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Luis Sahagun’s New Show Tackles Death and Violence in His Childhood

The sculptor’s new mixed-media exhibition, The Mountains Whispered and the Canyon Sang, opens this week.

Photos: Juan Manuel Fernandez

Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Chicago Artists Coalition BOLT resident Luis Sahagun, whose mixed-media exhibition The Mountains Whispered and the Canyon Sang opens Friday.

Tell us about your show.

The work has been inspired by some of the political issues happening where I grew up as a teenager in Chicago Heights—specifically, several some of my friends were murdered. In addition to sculptures, I worked with a dance company and a couple of local musicians to create sounds. So there will be performances as well as a reception.

Does your work typically cross disciplines like this?

It’s definitely something new. For a while I’ve been thinking about activating my sculptures and creating a bit more meaning for them. Since I was already working with storytelling, I thought it would be interesting to incorporate dance. I’m Mexican, and in my tradition, dance reinforces stories. It made sense as a next step for my work. I also started recording sounds—say, my mom’s heartbeat and her breathing—and worked with a cellist to create melodies from them.

What was it like working in new disciplines?

It came really naturally. Things just sort of fell into place. I also collaborated with a vocalist, Matt Woods. He’s African-American and I’m Mexican, so a lot of the collaborations we did are about unity, and about people of color coming together.

You mentioned drawing from your own experiences for the show. What made you want to tackle death and violence?

I’ve always loved the idea of being a Chicago artist, since I started making work and have roots here. Chicago Heights is deeply connected to the South Side of Chicago—it’s like 10 minutes away from where I’m from. I realized that the experiences I went through there weren’t normal, and I thought that, as an artist, it would be interesting to tackle them full on: to look into the aesthetics of trauma, and to tell stories that might start a bit of conversation.

Where does the title, The Mountains Whispered and the Canyon Sang, come from?

A year ago, I did an art residency in New Mexico. The title of the show is sort of like a feeling—an emotion I felt when I was in New Mexico. I was born in Mexico, and when I was four, I was brought to the United States. My mom’s side of the family has always lived in Mexico, and we’ve always shared a spiritual connection with that place. I rejected it when I was younger, but when I was in New Mexico, I was so close to the nature. I spent a lot of time hiking barefoot in the mountains and sketching and trying to really connect to the nature of the state. So the title comes from that feeling that the mountains and the environment were trying to tell me I belonged there.

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