Crossing Boundaries: The Movement of People, Goods, and Ideas

"Crossing Boundaries: The Movement of People, Goods, and Ideas" recognizes that boundaries can take many forms. While they can be barriers, boundaries can also inspire passages for people, ideas, values, and countless other kinds of “migrations.”   The images in this exhibition suggest just a few of the myriad ways that this theme, part of Marquette University's Core Curriculum, engages the social, political, scientific, spiritual, economic, and personal contexts in which movements and migrations occur.  Currently, scarcely any country in the world is unaffected in some way by migration. Migration doesn't just reward interdisciplinary study. It demands it, if we are to begin to grasp its complexity and respond effectively. Marquette University faculty members teaching courses in the "Crossing Boundaries" theme have curated pairs of images that address, explore, and challenge our notions of boundaries. These images, all works of art drawn from the Haggerty Museum of Art's collection, examine how the paths that we find through them can lead to discovering more about ourselves.

The Holy Family during the Journey into Egypt by Attributed to Miguel CabreraHaggerty Museum of Art

We are living today in an era of ever-increasing migration of people, but of course this is not new to humanity. Miguel Cabrera’s The Holy Family during the Journey into Egypt captures this motion on multiple discursive levels in colonial baroque style. Of uncertain parentage, Cabrera himself encapsulates the development of Mexico’s mestizo, or mixed, culture during the colonial era. An orphan from Oaxaca, Cabrera became the most representative painter of the baroque style as manifested in the colony of New Spain, particularly in his portraits of Sor Juana and the Virgin of Guadalupe and his cuadros de castas. This painting narrates a moment in the Biblical story of the holy family’s flight from persecution from Bethlehem to Egypt, protected by angels and cherubim. The creation of paintings such as The Holy Family during the Journey into Egypt in New Spain represents the journey of European belief systems and artistic practices into the so-called New World, where they found new expression in the encounter between cultures. Whereas The Holy Family is rich in baroque color and imagery, Fernando Castro Pacheco’s Working with Ixtle (next image) is a spare representation of life for rural indigenous people of Mexico in the early decades of the twentieth century, unchanged by industrialization. The woman in the lithograph is spinning ixtle, a fiber used to make traditional goods such as hammocks, rope, and carpets, using the same methods employed by countless generations. Iconic desert cacti, mountains, and a temporary shelter for her children represent the stark beauty and harsh challenges of rural life. A committed social realist, Castro Pacheco’s lithograph represents a critique of the failures of the Mexican government to live up to the promises made by the Mexican Revolution, including agrarian reforms meant to restore communal ownership to indigenous groups and provide a better standard of living. Despite the continued industrialization of Mexico as part of twentieth and twenty-first century globalization, the production and export of textiles using manual labor, particularly by women, continues to play a decisive role in many Latin American economies. In combination, these two artworks help illustrate the development of Mexico’s rich history of cultural exchange and participation in the global marketplace.

Julia C. Paulk, PhD
Associate Professor of Spanish
Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Marquette University

A Moor Robing After the Bath by Rodolphe ErnstHaggerty Museum of Art

This typical orientalist painting captures the European view of the Muslim (Moor) both then and now, as it also represents some of the important Muslim contributions to world cultures. The Moor is represented as a Black man, signaling the position of otherness that the Muslim inhabits in white Western culture (a status historically also inhabited by Jews). The silk fabrics, textiles, carpets, Arabesque tiles, and delicate metal and wood work represent crafts brought to Europe, especially Spain, via Muslim trade routes. These artistic elements would later be spread to the West more broadly via Spanish conquest. Today, it is not difficult to find Mexican homes and courtyards replicating these design styles, evidencing a cultural flow represented in the notion of the Moorish Atlantic. Unfortunately, the idea of the Muslim (and Jew) as other also came with this flow.

Louise Cainkar, PhD
Associate Professor, Social and Cultural Sciences
Marquette University

Noli Me Tangere (1630/1640) by Jan van den HoeckeHaggerty Museum of Art

All four New Testament Gospels report the resurrection of Jesus, though with differences, some significant beyond style or ornament. Likewise, in Renaissance art the often-depicted Noli me tangere, the one-on-one encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus found only in the Gospel of John (20:11-18), in each portrayal draws our attention to particular details – here, for example, empty crosses in the background; bloody marks of the nails (hands and feet) and spear (side – only in John); the vessel of spices.

In John, at first Mary supposes Jesus to be the gardener. He calls to her: “Mary.” She turns; and then, preemptively so it seems, Jesus says, “Do not touch me” (20:17) – in some translations, “cling to,” “hold onto.” This anticipates the Doubting Thomas episode that follows, in which by contrast Jesus will instruct Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands” (20:27). Between the two the gospel-writer, and so here the artist, opens a gap in the narrative, between below and above: “for I have not yet ascended . . .” (20:17).

As if to close in art this gap in the Gospel story, the artist encourages us to observe three things. First, Mary’s gaze actually finds Jesus. This is unusual among contemporary renderings, in which she customarily looks down or somewhere between the ground and the one she now recognizes by voice as her Teacher. Now she sees and knows him as she could not before. Second, the flowers are in bloom, some even in pots, that is, cared for. This much is conventional, but it acquires fresh interpretive force when combined with a third observation. The whole scene calls to mind Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (ca. 1512), known to have influenced Rubens and his disciples. Christ leans towards Mary, much as in the famous fresco Almighty God reaches towards but does not quite touch the newly-made human. In both, the terrain to the left, and the outstretched arm of the figure to the right, direct us to and almost meet at the center of the composition. The point of convergence and the possibility of resurrection faith meet here: in a renewed garden, recalling the Paradise in which God placed Adam and Eve “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1; 2:8, 18).

An alternative contemplation of life in death is offered in Rouault’s dark Celui qui croit en moi (next image). This is an artistic meditation on Jesus’s words to Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, perhaps surprisingly also from the Gospel of John (11:25) – except that in this story it is a resuscitation, not resurrection. Here the boundary between life and death is not so much crossed as comprehended, embraced within one seemingly “tragic sense of life,” in Miguel de Unamuno’s haunting phrase (1912; the affinity is noted in a 2009 essay by Joshua Glenn: Life is an agonistic journey in which Christ has gone before us, yet is present and summons us to follow in faith even in the monochrome of our present sight.

Julian Hills, ThD
Associate Professor, Department of Theology
Marquette University

Credits: Story

Crossing Boundaries: The Movement of People, Goods, and Ideas is presented in part through the generous support of Partnering Sponsor Dr. Mary Anne Siderits.

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