GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Chicago-based artist is creating a series of sculptures that honor the immigrant community.
Each sculpture is called Caminantes, which translates to “Wayfarers.”
The basic form of each bronze and Corten steel sculpture is the same, with a pair of feet that flows into a stylized cactus form. It’s all placed on top of a pedestal, which artist Salvador Jiménez-Flores designed with Mexican pyramids in mind.
Jiménez-Flores said the piece works as both a memorial and a celebration of the immigrant community.
“It serves as a memorial, thinking about the immigrants that maybe never made it. They die on this journey,” he explained. “But it’s also a celebration in the sense that it’s celebrating and embracing diversity, celebrating the contributions that the immigrant community brings to the table. … They bring with them a lot of knowledge, a lot of culture, music, arts.”
Jiménez-Flores said he was intrigued by the concept of hybridity, combining human elements — feet — with those of cacti.
“To me, I use (the cactus) as a symbol of resiliency and adaptability in the immigrant community, the refugee community and really anyone who embarks (on) a journey,” he said.
He said the feet, too, are important.
“The feet are the ones that capture that emotion and that distress and that history of the journey of a wayfarer, of someone who has walked for a long time and has found a place to stop and set roots,” the artist explained.
When Jiménez-Flores first conceptualized Caminantes, he said he imagined creating a series of about 12 sculptures all at once.
“My initial proposal was to create a series of the same sculpture, but each of them will have a modification of the stylized cactus form,” he said.
But Jiménez-Flores said the process proved to be expensive. The initial grant he received only funded one sculpture, he explained, so he decided to create them one by one as money allowed.
“I’m hoping that I can keep making them, and they can start living in different cities,” Jiménez-Flores said.
His initial sculpture — the first Caminantes — is currently in Little Village, a Mexican community in Chicago.
There, he said, the piece took on an almost religious significance.
“After a month or so, someone had started placing this religious figure on it, almost like a little altar or like a memorial,” Jiménez-Flores said. “To me, that was very interesting and rewarding to see the public interact with this piece in the way that they felt connected.”
Now, the second piece in the series, funded by a $20,000 Feature Public Project Grant, is in Grand Rapids for ArtPrize 2023. The 6-foot sculpture can be found at the ArtPrize Oasis for the duration of the competition.
The artist said he created the second sculpture in about a month and a half, leaning on the connections he had established while making the first. This will be its first public display.
Jiménez-Flores explained that although the two sculptures use the same general template, they have subtle differences and unique designs.
“From the beginning, it was designed with that intention: to make multiples but also (have) each of them be unique,” he said.
The artist said it ties into the concept of fruition.
“Thinking about the immigrant community and how, despite all the struggles and inequalities and injustices, we still continue to have fruitful lives,” Jiménez-Flores explained.
In terms of the cactus form, he said Grand Rapids’ Caminantes is “a little bit more fiery” than its Chicago counterpart.
Jiménez-Flores told News 8 he didn’t want to “prescribe” how people should react when they see Caminantes.
“At the end of the day, it is a public sculpture,” he explained. “The important thing about having artwork in the public realm is that it becomes part of the public.”
At the same time, the artist said he hopes the piece inspires viewers to reflect on their own pasts.
“And then if they learn more about this piece to maybe think about it, like, ‘Oh. Oh, yeah. I came from somewhere else,'” Jiménez-Flores said. “If there is anything, I just hope that people can reflect with their own family history, with their own immigrant story.”