There is a really unique building across the street from the Alys Stephens Center at UAB. Have you ever noticed it? It’s the University of Alabama’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Virtual Arts or in short the AEIVA!
I first learned about AEIVA when they featured an Andy Warhol exhibit called “Fabricated,” in January last year. It was the first major show by a renown artist for the Institute since they opened and it definitely got my attention. I went to the opening night reception with my friend Suzanne and we walked around with quite a crowd looking at all the iconic works of art. Some we hadn’t seen before. I realized that night how fortunate we are to have AEIVA in Birmingham and for the art community.
AEIVA is named for lead donors Judy and Hal Abroms and Ruth and the late Marvin Engel and features three galleries along with a 95 seat lecture hall. The building is also the home of UAB’s art galleries and the Department of Art and Art History classrooms and faculty offices. AEIVA’s mission is to enhance social, cultural and historical understanding through the visual arts across UAB and the broader community. I especially love that it’s right across the street from the Alys Stephens Center, another UAB gem!
In September, I went by AEIVA to see another exciting exhibit. It was the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and it seemed appropriate to visit and see the works of Cuban born artist Luis Cruz Azaceta. The topics he covers aren’t the happiest, to say the least. The title of the exhibit was “War and Other Disasters – Selected Works from 2002-2016.” You have to admit, the title alone is a curiosity.
As I walked through exploring Azaceta’s works, I discovered these are all based on well-known happenings. The first work looked like the largest matchbook car exhibit I’ve ever seen. As you get closer, you realize it’s the evacuation during Hurricane Katrina. Azaceta had been a native of New Orleans for ten years when Katrina happened so it was only natural for him to want to create and include this in his collection. It’s incredible and takes up most of the first gallery.
Other featured works include “9/11 WTC” which was really moving. As you look into the piece there are photographs – for instance an “I Love New York” coffee cup in one. I felt like I was standing in the dust of the towers as they fell while looking at this piece. It’s just that powerful. “The Border” is about the ongoing issues regarding security and control at the Mexican/American border. As we all know, this debate continues especially in the current political environment. Everything surrounding the fence reminds me of the craziness of our current immigration system and the need for reform.
Another current topic comes through in “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” Azaceta created this in 2015 after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson by a white police officer. The artist has been vocal about this movement and it comes through in this painting. “Spill 4” is about the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill in April 2010. You can see the black oil making its way through the environment on this canvas. I remember how the beaches looked after this disaster and that 11 people lost their lives on that oil rig. The amount of oil that took over the beaches and ocean was just unbelievable.
Azaceta was born in Havana, Cuba and lived there until he emigrated to the United States at the age of 18. As a boy he witnessed many acts of violence on the streets of Cuba during the Batista regime and during Castro’s post-revolution. This impacted him greatly and created in him a sensitivity towards violence, human cruelty, injustice and alienation. These became central themes in his work as he showcases the moral and ethical pulse of our country.
The Azaceta exhibit runs through December 17th and I encourage you to go by and have a look for yourself. You can also follow the AEIVA on Facebook to get the latest on exhibits and other special shows. As I said, it’s a gem in our community and I’m so thankful to the Abroms and Engel families for their generosity.