years.

“I think exhibitions provide ways for viewers to engage differently,” said Sherer. “I hope that the creative work we present validates experiences and inspires new thinking.”

Due to COVID-19, visitors to the gallery are required to follow policies regarding face coverings at UTSA found here. The UTSA Main Art Gallery is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The gallery politely asks that appointment requests be made one week in advance to allow appropriate time to coordinate scheduling with Art Department staff. This exhibition is free and open to the public.

Milady Nazir

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