8 Texan Artists Take On Identity And Politics In New Exhibit
In Trump’s America, activist art is on the rise. Artists have a wide range of emotions — from frustration to hope — that they want to express through their medium of choice.
Mexic-Arte Museum, an art institution located in Austin, Texas, has a long history of presenting emerging Latino artists to the public, and this summer season they have a lot of topics they’re exploring.
“Young Latino Artists 22: ¡Ahora!,” guest curated by Alana Coates, marks the 22nd installment of the emerging Latinx artist exhibition series at Mexic-Arte Museum — and this show gets political.
This is their curatorial statement: “In an era of socio-political upheaval in the United States -– from U.S.-Mexico border relations, to widespread economic inequalities, increased racial tensions, and subsequent hate on the rise across the country — the selected artists navigate matters of gender restrictions, immigration politics, cultural heritage, and privilege. Their artworks confront viewers with prominent issues of the contemporary Latinx experience in the United States.”
“Young Latino Artists 22: ¡Ahora!” features the work of eight Texan artists.
The featured artists include Nansi Guevara (Laredo, Texas), Daniela Cavazos Madrigal (Laredo, Texas), Mark Anthony Martinez (San Antonio, Texas), Michael Martinez (San Antonio, Texas), Paloma Mayorga (Austin, Texas), Ashley Mireles (San Antonio, Texas), Andrei Rentería (Chihuahua City, Mexico / Presidio, Texas), and José Villalobos (El Paso, Texas).
In response to the politically-heavy theme, Coates told The San Antonio Current that it’s a topic that isn’t easy to escape, especially for these artists. “The Trump administration has forced itself into the national discourse” and added that the artists are “negotiating with the current climate.”
In an interview with mitú, the artists featured in this show discussed their artwork, their mental process in developing it, and how it has affected them and their family.
José Villalobos challenges the ideas of gender roles from conservative communities along the border.
Villalobos has several pieces in this show, including an installation featuring several sombreros. He tells mitú that before he created this installation he had to consider the space and the formulated an idea.
“Eventually, after thinking about these hats that I would see [on] my uncles I thought that by suspending these hats in the manner that I did would in some way or another imitate a person, the effect I got was rather ghostly as well,” Villalobos said. “The reason I chose those hats… it was because it is something I grew up seeing. These ‘men’ would be walking in their macho way and their hat was a symbol of power.”
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Villalobos said that his family has a “hard time understanding art,” including “conceptual and contemporary art.” He has tried explaining how he associates himself and the concept to the objects.
“I don’t think some of my family is quite supportive of the work I do because it deals with the issues of being gay and that is something they are not 100% supportive about,” Villalobos said. “My family’s overall sentiment is ‘mas-o-menos’ for lack of a better term.”
Mark Anthony Martinez looks at representations of “whiteness” and how they are interconnected with systems of domination and privilege.
Martinez tells mitú that the phrase “No New White Friends” is a take off Drake’s song “No New Friends.”
“I’m using it precisely as a POC who’s had ‘those’ long debates [usually on social media] with clueless white, and sometimes brown, folks who claim to ‘get it’ yet, make apologies for oppressive structures,” Martinez said. “In this context, the work ‘No New White Friends’ is a motto of self-preservation against the malaise of toxic comment threads that inevitably crop up whenever racial inequities are brought up or shared.”
Daniela Cavazos Madrigal’s work reflects her interest in sociocultural issues along the U.S.- Mexico border from the perspective of a woman and mother.
Cavazos tells mitú that she was originally intending to do something completely different for this show, which would have looked something like funeral wreaths, however, when she began working on them, her grandmother passed away.
“So my work evolved into an homage of the life of my grandmother,” Cavazos said. “I wanted to pay tribute to her life as a homemaker, as a woman, who despite many injustices in her life, worked hard and never gave up hope. She never reached her American dream, but she did live out her own dream, a life of contentment.”
“My work is composed mainly of installations, using materials that belonged to my grandmother, as well as found materials and repurposed clothing sourced from the ‘pacas’ (warehouses that sell clothing by the pound). My pieces are embroidered and spell out ‘dichos’ or sayings that my grandmother would often use, most of them humorous, but very direct. As much as this work helped me deal with the loss, I wanted my work to evoke a sense of collective healing in the midst of our current time.”
Photographer and painter Paloma Mayorga tells mitú her work deals with themes of healing.
Some of her photographs are actually created with a scanner. “The ways in which I hold my body, or other objects meant to symbolize my body, against the glass of the scanner are informed by my emotions and desire for healing,” she says.
Mayorga said that the intention behind her work is to reconnect with her roots, culturally, spiritually, and physically.
“Growing up in the U.S. as the daughter of two Mexican immigrants, issues and questions of identity have always intrigued me and are now at the forefront of my work.” Mayorga tells mitú. “I’m particularly interested in dismantling gender-specific roles imposed on us by others, as well as dissecting the rhetoric used to talk about women and our bodies. I hope to contribute to the conversations people have regarding that rhetoric.”
Michael Martinez is a multidisciplinary conceptual artist whose work confronts identity from the vantage of a Gay person of color.
Martinez, who has four pieces featured within this year’s YLA exhibition, titled the above-pictured installation “Courageous.”
Martinez tells mitú that this artwork deconstructs the metaphorical “closet” and is a hand-made, 30-foot long Pride flag, which arcs downward from the ceiling of the Mexic-Arte Museum, and culminates in the explosive impact through a wooden closet door, whose splinters are suspended in the air via a gold thread.
The colors in this piece are also referencing the recently unveiled Philadelphia Pride Flag of 2017, which includes black and brown stripes, “in honor of the legacy and endurance of Black and Brown People within the LGBTQ community.”
“I didn’t start examining the salience of gender within my identity-based art practice until I ‘came out’ to my family at the end of 2014,” Martinez tells mitú. “All this is very new to me. The gender-neutral framework of Latinx is very appealing to me, because it makes space for all those Black and Brown People who never had a platform within the binary models of Chican@ or Latina/o. I can only hope that my art practice blossoms in a similar fashion—making space for my LGBTQIA fellows so that they might not feel forgotten or alone.”
Nansi Guevara’s work uses her rascuache sensibilities to create de-colonial public artwork.
Guevara said she was working on her pieces while protesting SB-4 with local activists in Brownsville and in the state capital.
“After working and volunteering in activist circles lead by women and queer folks in the Rio Grande Valley, seeing the fire and passion and the tireless work of these activists, but also experiencing these circles as sources of healing, mutual support, and solidarity helped me understand that no injustice is met without community resistance and power,” Guevara tells mitú.
“I started to create these fabric murals that are sort of a continuation of the political posters I was doing previously — but building them with fabric material you would normally find in a typical home on the border — as a way to represent gente fighting from their households through sustaining their families and working for a dignified life.”
“These drawings have been altered to look like gigantic individual sheets of notebook paper ripped apart at the seams,” Renteria tells mitú. “Each drawing is done at different levels of rendition and is accompanied by text and/or notes that entail, in an investigative in a journalistic manner, the tragic end to that particular person’s life.”
“As a native of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico where the number of forced disappearances has risen over the years, I am trying to understand the motives or the backstory to the succession of such events,” Renteria said. “My initial intentions for the series was to re-create the step by step process of a forced disappearance, by putting myself or the viewer into the role of the perpetrator.”