Visualizing Precarity and Security: Mona Hatoum’s Drowning Sorrows and Guadalupe Maravilla’s Walk on Water

Catherine S. Ramírez

Precarity is an overwhelming and persistent condition of unpredictability, instability, and insecurity, especially as related to employment, housing, health care, and migration status. While spread unevenly, it is a hallmark of our contemporary world. At UC Santa Cruz, a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution where more than one-third of the undergraduates are first-generation college students and more than half receive need-based financial aid, many of my students are of the precariat, the people for whom precarity is a driving force. Like intersectionality and heteronormativity, precarity allows us to name, to better understand, and then to change the conditions that shape our world. And like intersectionality and heteronormativity, it is an abstruse concept. To help my students identify and comprehend precarity, I have found that it is useful to visualize it. To do so, I turn to art, specifically to Mona Hatoum’s Drowning Sorrows (20012) and Guadalupe Maravilla’s Walk on Water (2018).

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CATHERINE S. RAMÍREZ, chair of the Latin American and Latino Studies department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is a scholar of Mexican American history; race, migration, and citizenship; Latinx literature and visual culture; comparative ethnic studies; gender studies; and speculative fiction. She is the author of Assimilation: An Alternative History and The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory, and she is a coeditor of Precarity and Belonging: Labor, Migration, and Noncitizenship. She has also written for the New York Times, Atlantic, Public Books, and Boom California. Her current project examines the ways migration has been visualized in and by the Global North since the invention of flash photography. A first-generation college graduate and former Pell grant recipient, she holds a PhD in ethnic studies and a BA in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

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