University in China hosts UTRGV exhibit

BY Amanda L. Alaniz

A University of Texas Rio Grande Valley art exhibit showcasing aspects of Mexican musical culture had a week-long run recently at Hengyang Normal University (HYNU), located in Hengyang, Hunan, China.

The exhibition, “The Magic of Mariachi / La Magia del Mariachi,” was created by Dr. Steven Schneider, UTRGV professor of creative writing, literature and culture studies, Creative Writing Program, College of Fine Arts, and his artist wife, Reefka Schneider.

The exhibit featured artwork inspired by mariachi performers, sketches by Reefka Schneider, and poetry written by Steven Schneider that was translated from English to Chinese by collaborating professors in China.

The project started out as a book co-written by the Schneiders, made up of the artwork and poetry in English and Spanish.

The inspiration for the entire assignment was sparked by mariachi music traditions, he said.

“I had to do a lot of research on the history of mariachi, as well as the instruments and the music, to write my poems for the book,” he said. “Reefka’s paintings were inspired by the very colorful pageantry of mariachi, including the instruments, the costuming and the figures of the musicians.”

The exhibition was a collaborative idea between UTRGV and HNYU faculty, Steven said, and UTRGV already has a partnership with HYNU that involves both a faculty and student exchange.

Last year, HYNU professor Leilei Nie visited a faculty member from the UTRGV School of Art and attended a poster presentation of the art exhibit at the Pharr Memorial Library, along with UTRGV graphic design professor Dr. Robert Gilbert.

“Professor Nie became very interested in ‘The Magic of Mariachi’ and began to translate my poems into Chinese,” Steven said, “This led to an invitation from Dr. Tan Xiaoli, director of the International Exchange Office at HYNU, to host our exhibit at their university.”

The China exhibit was a year in planning, with Gilbert helping to design the show and Nie and Professor Jiadi Wang of Hunan First Normal University translating the poetry.

“The Magic of Mariachi” opened May 21 at the Yifu Art building, with faculty, administrators and students from both universities present.

The Schneiders said they felt honored and excited to know their exhibit was on display at an international level, and Steven noted the impact of having their work presented to another culture.

“I think it’s a real tribute to the culture and vitality of the Rio Grande Valley, and of our university, to have this work displayed internationally,” he said.

The art exhibit stayed on display for about a week and an estimated of 2,000 people visited the exhibition, HYNU reported.

There are plans in the works for the mariachi-inspired art exhibit to be displayed at another university in China. Hunan First Normal University in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, extended an invitation to display “The Magic of Mariachi” in spring 2019. The exhibit will be sponsored by the Deans of the Foreign Language School and the Music and Dance School at Hunan First Normal University.