Wildlife exhibit bridges language and geography

JACKSON, WY — Picture it: you walk into a museum and approach a painting. You look at the label. It’s in a language you sort of understand, but don’t read fluently. The art’s title and description are lost on you.

Such is the experience for the growing population of Teton County Residents whose native language isn’t English, should they choose to visit the museum at all. Local photographer and videographer Lina Collado García’s newest exhibit, “Somos de Aquí: The Enduring Wildlife of Puerto Rico,” will be the first in all of Wyoming to change that — it’s fully bilingual,  and in fact is in Spanish first. The exhibit opens this Sunday, May 5 at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. It’s also First Sunday, so admission is free to locals.

“Somos de Aquí” is a visual tribute to Puerto Rico’s critically endangered, but enduring, wildlife. García, a Puerto Rican native, spent the last year and a half traveling back to her home country and documenting its wildlife. She also interviewed wildlife biologists who are actively working to save the species García captured on film.

García focuses on four species: the Puerto Rican parrot, the coqui frog, the sea turtle, and the island’s only native mammal: the bat. She split her time between El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, and Mona Island, an ecological reserve known as the “Galapagos of the Carribean.”

Puerto Rico’s Coqui Frog. Photo: Lin

García cut her teeth as a wildlife photographer before focusing more on portraiture and people. The cool part about this project, she said, is that it’s equally about the wildlife and the humans working to save them.

“Many of [the species] are critically endangered,” García said. And the biologists are “working constantly, day in and day out, in very difficult circumstances. The mix of humans working together to protect wildlife, plus the wildlife itself, fell naturally.”

Plus, García added, she wasn’t just photographing any wildlife. She was documenting wildlife from her home. These animals may not have antlers or hooves, but their story is not disconnected from the stories of Jackson’s wildlife.

“We’re all interconnected,” García said. There are animals that migrate to Puerto Rico and pass through Teton County. We live on “one single planet,” and we have to take care of all of it.

“If we don’t take care of Puerto Rico, we’ll lose things we treasure here in Jackson… what happens on a little island is worth people’s time.”

The exhibit is multi-faceted. Stunning photographs are coupled with a series of three short films featuring interviews with biologists and advice on how to help protect these species. It was natural that García conducted her interviews in Spanish — her own native language, and the primary language spoken in Puerto Rico. But instead of dubbing them, she gave them subtitles (which she translated herself). She also kept all of the labels for her pieces in Spanish first. Hers is the first fully bilingual large-scale art exhibit in the entire state of Wyoming.

The artist herself, Lina Collado García. Photo: Fernando Samelot

“The point is to make it accessible to different people,” García said. “If you want to include other people in our community, and have all-inclusive outreach, you have to think about other languages and communities within Jackson.”

Lisa Simmons, Associate Curator of Education and Outreach, says, “Creating the first bilingual art exhibition in Wyoming is a milestone for us, and demonstrates our commitment to promoting a culture of equity and inclusion. Being the National Museum of Wildlife Art, we plan to continue implementing more languages into the galleries.”

García said she hopes a bilingual exhibit will help Spanish speakers feel welcome not only as spectators, but also as active participants in the art community. “I’m letting Spanish and bilingual artists feel like their work actually has space in this town,” she said. “I hope this opens the door to brand new community members to feel included, and feel not only accepted but like there’s room for understanding.”

The exhibition also brings Puerto Rican biologist Dr. Rafael Joglar to Jackson for both English and Spanish presentations about his lifetime of work in Puerto Rico studying biodiversity. Presentations are free, open to the public and family-friendly. They will be held in the Museum’s Cook Auditorium Sunday, June 2, English 1-2pm, and Spanish 6-7pm.

All are invited to an Opening Celebration of the exhibition during First Sundays on Sunday, May 5 with festivities taking place 11 am – 2 pm. The exhibition hangs at the Museum in the Wapiti Gallery May 4 through August 25, 2019.

Read this news piece in Spanish

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