Txt: Denise Nelson Prieto
For sculptor and UTEP visiting professor Angel Cabrales, art goes beyond a form of self-expression. It is also a means of creating dialogue about current social issues like immigration, deportation and identity.
Growing up, Cabrales was influenced by some seemingly polar opposite forces. His father was a Department of Defense engineer who designed missiles at White Sands. His mother was a political and social activists. Those 2 dynamics, along with Cabrales’ own beliefs, continue to fuel his creative engines and foster his imagination.
On the day of our interview, Cabrales was finishing up a piece titled “DREAM a Little DREAM.” It is a working model of a ride like the ones coin-operated ones in front of a grocery store. Instead of being a racecar of fire truck though, his rendition is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement truck.
“The piece is about DREAMers and what’s happening to them right now,” he said.
He eludes to the ongoing round up of immigrants, including DREAMers, who are designated as such under the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2001. The legislation was intended to allow children of undocumented immigrants certain liberties, including avoiding deportation if they met certain conditions.
“I wanted to create something people could identify with when they were kids,” he said, “and yet put a sense of regret because you know many of these people are being sent back.”
The impetus for this piece points to the current administration’s seeming lack of discretion in terms of the individuals targeted for deportation. However, his inspiration stretches back to his childhood. He grew up in Anthony on a 3 acre parcel of land. He recalled immigrants frequently showed up their land simply looking for a respite from hunger, thirst and the elements.
“We would always have people coming through and all they ever wanted to do was live a better life,” he recalled.
Cabrales graduated from Cathedral High School in 1991. He entered college with the intention of studying geo chemistry, but promptly dismissed that goal after discovering an affinity for drawing. Shortly after enrolling in the now-defunct College of Santa Fe to take drawing classes, with the help of a professor realized he needed to scrap the drawing and indulge his talent for sculpting. That decision led to a Bachelor of Arts degree from Arizona State University and a graduate degree from the University of North Texas in Denton.
For Cabrales, sculpture as a medium is the epitome of art.
“When you see a drawing or a painting, I see a drawing or painting as a window into an idea or imagination,” he said. “With sculpture you’ve taken that out of the window and created it; it exists, and it has weight to it. I also really love that sculpture doesn’t have any rules.”
Proof of that lies in the choice of materials Cabrales’ has incorporated into some of his pieces. It’s not unusual to see pencils, steel, resin and even flan and pan dulce in his sculptures.
As stated, a common theme runs through his body of work. His largest piece, “Huevos Fronteras,” which he created in 2011, is a full scale playground surrounded by chain link, barbed wire and surveillance towers.
“The playground is a metaphor for border towns,” he said. “As kids we interacted on playgrounds, but now in the name of safety, we’ve closed them off and created this animosity.”
The motivation for “Huevos Fronteras” was the establishment of a fence along the southern border throughout El Paso.
He recognized his art didn’t always have a political tinge. When he first started his work was focused on creating worlds to fulfill a personal need. After graduate school, he moved to Brownsville and that’s when his work became focused on the border.
“The biggest thing for me is to make art that creates dialogue and for people to draw their own conclusions,”Cabrales said. “People can start talking to the person next to them, whether or not that person agrees with their views. We’re very polarized right now and nobody wants to meet in the middle.”
His current projects include gearing up for a few art shows later in the year, establishing a gallery with a group of artists, and moving into a new studio/living space.
The gears of the current political machine are in constant motion, running roughshod over entire communities. Cabrales is on a mission to draw awareness to that issue, in hopes of creating a conversation and possible solutions through his innovative vision.