By Nancy Moyer, Art Critic for The Monitor
MAY 14, 2018 

Walking into the darkened gallery at the International Museum of Art & Science, or IMAS, there is a feeling of venturing into a mysterious cavern. Is it a magical or ominous place?

Large birds hover closely overhead, glowing with vividly colored lights pulsating from the very core of their being. Closer inspection reveals that something is happening here; each bird carries a strange cargo. The realistically scaled Roseate Spoonbills that inhabit this space are constructed out of found plastic materials California-based artist, Cynthia Minet, use for her exhibit, “Migrations.”

Minet sees the Roseate Spoonbill as an analogy for human migrant experiences in this region; her sculptures tell an environmental story of the birds and the people who migrate from Latin America into the United States.

The sculptures are impressive. Using unorthodox materials, Minet has captured the anatomical structure of these birds with a fascinating creative integrity, suggesting at first glance that they must be some kind of weird taxidermy. Not so; she works with discarded plastic objects, reconfiguring them to accurately reflect the shapes of her subjects, and then relies on LED lighting to emit the vibrant colorations and dramatic effects. Attractive with their seductive beauty, the LED evokes unnatural radiations. The plastic is a petro-chemical product. The artist’s choice of this material for her creatures carries a deadly message that under-lines the sabotage it continuously inflicts on the environment — the loss of habitats and species due to pollution and climate change.

Plastic strips reminiscent of beverage containers and shipping tapes wrap around the birds’ bodies. Plastic tangled in their legs question their chance at survival. Minet has brilliantly synthesized her artistic explorations of alternative materials with her concerns for social migration and the environment.

As a means of connecting her sculptures more closely to their human counterparts, attached to each winged creation are objects previously transported by migrating people, then lost or abandoned.

“People are being impeded in their safe passage by the wall,” Minet said. “What I’ve seen at the fence … these objects represent that struggle for people trying to gain safe entry. They are materials that I got from here, from McAllen.”

The Spoonbill migration stretches from South America to the Texas gulf coast and depends on a healthy environment for survival; in a sense, human migration parallels that journey into the United States.

The border fence sets up obstacles for both humans and fauna. Minet visited the fence to see what was dropped by crossing migrants, but found only a few things.

Needing more discarded possessions for her sculptures, Sierra Club activist Scott Nicol provided her with Homeland Security bags and several other migrant-abandoned things such as earbuds that hang from one of the sculptures.

Through these discarded items, Minet comments on losses and negative messages such as the empty plastic water bottles, which represent thirst and also endanger the environment.

The LED lights are beautiful, but it is hard not to sense that they may signal danger, something that could happen somewhere along the migration route. The light fills the bodies of these creatures, rhythmically ex-pressing the movement of life — or is it a warning? This exhibition gives the viewer a lot to think about.

Just when we thought nature and the outdoors was a pleasant escape from current problems, we may have to think again.

Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at





Migratory birds, immigrants’ plight subject of LA artist’s exhibit at IMAS ‘Two types of migration’


McALLEN — A child’s pink underwear, a single sandal and water bottles were among the discarded items a Los Angeles-based artist found near the Rio Grande, left behind by immigrants making their way to the U.S.

"It just really made me so sad to see things like little pink underpants and things that had been left by children as well as adults,” Cynthia Minet said. “I couldn't take the clothing. It was too upsetting for me.”

The items Minet was collecting were for an exhibit titled “Migrations,” which opens Saturday at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen. She typically uses recycled plastic for her sculptures, but what makes this exhibit unique is that she’s using items found locally, specifically from immigrants trying to reach the states.

Minet then sculpted those items into five suspended Roseate Spoonbill sculptures — complimented by one floor piece and several wall-mounted drawings.

The Roseate Spoonbills are a migratory bird that finds its way to the Rio Grande Valley in late spring and early summer. These birds relocate annually, seeking a steady supply of food and a safe place to raise their young. Throughout the years, however, there have been less of these birds as river levels have risen.

It’s a familiar plight to that of immigrants. At least that’s how Minet sees it.

“I tried to tie two types of migration together,” Minet said. “I tried to look at avian migration — of birds and how they can manage or not manage with the border wall, and people and how they can manage or not manage with the border wall.”

She thought the bird’s pink feathers, spoon-shaped beak and webbed feet would be best represented through discarded plastics — a medium she’s been using since 2009.

The artist sculpts animals with plastics to make a statement about environmental degradation and the effects it’s taken on certain fauna’s anatomy.

Regarding the materials used, Minet considered the experience an “eye-opening” one that allowed her to bind two issues she feels strongly about.

“It was very eye-opening for me to see the stuff by the river, and to see the height of the border fence and how that fence has encroached on people's property and across public parks, just without any regard for how delicate it seems to me as an outsider that the culture of the borderlands is,” she said.

She acquired the help of Scott Nicol, an activist with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, who sent Minet some of the items in her exhibit.

He often finds Homeland Security bags along the border, which hold apprehended immigrants’ belongings. While those belongings are supposed to be returned once immigrants are released or deported, it’s not uncommon for Nicol to find sensitive material, such as birth certificates still inside the bags.

“There's a lot of very personal items that I suspect people didn't just give up willingly,” he said. "There's often a lot of them out there, so I don't know how that happens."

Minet’s bird sculptures have items such as earbuds, water bottles, children’s toys and even the Homeland Security bags suspended from their beaks, as though they are transporting them.

The LA-based artist hopes her sculptures — at the very least — provoke dialogue about those issues and how they intersect.

Though, Minet stresses that she doesn’t mean to “pretend to be able to speak for what people's experiences here,” and she “doesn’t have all the answers.” The one thing she is sure of is that she believes these issues should warrant empathy, she said.

“I'm not coming here as an outsider to say, ‘This is what should happen,’” she said. “But my feelings from my observation of it is that I think it's wrong, and people need to be allowed for a safe haven; they need to be allowed for the economy; they need to be allowed to communicate with their families."

Minet’s exhibit will open with a reception at IMAS at 3 p.m. Saturday, when she’ll give a presentation on her work. It’ll be on display at the museum from April 14 through Sept. 4.