Hummer bummer

Margarita Cabrera

One of Margarita Cabrera’s carefully threaded Hummers.

One of Margarita Cabrera’s carefully threaded Hummers.

The bright, vibrant colors of Margarita Cabrera’s miniature Hummers are so striking and rich that it is difficult to see the hundreds of small black threads dangling from each hand-sewn vinyl SUV. These threads haven’t been worn away by typical wear and tear. Instead, they have been cut—severed at precise points.

Cabrera says she chose “to use bright, colored vinyl in [her] early work because [the] color was festive—just like the color that exists in Mexican culture. As the [viewers take] a closer look at the sculptures, they are confronted with some harsh realities of the maquiladora industry. …”

The severed threads represent the maquiladoras, factories in which highly toxic plastic moldings are produced for companies like General Motors, which produces the Hummer.

Mexican women, earning about a sixth of what their American counterparts make, are recruited to work by multi-national companies and are given few benefits. Often mandated to take birth control in order to curb potential medical costs and productivity loss, these women are frequently kidnapped, raped and murdered with no response or concern from the community.

“My first vinyl work was a blender in pink vinyl and black thread,” says Cabrera, “I was inspired by all the femicide that was taking place when I first moved to the El Paso/Juarez border in 2001. The work presented a mutilated object and the investigation of the work presented a risk.”

The threads on Cabrera’s Hummers are connected to a series of highly detailed, intricate stitches holding the vehicles in place on their frames. While the craftsmanship of her handiwork is superb, the shells are deceptive, hanging flaccidly. The overall aesthetic of Cabrera’s work resembles the exaggerated drooping lips of the caricature clown, suggesting an existence that is internally deflated and deceptively barren.

Her choice of vinyl fabric derived from plastic fibers intentionally expresses solidarity with the factory workers working in dangerous conditions. “I chose to use vinyl because it is a consumer item typically used to cover up surfaces such as tables, stools or restaurant benches, etcetera. Vinyl is also used in the automotive industry as a substitute for something better, such as leather. The idea of substitutes and cover-ups seemed to be appropriate metaphors for my work.”

The artist was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and grew up in Mexico City. She spent her teen years in Salt Lake City, where her Latin-American ethnicity and Catholic upbringing isolated her from predominantly Mormon peers. Cabrera identifies this difficult time as the beginning of her serious development as an artist, which continued with her family’s move to El Paso, Texas, a few years later.

While researching the many maquiladoras, Cabrera witnessed U.S. immigration officials in Hummers patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border. For her work, she chose “metallic gray for the large H2 since it is a color like gold, which provides a sense of high status.”

She challenges the viewer to question the machines that symbolize prosperity yet exploit those who made their parts. Hummers chase these laborers as they flee poor working conditions in hopes of better lives across a border where these same SUVs can be seen in the benign parking lots of art museums.