Spring 2021

Portal of Healing: Crossing the Bridge Together

Installation View, "Portal of Healing"
Acrylic, chalk, and pencil on canvas
250 x 70 in. each part, in 4 parts
Video by: L Diop

Crossing one of the most remembered years in history, transitioning from 2020 to 2021, Rachel Gonzales, Filipina-American artist, created the site-specific installation, “Portal of Healing” in the Fondren Library, to hold space for collective grief, despair, avoidance, and the reclamation of joy, resilience, and healing in the present moment.

In collaboration with the Houston Asian American Archive with excerpts from Asian American narratives and poetry of Wei-Huan Chen and Jenah Maravilla, Gonzales created this work from the end of 2020 to the first week of 2021, to collect and manifest the human experiences. It is an emotional landscape that serves as a bridge from one end of the gallery to another, enveloping the space for contemplation, while figuratively connecting past, present, and future through the storytelling of Asian Americans. Paying homage to ancestral wisdom in her Filipino heritage, Gonzales included a phrase from her late father, “We will cross the bridge together,” and responded in reflection, “Sometimes the ocean is a bridge.” Bringing together their stories of migration from another country across the ocean and sharing them in this container, “Portal of Healing” serves as a sanctuary for remembrance, prayer, and meditation.

Prompting the visitors to disorient themselves with an alternated sense of horizon, and draws them in to trace the words of healing, calligraphically inscribed words levitate, echo, and resonate with the gestural brushstrokes and the composition of the entire installation, melded with the artist’s visual artistry. Voices spoken through the Archive— a “rock bottom,” “leveled me to the ground…” from Chen’s poem, recited like a mantra, echoing with the other voices, are choreographed lyrically across the abstract components of the work. With acrylic, chalk, and pencil on unprimed canvases, paired using minimal color, Gonzales’s oversized gestural mark-making intuitively commends to the classical Asian landscape scrolls and calligraphic strokes, with the freehand brushwork giving in to layers of black and white, achieved with the use of one color. By claiming the “female gaze” in her own terms, Gonzales contests tradition with intuition and empathy, challenging us to see beyond the physical realm.

We are especially thankful for Wei-Huan Chen and Jenah Maravilla, who graciously gifted their poetry in an open call in November 2020, and other writers in the Houston Asian American community.

Rachel Gonzales lays on top of the Portal of Healing canvas drawing on it

Rachel Gonzales (b. 1986, Massachusetts) is a Filipina-American figurative and abstract contemporary visual artist educated and experienced in both architecture and fine art. She graduated from Rice University with a Bachelor's in Architecture in 2010. Informed by her architectural background in designing physical spaces, her paintings also serve as containers or portals for the human experience and focus on reclaiming “the female gaze” as a more profound way to see beyond the form. Gonzales works mostly with acrylic on canvas, watercolor on paper, and ink or chalk on paper. Working in both abstract and figurative spaces, she pays homage to the abstract contemporary reminiscent of Cy Twombly's "romantic symbolism," with intentional mark-making and fused words with drips of color that fade like a fleeting memory. Her figurative works capture the essence of a person and the subject instilled with a gaze of their own.

Follow the artist by:
INSTAGRAM: @rachelgonzalesart
WEBSITE: www.rachelgonzales.com

The exhibition is organized by Ann Shi, Associate Curator at Houston Asian American Archive, and funded by the Chao Center for Asian Studies. Special thanks to Amanda Focke, Head of Special Collections, Fondren Library; and to Helen Pu, Sonia He, Ashley Tsang, and Emily Ma, Rice student interns of HAAA.

Public Program:

1. Artist talk with Rachel Gonzales

2. "Fondren After Dark | Embodying Healing," dance by Rea Sampilo in response to "Portal of Healing"

Social Media: @RiceHAAA, #HoustonAsianAmericanArchive, #HealwithHAAA.

For more information, please see the press release and the visitor's guide and the inscription texts that were used collaboratively in the installation.

Installation Images

Canvas with black paint lines the hall in Fondren Library
Canvas with black paint lines the hall in Fondren Library
Canvas with black paint lines the hall in Fondren Library


Quote from Glenda Joe writtne in walk chalk on a canvas painted with black
"The Asian American community needs to not only stand up against that (the model minority myth), but they need to stand up for other communities. Because if black lives don't matter, why would Asian lives matter?" - Quoted from a Chinese-Irish Texan, Glenda Joe's, oral history interview with HAAA (April 15, 2017)
"until the rock bottom hit me..." written in white over black paint on the canvas
"...until the rock bottom hit me..." -Excerpt from Wei-Huan Chen's poem "Untitled"
"we will cross the bridge together" written in white chalk over black paint on the canvas
"We will cross the bridge together." -Quoted from Jose Gonzales, the late father of the artist
"sometimes the ocean is a bridge" written in white chalk over black paint on canvas
"Sometimes the ocean is a bridge." -Artist responding to her late father, after his passing (inscription located on the other end of the gallery space to the former)
"meet me where it hurts the most" written in white chalk over black paint on the canvas
"Meet me where it hurts the most." -Quote from the artist
"But you can't redo history..." written in white chalk over black paint on canvas
"But you can't redo history..." -Quote from Donna Fujimoto Cole's oral history interview with HAAA (June 1, 2012)
white text over black paint on canvas
"On the way home I kept breaking down crying when I couldn't hold the sadness inside me...he asked if I was okay...You really don't want to be okay, because you're afraid that if you're okay, it means your dad is really gone." "It's different when death visits you intimately. It was strange feeling different, but even stranger not talking about it with anyone." -Excerpts from "Life, Death and the Laws of War," essay by Karl Chang

Photos by Ann Shi