Local Artists on the Meaning of Roots

"I Got No Roots" by Christine McFall.

There is no separating artist Hector deCordova from his roots. And in some way, they are always on his mind.

As of late, they are dominating his thoughts more frequently — his parents emigrating from Puerto Rico the United States in 1926, their struggle through the Great Depression and, eventually, raising deCordova in their Spanish-speaking household, ensuring that no matter where he lives, he feels close to his heritage and his upbringing.

“I’ve reached an age where I think back to people I’ve known in my childhood, people I grew up with, I reassess things that happened with a mature mind, and I realize that my thoughts and my evaluations have changed through the years,” he mused. “Roots are important. I think that’s part of what our country is built on.”

Roots are also the foundation beneath the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island benefit art show — a loose theme to guide the hundreds of artists who submitted their work last month, whittled down by co-curators Amy Worth, who owns The South Street Gallery in Greenport, and deCordova.

“I have high hopes for this show. I’m pleased with who we’re putting up,” deCordova said. “We’re putting up 65 paintings. That’s going to take some doing. Amy Worth and I are hanging them, and you have to hang them in a way that’s fetching so that they sell and raise money for OLA.”

This benefit art show, opening April 26 at the Southampton Cultural Center, is the second of its kind — the first held more than 15 years ago, when deCordova served on the inaugural board of directors for the nonprofit agency, which promotes social, economic, cultural and educational development within the East End’s Latino and Hispanic communities.

“The first show went well,” he said. “And this art show, the response was amazing. We had 200 submissions and it was very hard to choose amongst them, because there were some really good artists there. That was a hell of a job, let me tell you.”

“Forest Light” by April Gornik.

From breakout talent to established fixtures, the catalogue of 65 artists spans the East End and crosses international waters, resulting in a vast mix of medium, geography and interpretation, according to Worth.

“This show has made me focus more on what we’re doing as a country and who we are as a country, who we were and what we’ve become,” the curator said. “That really is what this all made and it’s making me think about more and more.”

Husband and wife Eric Fischl and April Gornik addressed the theme from opposite ends — he with an emotionally charged portrait of a detained child, and she with a patch of dense woods, sunbeams poking through the thick canopy and onto the forest floor.

“Roots means so many things to so many people, yet it’s this trope hat keeps coming back,” explained Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA of Eastern Long Island. “What represents roots? What about the people who tear their roots to come to this country because they don’t have another option? Where are their roots now? Do they grow new ones here, and what about the fractured ones there?

“WTF” by Eric Fischl.

“It’s neat to view the work through that lens — what could this have meant to the artist,” she continued. “So, you’re taking the art in on its own and also putting this lens on it and it adds another level of conversation.”

Teresa Lawler’s roots transported her to the Montauk ocean, while Frank Sofo explored his roots in the streets of Brooklyn. Janet Culbertson’s roots are tangled and ethereal, while Mino Cinélu!— who is best known as a jazz percussionist — took an unconventional look at his own origins.

“He did a self-portrait,” deCordova said. “I saw it and I started laughing because he pictures himself as a lion. And in a way, he is. When you put a show together, and it’s all hung, you realize it has a personality and a life, many times unexpected. You get a feeling for it, and I can’t wait to see what it says to me.”

For Perez, the show is a way back to humanity, one that is often lost in suffering, pain and misunderstanding — one that is impossible to articulate through words.

But it can be communicated through art, she said.

“Art allows us a way back into feeling things, to seeing them, to experiencing them fully,” she said. “It makes you ask, ‘Why are we here? What are we doing here? What matters? We’re on this earth for what, to displace people? To dehumanize people? Of course not!’

“We’re on this earth to understand each other better, to love each other better, and through art is the only way that you get there,” she said. “You don’t get there through politics, you don’t get there through arguing, you don’t get there through debating. You don’t. You get there through really recognizing each other’s humanity, and art is the only thing that does that.”

“Roots,” a group art show supporting OLA of Eastern Long Island, will open on Friday, April 26, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center, located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton. The show will remain on view through May 5. Half of all sale proceeds will benefit OLA. For more information, visit olaofeasternlongisland.org.