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'Mexico' exhibit's bomb idea protested

September 13, 2003|From Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The whole idea of "Mexico Illuminated" was to bring together artists of Mexican descent to tout the Latino heritage of Reading, Pa., and show how the United States is perceived by its neighbor to the south.

Artist Marcos Ramirez says people should have known better than to expect simple paintings of deserts, cactuses and smiling field hands sporting sombreros.

Ramirez caused a stir when he chose to express his views on America with a proposed billboard-sized piece depicting a green road sign with the distances from Reading to foreign cities the United States has bombed, including Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2001, and Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003.

"I wanted somehow to confront the people with history," said Ramirez, one of more than 60 artists taking part in the show. "It's an expression of what could be a very widespread opinion outside of this country."

The show in Reading, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia, opens today, but organizers have already been bombarded by angry community members and organizations funding the show. Many were upset that Ramirez's piece was in an exhibit taking place so close to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Even though the original work only reached the stage of a digital image, it was enough to cause residents to write scathing letters to Ramirez, the show's organizers, local media outlets and others.

As part of a compromise involving the sponsors, show organizers and others, a version of the work will now be shown inside an annex of the Freedman Gallery at Albright College.

Christopher Youngs, organizer of the $500,000 show and head of the Freedman Gallery, said he felt that was the best way to balance the community's concerns without compromising the integrity of the artists.

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