Behind the Scenes of Federal Fashion Mart by Dmitri Obergfell

Interview by Ximena Leyte

I initially wrote a story to publish in the Boulder Weekly about the art exhibit Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space. The exhibit is composed of 13 installations reflecting a personal interpretation of space and place by Latino/Latina/Latinx artists. I interviewed seven of the 13 artists both at the press preview, which took place on February 16 at the Denver Art Museum, and during outside interviews. I struggled finding a way to weave together all of the stories reflected in the installations into one arts and culture article and ended up focusing on Ramiro Gomez (Lupita), Jaime Carrejo (One-Way Mirror) and Daniela Edburg (Uprooted). I chose these three artists following a theme of art work perceiving space as a marker for identity. Each of the three artists interprets space in a macro, micro and meso scale. You can find the full article in the near future at: www.boulderweekly.com

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As a result of economic growth and job opportunities, Colorado has seen a large influx of people moving in from other states for the past three to four years. With beautiful skyscrapers complementing the mountains, Denver in particular has become the city of desire. But surrounding areas of the city where a high percentage of working class folks live have experienced rising levels of gentrification — the renovation of a particular district to elevate its value to a middle-class community. With gentrification, rent increases and chain stores replace local businesses, all making it nearly impossible for lower-income communities to continue reciting in an area.

The people making up areas such as Five Points, Swansea and Globeville have spoken out against this new form of colonization through various forms of art such as spoken word and poetry.

One artist, whose installation is on display at the Denver Art Museum as part of Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space, talks about the markets that define an area of high Latino population.

In the installation Federal Fashion Mart, artist Dmitri Obergfell uses the characteristics of the markets along Federal Blvd. to preserve the beauty of working-class Latino culture that has been present for years.

Photo credit: Denver Art Museum / Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space

“I’m very proud of where I live and I’m very proud of the culture that lives there, its diversity and its aesthetic,” Obergfell says. “Something that’s kind of on the horizon that I worry about is that it’ll get replaced by something that is more generic.”

Obergfell grew up in West Denver, in a neighborhood called Barnum, located on the main cross section of 6th and Federal Blvd.

Barnum has a high demographic of Mexican immigrants and of groups from other Latino descent. They are all the primary customers to the row of markets among Federal Blvd. The shops are known for selling chrome bumpers seen on low-rider-cars, blinged out acrylic nails and religious statutes — all of which make up Obergfell’s installation.

Photo credit: Denver Art Museum / Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space
Photo credit: Denver Art Museum / Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space

​​“For me to maybe preserve that or bring attention to this location and say ‘this is amazing as it is, we don’t necessarily need to change that life completely or at all,’” Obergfell says. “I would hope that my installation would just bring some more value to what’s already there.”

The installation also has a shrine to Santa Muerte and other saints who have become definitive of narco cultura (narco culture.) Santa Muerte is associated with protection, healing and safe delivery to the afterlife.

Photo credit: Denver Art Museum / Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space

Arguably the most famous narco and folk saint included in Federal Fashion Mart is Malverde. Jesus Juarez Mazo (Malverde), was born in Sinaloa in 1870. He quickly became the “angel of the poor” and the “generous bandit” when he began stealing from the rich to give to the poor. His ability to evade authority made him the saint people pray to when needing help escaping law enforcement officials.

Photo credit: Denver Art Museum / Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space

While the installation is a tribute to Mexican culture and its most definitive features, it’s primarily a way for Obergfell to understand his relationship with his estranged father. Since it’s his father who is Mexican and his mother is Euro-American, his search for understanding Mexican culture lead him to places like the fashion marts on Federal. His installation uses some of the most important characteristics of Mexican-American aesthetic as a way to tell that portion of his life story.

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Learn more about the different installations in Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Space by clicking the links below:

A Twitter thread on Erasure by Ana Theresa Fernandez

A VSCO journal on One-Way Mirror by Jaime Carrejo