My Mexican Family

November 21, 2010

“My Mexican Family” was a temporary installation using the fireplace of the Rengstorff House, a historic art center near Berkeley, California. Above the mantle, two tiers of ceramic figures were based on photographs of her Mexican ancestors. Below the mantle, the “Altar to My Father” shows a circle of souls intertwined with flowers.

My great-grandfather, Carlo Borgatta, was an Italian architect from the northern lake region. He went to Mexico in the 1870’s to design floating foundations for large buildings over the lakebed of Mexico City. In the marketplace, Carlo met a Zapotec woman, Maria Elena, who was selling baskets of papayas and telling stories. The story is that her mother, a curandera, pointed at a clocktower and said that they should marry. Carlo never married Maria Elena but he had eight children with her. The third child was my grandfather, Edgardo Antonio Borgatta. On Sundays, the family met in Chapultepec Park for long picnics. The men dressed in western suits with vests and hats, and the women wore long dresses. They sat on blankets with baskets of food and went fishing in low rowboats. In the afternoon, they rode horseback. Carlo stayed with his family for twelve years until he returned to Italy. He gave his children his name and paid for their education in Italy. Edgardo trained as a wireless engineer and enlisted in the Italian army in WWI. He married Francesca Zinelli, my grandmother, and they had three sons. The second son was my father, Roberto Eduardo Borgatta.

The “Altar to My Father” was set beneath the mantle. About a year after my father’s death, I was trying to come to terms with our relationship. The best way for me to understand something is to make an image of it. So, I found a wreath of woven sticks and fixed it to a wooden base. I began making small, grasping figures with coiled newspaper, sticks, and wire. I worked the figures into the wreath accompanied by natural objects and artificial flowers. My hope was that by placing his altar together with his ancestral family I could demonstrate their continuity.

Carlo and Maria Elena with young Eduardo

Picnic in Chapultepec Park

Papaya Seller

My Father’s Altar (detail)

Fireplace with Installation

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