Words by Josue Rawmirez

In Aqui Descansaba, on display at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum, artist Jessie Burciaga uses art to speak on the disappearances of individuals along the frontera and to heal from his personal experience with the subject.  

Aqui Descansaba Installation and El Ultimo Descanso Video By Jessie Burciaga

As one enters the exhibition space, the openness and the large windows that make up the entire west wall greet the viewer. Four wooden bed frames float above the ground and evenly frame a large flatscreen on a wooden dresser. The display features a view of a bedroom with a disheveled bed as white translucent curtains flow from two open windows. The installation titled Aqui Descansaba, gives insight to the artist’s recurring use of bed sheets, the bedroom and clothing as an extension of identity, and as the resting place for the missing or disappeared.


Camas Vacias [empty beds] is made of four rectangle frames or a family unit. They reference the sizes of twin and full sized beds. The work is representative of loss and the process of grief, specifically the moment when a loved one’s bed is made by a family member or significant other for the last time.  


Patterned cotton sheets replicate a made bed through it’s folds which create a horizontal line that runs across and connects the four canvases. The Earth tones often considered masculine also reference the femininity of the Earth. The translucent floral patterned sheets show the remains of a fading life that family and loved ones must deal with when someone is missing or has disappeared. 

Camas Vacias by Jessie Burciaga

Burciaga and his family went through the disappearance of his older brother in 2004. For him the exhibition is part of his healing. Of a broader conversation along the border as many are impacted by the cartel fueled drug trade and violence. 


The artist’s grieving process and closure also included religion and ceremony. The Rosary and Catholic texts like the Lord’s Prayer as well as other religious symbolism is incorporated into some pieces.


Amen, for example, is composed of nine pillows with a prayer in Spanish printed on each pillowcases. It begs for the care of a son. The work references the tradition of the Novenario where families pray for the forgiveness of the sins of the deceased to assure their heavenly ascension. 


Religious practice is also infused in Burciaga’s handmade paper series. Each of the nine paper pieces (again a reference to the Novenario) hides a rosary.  Some rosaries are beaded, others made with knots of colored string, but all are used by his mother in prayer before being enveloped in paper.

Amen by Jessie Burciaga
Quienes Son by Jessie Burciaga

In the series of sepia ghost monotype prints titled Quienes Son? (Who Are they?) detailed and fragile images that feature different articles of clothing on tracing paper are numerically labeled “Masculino,” “Femenino,” “Joven Femenino,” “Joven Masculino.” 


The prints resemble X-Rays that give insight to a person’s belongings and life. They are reminiscent of the surveillance along the border and a reminder of the erasure of gender non-conforming and trans immigrants and asylum seekers by the state. 


Digging into the ground and interacting with the dirt, the minerals and their chemical process was also part of Burciaga’s exploration. 


A video projected on sheets printed with clothing features an individual digging with bare hands and a shovel. It shows the hard labor of grieving and ties the emotional to the physical.


In Cinco Tumbas (Five Graves), Burciaga utilizes iron shavings to create textured rust stained outlines of garments thrown onto five stretched canvas the size of unidentified tombs. 


The references to blood, violence and to time talks about the psychological and physical changes of the iron and the artist himself- of inner strength that falls apart to return to Earth. 


Femenino No Identificado, Masculino No Identificado by Jessie Burciaga

Femenino No Identificado / Masculino No Identificado (Unidentified Female/ Unidentified Male) lifts the viewer back up. It is a large loose vertical canvas with clothing printed on both sides.  The mono-print monument hangs from the ceiling clamped at the top with wooden boards. It is anchored by dirt piles on both sides.


The piece is a metaphor of a bridge between the earthly and the celestial, representative of the steep and difficult journey into “heaven” for those who remain and those who have passed.


Aqui Descansaba is honest to the experiences of loss and grief without discounting the hope for a better tomorrow. It shows vulnerability through the acceptance of a painful truth and the contemporary reality of la frontera. Burciaga’s work is a testament to healing through the arts, it showcases an arc with a resolution to some of the pain caused by borders. It is an example that border residents can remedy ourselves and look for a future free from pain in both the heavenly and the earthly.


For an interview with Jessie Burciaga visit the Trucha Facebook Page.



The exhibit runs until May 15th at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum. It was curated by San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum Director Aleida Garcia Wedgeworth in collaboration with Josue Ramirez, Cultural Organizer for Trucha. Funded in part by the Border Narratives Grant provided by the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture and the Ford Foundation. 


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