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Arts & Entertainment

Artist Antonio Lechuga Preserves His Experience with Gun Violence in Latest Exhibition

Multidisciplinary artist Antonio Lechuga pulls back the curtain on his recovery and injustice after nearly dying after being shot while jogging.
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The artist Antonio Lechuga, photographed in December 2022 inside his studio. After almost dying following a shooting, Lechuga used his art to explore his recovery. Raul Rodriguez

Antonio Lechuga shouldn’t be here. For the last half of 2022, the Dallas-based multidisciplinary artist lived in limbo between life and death. He was shot twice in the abdomen, forcing him to undergo three life-saving surgeries. When a nurse asked the visual artist how this experience would manifest in his work during recovery, he couldn’t fathom the thought.

“I just remember thinking, ‘I don’t care, I’m trying to survive,’” Lechuga says. “I don’t really care if it comes out or not. I’m not even thinking about that. I’m wanting to walk right now.”

Lechuga’s solo exhibition “Survival, Death and Home” opened at Daisha Board Gallery on March 2 and will run through April 6. The artist pulls the curtain back on his recovery by highlighting the fragility between life and death through this new body of work, which is unlike any he’s shown before. An artist talk is scheduled for Saturday, March 23 at the gallery.

“They tell something that I wasn’t sure I would be able to get out,” Lechuga says. “I didn’t know what that looked like. What is it? How is it going to come out? I didn’t know, I didn’t think about that. To see it now, that really makes me happy and proud.”

July 2022 will forever hold significance in Lechuga’s life. He was living on a euphoric high. He had opened “Fences,” his first solo exhibition at the now-closed Love Texas Art Gallery. “Fences” addressed U.S. and Mexico border issues through human-scale lattice sculptures. The sculptures were wrapped in cobijas, colorful patterned polyester blankets that are a staple in Latinx homes. 

Lechuga was slated to expand on this signature vein of work through “Structures of Softness,” a solo exhibition planned to show at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center later that month. He was two weeks away from finishing when two bullets tore through his torso. 

Lechuga was shot July 15, 2022, during an evening jog on the Santa Fe Trail in Dallas. He was caught in the crossfire of gang-related violence. Nearby construction workers called for help and emergency physicians at Baylor University Medical Center saved the artist’s life. 

“You don’t fear death anymore, you’re not afraid to die,” Lechuga says. “And it’s because I kind of feel like I already did. I went through that experience, I had all that fear, and I didn’t die.” 

“Survival, Death and Home” features 10 works, eight of which have never been shown to the public. The exhibition addresses that life-altering evening through Lechuga’s transformative use of cobijas. For this exhibition, Lechuga deconstructed cobijas and created “paintings” using collage and applique that confront the rage and injustice he endured during recovery. 

“[Using cobijas] is a beautiful way for him to find comfort and solace in something that’s familiar,” says Daisha Board, the owner of her eponymous gallery. “Drawing from surviving in the gun violence, he’s able to create this beautiful canvas of these blankets that explore his heritage, his identity. It’s familiar in comfort, but then also familiar in unfortunately, death.”

“A Friday in the summer, a Friday like any other” recreates the scene of the crime. The ominous work shows the exact spot where the shots came from on the Santa Fe Trail. Its counterpart, “Every day Since,” was created as the case developed. Two men were arrested in connection with Lechuga’s shooting on August 18, 2022, KDFW reported. The case was dismissed against the alleged shooter in November 2023. 

“Every day Since” is a recreation of “A Friday in the summer, a Friday like any other,” through a distressing red filter. Lechuga created the piece after the case’s dismissal. The filter reflects the artist’s emotional response to the ruling.

“I was angry, I still am angry,” he says. “I’m still dealing with that rage, it’s still there. A lot of it is very much influenced by a kind of measured rage and me just trying my best to be productive with it.”

Lechuga created the eight never-before-seen pieces in “Survival, Death and Home” after the ruling. With Chanclas, his stumpy-tailed cattle dog nestled in cobijas at his feet, Lechuga took to his sewing machine to address the emotions boiling underneath his skin. The exhibition introduces floral imagery into the artist’s portfolio. 

“Flowers for the Living – The Dallas Sixteen” is an offering of flowers to the families of the 16 individuals who died from mass shootings in DFW in 2022; Lechuga could have been the 17th.

“What would I be as a number, how am I defined as a number, because I am now,” Lechuga says. “I am someone who was shot in America. Take a number, right?”

Lechuga was awarded a 2023 Nasher Sculpture Center Artist Grant last August. He is in the process of using that money to create an expansive large-scale visual spotlighting gun violence. The anticipated work will contain 647 cobija flowers, each representing the families left behind to mourn the 647 victims of American mass shootings in 2022. The new work will be shown in August at a solo exhibition at the Latino Cultural Center.

Daisha Board Gallery will host “A Conversation with Antonio Lechuga and Narong Tintamusik” at 2 p.m. March 23 at the gallery. Latino Arts Project founder Jorge Baldor will moderate the talk.

“People are ready to have conversations and learn more about how they can help and how they can support,” Daisha Board says. “When you’re showing all of these terrifying things on the news, do I watch it or do I turn it off? And we don’t want people to turn their heads away from it. We want you to face it front on, face on and have a conversation about it because it could affect any of us at any moment.”

“Survival, Death and Home” will be on display at Daisha Board Gallery through April 6. 2720 Bataan St.

Author

Desiree Gutierrez

Desiree Gutierrez

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