TUPELO • Yancy Villa-Calvo doesn’t want to impose her personal views on anyone who observes her works as an artist. Instead, she invites people from different backgrounds to the proverbial table for an open dialogue.

Villa-Calvo’s “table” is a traveling, interactive art installation titled “Barrier Free.” The table has been set at the GumTree Museum of Art for all to take their place.

“The goal of ‘Barrier Free’ is to serve as a platform for conversations that might be difficult or things that are happening now in society,” Villa-Calvo said.

“Barrier Free” is on display at the downtown museum until Sept. 30.

Villa-Calvo, a Mexico native who resides in Memphis, is a 2020-2021 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow. She was recognized in 2019 as one of “40 Change Makers Who Have Made Memphis Better in the Past 40 Years.”

She created “Barrier Free” in response to the controversial idea of the U.S.-Mexico border proposal. The exhibition isn’t about an actual wall, but about reflecting on the challenges of human-made and systematic barriers that divide individuals, families and communities. The exhibition celebrates unity, diversity and inclusion.

“I consider my work to be an intertwined web of art and life,” Villa-Calvo said. “My life experiences have influenced how I define, make and encounter art. Experiences such as being born in Mexico, living in Mozambique, and traveling to many countries have provided me with a cross-cultural perspective and an awareness of my place as both a global citizen and a resident of the U.S., a country I call my own.”

An installation artwork occupies an entire room or gallery space that the visitor has to walk through in order to engage fully with the work of art.

The first “barrier” guests encounter in Villa-Calvo’s piece is a wish fence filled with tags written by those who’ve seen the installation in places like Memphis, Nashville, Washington, D.C.; Houston, Phoenix and Baltimore. Each person is invited to share their own barrier stories, express a wish, a favorite scripture, a solution, a prayer, or a message in honor or in memory of someone.

Spread throughout the gallery are freestanding life-size mirrored silhouettes of families with a cutout of the caregiver in the family. The missing person represents a divided family due to discrimination, intolerance, deportation or mass incarceration. At each silhouette and the wish fence tag table are thought-provoking questions.

Finally, there’s a physical barrier with portraits of families and individuals representing the diversity of people in our country and communities.

“We’ve had other installations in the past, but not as timely as this one,” said Sally Kepple, GumTree Museum of Art director. “It’s a very timely exhibition, especially with what’s going on now in the United States.”

Villa-Calvo said he hopes everyone can find common ground through the installation and sees it as a call to action to build a society that embraces the contributions of a diverse world.

“It invites you to dig deeper into what we are doing as a society,” she said. “Whatever we do, we’re not alone. ... When we experience what’s happening in someone else’s shoes, then we understand it better, and we’re more accepting of others. We’re better together.”

“Barrier Free” is open to the public. The museum is open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday. All other times by appointment. For more information call (662) 844-2787 or email info@gumtreemuseum.com

The museum has taken steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Protective masks, hand sanitizer and gloves are available at the door.

The exhibition is made possible by the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Nancy Diffee Endowment Fund for Exhibitions, and David and Shawn Brevard.


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