Prison art: paño arte exhibition

The National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) in Albuquerque debuts an art exhibition examining the impacts of incarceration through a unique artform: paño arte. Into the Hourglass: Paño Arte from the Rudy Padilla Collection opens at theNHCC Art Museum on Friday, Oct. 6. 

“Into the Hourglass offers an opportunity to not only celebrate the incredible life and work of Rudy Padilla, but also to shine a light on an artform that’s often misunderstood,” NHCC Visual Arts Program Manager Jadira Gurulé, said, “We’re also thrilled to announce that this will be a traveling exhibition, giving New Mexicans a chance to view the exhibition before its national tour begins.” 

Paño arte is an artform that dates to the 1940s, when prisoners began decorating handkerchiefs and other cloth items as a way of communicating with the outside world. Into the Hourglass features more than 100 paños or pañuelos (Spanish for cloth or handkerchief) amassed by the late collector and community advocate, Rudy Padilla, as well as artworks by New Mexican artists whose work has been influenced by the style and visual vocabulary of paño arte.  

Paño Arte

The Rudy Padilla Paño Collection – the largest public collection of its kind in the United States – was acquired by the Art Museum at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in 2019. The artworks and archive are significant resources for understanding and celebrating an important form of artistic and cultural expression created by incarcerated (and formerly incarcerated) artists from Chicano and Latino communities across the Southwestern U.S.

The exhibition will run be on view at the Center through April 14, 2024. Additional touring stops will be announced early next year. 

In addition to celebrating paños as an art form and the contributions of incarcerated artists to the broader fields of Chicano and American art, Into the Hourglass also examines the role that incarceration plays in contemporary American society. Many of the paños contain political messages about inequities built into the criminal legal system, oppression, and cycles of poverty. 

NHCC educators will collaborate with local juvenile detention centers, and the Center is planning a community symposium in early 2024 with New Mexico organizations that do work around incarceration.

Visitors are encouraged to reach out to NHCC Curator NHCC Visual Arts Program Manager Jadira Gurulé to share their own experiences with Paño arte. 

More about the National Hispanic Cultural Center 

The National Hispanic Cultural Center is dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and advancement of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities. The NHCC presents mission-related events throughout the year, some produced by its history, literary, performing, and visual arts programs, and others by partnering with external organizations.

\Events take place at its 20-plus-acre campus, which includes a plaza, an art museum, a historically designated building, a library, and a genealogy center.

The NHCC is a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and is further supported by the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation.

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