Within Montalvo’s Italianate Garden and along the Great Lawn, you will find Caravan by Hellen Ascoli, an artist, weaver, and mediator living and working in Guatemala City, Guatemala and Madison, Wisconsin. Since her migration from Guatemala to Madison, Ascoli continues to ask herself, How do you rebuild and remember at the same time? How do you make sense of where you are, when you are so deeply invested elsewhere?Caravan is a reference to movement both internal and external, both physical and emotional. Today, “caravan” also carries political overtones meant to incite fear of the migrants at our southern border, while flattening the diversity of immigrant experiences into a single, consumable story.

Ascoli is most interested in material translations–in particular pacas, or the over-production of clothing and the cycles of fiber waste–as a metaphor for the relationship between Guatemala and the US. Today, the export of this fiber waste is threatening the textile tradition of Guatemala. Ascoli uses recycled thread from The New Denim Project and hand-weaves it using the back-strap loom, a historic tool of Mayan Guatemala, as a way to start anew. Ascoli’s installations, made of wooden assemblages and bundles of fabric and flowers, are designed to evoke the movable marketplaces found in the artist’s home country, where displays are built and taken apart every day. Each assemblage also carries a flowering plant, a symbol of joy but also of sacrifice and loss. 

Meet the Artist

Hellen Ascoli is an artist, weaver, and educator. Her interdisciplinary projects encompass these discourses; looking at embodied practices and material culture as a way to understand the affordances of her surroundings. Ascoli completed her MFA in Sculpture at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012, and has had exhibitions, both individual and collective, at Proyectos Ultravioleta, Concepción 41, Sótano 1, and Galería Sol del Río; and at Lawndale Art Center in Houston, TX and Conduit Gallery in Dallas, TX. Her work has also been included in the Paiz Biennial in Guatemala City , Videobrasil in São Paulo, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara.  She has taught at Universidad Francisco Marroquín, worked as Director of Education at the Museo Ixchel of Indigenous Dress in Guatemala from 2014- 2017 and contributed to the design of the mediation programs for Paiz 19th and 20th Paiz Bienal. Currently she teaches at The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. 

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