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José Sejo’s ‘Mutant Tropic’ splashes Watson with color

New initiative creates space for visual arts, builds bridge between social sciences, humanities

“Mutant Tropic,” an exhibit by painter Luis José Aguasvivas Núñez (José Sejo) offers viewers a look into the beautiful yet complicated reality of the artist’s experience and relationship with his home country of the Dominican Republic. The installation, which opened last month on the second floor of the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, contributes to the Art at Watson initiative — a program that welcomes more of the visual arts into Watson’s corridors, especially from artists residing in the greater Brown and Providence communities.

“There are bridges to be built between the social sciences and the humanities,” said Steve Bloomfield, associate director of the Watson Institute. “One without the other is less strong, less evocative, less compelling and less true.”

“We at the Watson Institute and Brown University need to be attuned to the production of … local (cultural projects), including the pictorial arts,” Bloomfield added. “The resources of a private university like Brown can be shared with local citizens, particularly in a city like Providence that isn’t greatly economically advantaged.”

The exhibit features around 25 paintings ranging from more figurative pieces, which depict tropical imagery of mangoes and plants, to those more abstract, with lines and three-dimensional shapes cutting across expanses of canvas. A few even resemble cubist compositions drenched in vibrant, dizzying palettes of colors.

“His work is very colorful, very Caribbean,” said Raphael Diaz MA’02, a Providence-based artist, educator and long-time friend of Sejo. “It talks about what’s going on in society in big cities today (like Santo Domingo) … and how (people there) try to survive.”

The exhibition came to fruition in part as a product of Diaz’s initial efforts. Diaz answered Art at Watson’s general call for exhibits and referred the committee to the work of Sejo, who lives in the Dominican Republic, Diaz said. Besides practicing as an artist, Sejo works for the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Culture and looks over the production of art in the country. “It is so refreshing and so wonderful because most of the time people think that people (from other countries) come (to the United States) to take … jobs, but many people … give us the beauty of those countries and share with us their life experience,” Diaz said.

Sejo and Diaz have been friends for 25 years and are both founding members of los Cuatro Puntos, a group of four international artists that travels to countries around the world yearly to engage in dialogue with local artists about their respective works and issues affecting their countries, Diaz said. “Our mission is to bring people together, not to separate people,” Diaz added. “We need to embrace each other because we (are) all a part of this planet.” Diaz’s own exhibit, “Silenced Voices,” is currently on display on the third floor of the Watson.

“The artist is a reflection of everything that happens in the world, of suffering, of war,” Sejo said in a talk about his work and the history of Dominican art at the Watson Institute Feb. 8.  According to the Watson Institute’s website, Sejo also practices ceramics, design and illustration of children’s text and restoration of altarpieces and sculptures.

Sejo’s exhibit will be on display until May 30.

— With quotes from Sejo’s Feb. 8 talk translated from Spanish into English by Jacob Alabab-Moser


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