Family. It’s the basic unit of human connection, an integral part of existence, the root of one’s identity, usually composed of parents and children in the same household. Most consider the people they were born into and share a bloodline with as their family.
In Reen Barrera’s seventh solo exhibit, called “Family Day,” he uses his trademark characters in painting and sculpture to revisit and debunk this concept, exploring how family can come in many different forms. From experience and general observation, he shines a light on the possibility that just as much as a child considers the person from whose womb he came from to be his family or how a man sees the woman he marries to be his family, so does a person who finds acceptance and belonging from a pet or a friend has every right to consider them family.
Even the different seasons of our lives introduce people whose relations to us evolve and deepen into a genuine union, sometimes even more real than how we relate with our own kin. And just as the seasons come and go, so do relationships.
The exhibit consists of six canvas paintings and eight sculptures, two of which have moving parts and one that stands ten feet tall. The biggest piece is a mega-version of his “Ohlala” doll with the title, “It’s Lonely Up Here.” Made mostly from repurposed fiberglass, metal, and wood (including his old bed frame, where he carved his name and the date when he decided to be an artist). However successful a person becomes, Reen is saying, they’ll inevitably become lonely with no one to share it with.
Reen describes the show as “light and playful” even though it’s brimming with profound meaning and deep emotion, as expected when tackling relationships. But ultimately, “Family Day” is meant to be celebratory. It acknowledges, despite the fact that perfect families don’t exist, that we need relationships because we can’t survive alone. It implores us to find our true pack, whether we’re born into it, married into it, or by a series of serendipitous events wind up in it; our family is what we make it.