Cherish Marquez is a Denver-based artist who uses videos, animations, still images, and installations, to animate the subtleties of desert life near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The devil’s claw seed pod—with its long, bifurcated hooks—looks otherworldly, ancient, perhaps alien. The seeds, which are found across the Southwest, are natural collaborators. Their hooks catch on the wind or passing animals and so disperse themselves on a mission to live in the unforgiving desert.
These seeds, together with the similarly resilient yucca plant, are the central characters in Voices of the Desert by Denver-based artist Cherish Marquez. Comprised of videos, animations, still images, and installations, the project animates the subtleties of desert life in expanses of primordial—or is it futuristic?—spacetime. In the animation Yucca (2020), a yucca plant and its seed pods float in this ambiguous space articulated by improbable, graphical mountain shapes which suggest a cosmic scale and pulse with a heartbeat. Echoing murmurs and whispers give the plant matter character and breathe spirit into the proceedings as seed pods tear through space.
When Voices of the Desert was presented recently as a solo exhibition at Union Hall in Denver, the gallery spaces featured vignettes of real collected plant matter alongside installations of her animations and 3D-modeled renderings. Presenting them together, Marquez sublimates the “real” into the virtual, breaking down the binary of nature vs. technology. Instead, she pulls together the many media at her disposal, nature and technology included, to tap into the collective subconscious—or is it superconscious?—of the desert: its silent inner life, its collective memory, and its responses to human-inflicted trauma.
Born in El Paso, Marquez was raised in the rural border town of Sierra Blanca, Texas, where locals successfully banded together to keep a low-level radioactive waste facility out of their area in the 1990s. In a virtual artist talk presented in conjunction with her exhibition at Union Hall, Marquez cited the effort as a moment that would inform her work’s focus on exploring environmental justice, the deconstruction of colonialism, and healing from generational trauma. “In an article, the New York Times used this sentence to describe Sierra Blanca,” she recounted, “‘There is not much here anymore, if there was ever much of anything to begin with.’ And it’s statements like this that undermine the importance of the people and culture that exist in these areas.”
Through Marquez’s otherworlds, the desert is not something to survive, exploit, or subvert, but a living character, full of life and capable of healing not only itself, but the people willing to listen to its many voices.