Ghost Prints: Art Exhibit Tells Stories of Lost and Missing People

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SAN BENITO — They spilled onto a wall bearing the ghost images of once vibrant, breathing people, now reduced to shadows of discarded clothes that seem to float in midair.

Headboards hang in Jessie Burciaga’s “Aqui Descansaba” exhibit at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum at 250 E. Heywood St. The exhibit uses pillows and sheets and ghost prints of discarded clothing to convey the stories that cannot be told of the lost and missing.

A video of a woman quietly making a bed with a flowery blanket as the afternoon sun streams through light blue curtains is particularly poignant. It is a moment of eternal peace, a dream shattered by the reality it symbolizes.

“In this work, I use the bed, I use the pillows to talk about the disappearance of people, especially caused by drug-related violence in Mexico which sometimes overlaps with the fact that we cross the border”, said Burciaga, 31, of Brownsville. .

A video is projected onto sheets on the wall in the artwork “Buscando Entre Tierra” Thursday at the exhibition by Brownsville artist Jesse Burciaga, Aquí Descansaba at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

When people hear of a person’s “final resting place,” they think of a cemetery or an urn with ashes. However, Burciaga’s take on the term is the last bed where people rest as life goes by, where loved ones gather to say goodbye.

Unfortunately, the lost, the missing, the departed don’t get that “final resting place” and their loved ones don’t get a chance to say their final goodbyes. And therein lies the purpose of his subject: the confused limbo of the absence of a final resting place and the feeling of oblivion.

This purpose is further evidenced by the “phantom imprints” of carrierless garments, seemingly devoid of their own “purpose”.

One of his many thought-provoking pieces is a woman’s brief in scarlet with folds of light and scattered visual riffs and wandering creases, the kind of random variation that gives character to a garment or a face. Floppy shorts adorned with wrinkles from use, a dirty sock, and a dark umber dress with flowing folds that invoke a sense of movement.

Brownsville artist Jesse Burciaga is pictured Thursday with his work “Cinco Tumbas” in his exhibit, Aquí Descansaba at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

This indication of movement perhaps symbolizes the absence of a moment, of the deceased and their loved ones caught in a place of nothingness, lives stuck in perpetual vertigo.

“When I ask people about the disappearance of their loved ones, I think about the way people grieve, the different grieving processes, so I focus on active research,” he said. “When they cry, one thing they do is they actively search.”

And so loved ones in their loss wonder how they can grieve without a body.

DNA identification is not always possible and family members usually have no understanding of forensics.

The lack of DNA or forensics further reinforces the sense of loss and resourcefulness of family members seeking to reunite with their loved one.

So, in the absence of a body, they may be using clothes that those who lost could have worn.

Perhaps in the presence of this physical room with all its textured rhythms, imbued with the vitality and energy of the one who has passed away, they can feel again the strength and vigor of this person.

The exhibition will be on display until April 17.

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