On a perfect fall afternoon with a backdrop of the U.S.-Mexico border, the UTEP community received their first glimpse of a gift from the people of Mexico commemorating the strong ties between the country and the university.
Acclaimed Mexican sculptor Sebastián will create a new piece designed especially for UTEP titled Esfera Cuántica Tlahtolli, which will be placed in front of the Fox Fine Arts Center. Tlahtolli is a word that pictorially represented the act of speaking in early written documents from Mesoamerica.
“It is great news to learn that the work of Sebastián, one of Mexico’s most distinguished contemporary artists, will have such a prominent place at UTEP, an academic institution that since its inception has welcomed Mexican students,” said the Honorable Jacob Prado, Consul General of Mexico in El Paso. “This sculpture certainly will showcase a more current and accurate picture of today’s Mexico, an image that reflects a culture of ancient origins, but at the same time alive, vibrant, rich and diverse in artistic and scientific expressions.”
The gift from Mexico also honors UTEP’s Centennial and the fact that the country has played a role in the University’s history from the very start. UTEP President Diana Natalicio spoke about two members of the first group of students to enroll when it was the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy in 1914.
Raul Ramon Barberena – who was born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico – worked as a Spanish tutor at the School of Mines while he completed his studies to become a mining engineer. Not only was he one of the first Hispanic instructors at UTEP, Natalicio explained, “he may also have been the first Hispanic faculty member within the entire University of Texas system.” Henry Becker, Jr., was born in Chihuahua and came to El Paso with his family to flee the Mexican Revolution. After graduating from the School of Mines in 1917, he returned to Mexico to become president of the smelter in Monterrey.
The artist selected to create the gift began receiving awards for his work in the 1960s and continues to be broadly acclaimed today. Although best known for his large-scale sculptures, Sebastián’s other creative endeavors include architectural design, painting, jewelry making, public art, costume design and multimedia productions. Local residents may know the artist from his recent work, La Equis, a large red X located in Juárez and visible in El Paso.
Current student Luis Colomo, a senior fine arts major concentrating in sculpture and painting, was ecstatic to see Sebastián on campus and learn that one of his pieces would be at UTEP.
For UTEP, Sebastián plans to create a semispherical object drawing on his interest in geometric figures. The interplay between the mathematical expressions of cones and the edges of deconstructed, then reconstructed conical figures will give rise to elements and symbols emphasizing the fraternity between UTEP and Mexico.
The sculpture’s surface will also resemble a volute – a swirl shape that calls forth a rolled-up scroll – which will symbolize the activities of communicating and transmitting knowledge, thoughts and ideas that define quintessential university work. On the sphere’s surface, intersecting lines form two X’s that intertwine and symbolize the fraternity between UTEP and Mexico as well as the X’s in the names of Texas and Mexico. At the other end of the sphere, edges of conical surfaces shape a spiral referring to the ancient Aztec, Toltec and Mayan symbol of verbal communication.
When it is complete, the sculpture will measure 13 feet wide and just under 13 feet tall.
Crowds of excited UTEP students, faculty and staff joined local news reporters in watching an approximately five-foot high model of the sculpture drive onto campus, where it was placed by forklift onto the University Library’s front lawn. The sculptor then slowly turned the model by hand and explained the symbolism contained within the piece’s twists and turns.
“I am extremely honored that UTEP has accepted this gift from Mexico,” Sebastián said. “This quantic sphere symbolizes the good relationship that exists between the people of my country and Texas, as well as the dreams and great achievements that through communication and education we are called to accomplish together.” The sculpture is part of Sebastián’s larger quantum series that has been exhibited in Mexico, France and the United States.
The artist stressed that having the piece installed at a place of learning and exchange was very important to him, not only as a representation of the connection between his country and its northern neighbor, but also for connections between people from all over the world who come to a university to expand their horizons. He also encouraged young artists to continue enriching the world with their creations as a means of transcending borders, language, distance or differences.
President Natalicio, Consul Prado, and Sebastián then took questions from those gathered before posing for photos beside the model. Students crowded around the sculptor for the opportunity to shake his hand, take a picture and discuss his impressive body of work.
Consul Prado has been UTEP’s engaged partner and participant in events on the campus since his arrival in El Paso in 2012. He served as a panelist during the Council of the Americas Border Conference on the U.S.-Mexico Competitiveness Agenda in August and has participated in numerous presentations and discussions concerning U.S.-Mexico border issues as well as arts and cultural programming. In addition, he recently presented UTEP with a check to support several students from Mexico through the Institute for Mexicans Abroad scholarship program.
“These IME Becas grants are exceptional in their significance,” President Natalicio said. “Not only do they provide much-needed financial support for our highly talented and highly deserving students, they also represent our sustained and fruitful international collaboration to improve the lives of residents on both sides of the border.”
There are 1,125 Mexican students enrolled this fall semester at UTEP. The University works collaboratively with the people of Mexico on several projects, including the Ventanilla de Salud health partnership to provide health-related resources to the Hispanic and Mexican communities in El Paso.
The Esfera Cuántica Tlahtolli sculpture will be completed and dedicated in 2014 as part of UTEP’s Centennial Celebration.
President Natalicio said, “With our unique border location and history of engagement with our neighbors to the south, the Sebastián sculpture’s message has special meaning for us, and we look very much forward to seeing the completed work installed on our campus next year.”
Lisa Garibay is a writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.