Deborah Koenker is a Vancouver, Canada-based interdisciplinary artist with interests in writing and curatorial projects. Koenker received a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a concentration in Print Media and Drawing, followed by postgraduate studies at Central St. Martins (London, England), and an MFA from Claremont Graduate University, California. She was a founding member and first Director of Malaspina Printmakers, a co-op print studio for professional artists. She is a Professor Emeritus of Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver where she taught Print Media, Drawing, Sculpture and Textile. Koenker has exhibited in public galleries, museums and artist-run centres in Canada, the USA, Mexico and Spain. Her work is represented in 27 public collections in Canada and the United States.
Utilizing print, drawing, photography, sculpture, audio, textile, and stories, my practice has focused on walls and bridges, with the intention of creating social change and connection. Work over the past 10 years has focused on collaborative community projects on borders, globalization, migration/immigration, sculptural integration and social evolution. Images below include: Grapes & Tortillas (2016) on the seasonal agricultural workers who come from Mexico to Canada to work under the SAWP agreement, Missing/Las Desaparecidas, an installation on the “missing”, murdered women and girls in the border city of Ciudad Juarez (2006), in collaboration with more than 80 participants from the town of Tapalpa, Jalisco), several prints from the Lorca Suite (2017) on various episodes of violence in Mexico and Guatemala, and one example from studies done during my residency at SFAI, which are preparatory works for a major installation on walls.
I spent an inordinate amount of time in the wonderful building designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Leggoreta, since international residents aren’t insured to use the SFAI’s cars, and Santa Fe is a car city. I woke daily to turquoise skies, and throughout the days I watched the play of light on the patio walls; the shifting colours of cerulean, cobalt and ultramarine that connected walls to sky in a brilliant installation of space and light. I participated in stimulating Open Mic Poetry evenings where local poets and SFAI residents gathered to perform their words. I visited the graves of my grandparents and uncle as Spring descended upon Santa Fe. I was deliciously saturated in red and green chile as I began to see New Mexico in the magnificent turquoise and silver jewelry and the starry night sky. Sadness accompanied my constant awareness of the lack of rain and snow and the likelihood of impending drought.
The complexity and sensitivity of social and political histories and injustices, the magnificent landscape and the resilience and the dances of the Pueblo Peoples all make New Mexico both a ‘land of enchantment‘ and a land of disenchantment; the extremes of poverty and wealth, the fracking for gas and oil ravaging the land, and the terrible residue of nuclear testing and its impact on downwinders’ health and water sources. I walked in March for Our Lives Santa Fe with SFAI residents in a call for tougher gun control measures, carrying a banner made by artist-activist Ann Lewis. In Albuquerque I had the honour of participating in the 25th Annual César Chavez Day Marcha de Justicia with Dolores Huerta—activist, icon and co-founder, with César Chavez, of the United Farm Workers Union. I participated in the SFAI 140 (see video link), and produced studies for a larger installation work on walls and borders, both physical and social. I thought hard about whether justice can ever be equal. I am sustained and motivated by the work and commitment of fellow residents for change on so many fronts as the echoes of enchantment and disenchantment that is New Mexico stays with me.