“For this exhibition I was inspired by my immigration situation,” says Leonardo Uribe, a Colombian artist who has been in the Australia for nine years, and living and making art in the Blue Mountains for the last several.
“I had a difficult time recently, when I had to give the Immigration Department a lot of evidence about myself and my intentions to become a permanent resident. It is the same every few years, when I have to re-apply for my visa.”
These immigration interviews and evidence-gathering, resulting in mounds of paperwork, often leave Leo feeling frustrated. He has begun channelling these feelings into his artwork, resulting in work that reflects no only his immigration journey, but more fundamental questions about family, identity and belonging. Probare, the exhibition’s title, is a Latin word, meaning to prove, demonstrate, get accepted.
“For me the best proof of who I am, and who I will be in Australia, comes from photos and objects that belonged to my family. I have taken inspiration from this, for example re-creating family photos and immigration documents using my family’s hair.”
Leo grew up surrounded by hair in his mother’s salon, which he had to walk through to get to his house. Using hair as an artistic medium is, according to Leo, both “beautiful and symbolic.” It is also a literal marker of his identity, with hair containing both his and his family’s DNA.
Another significant influence for Leo is religion, having grown up in a religious family in the majority Catholic Colombia.
“I am working with some religious elements that remind me of my childhood. For this exhibition I have used rusted metal to recreate ‘niches’ – the traditional little shelters that contain sacred images.
“And I have used LED lights and motors in some of the sculptures, inspired by the movement and light found in the traditional Nativities in Colombia.”
Probare is a powerful meditation on immigration, religion and identity, expressed through sculpture, assemblage and painted works. The artworks may be based on Leo’s personal journey, but the themes – and the works’ appeal – are universal.