Culture

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.

CREDIT: Instagram/@danielacmadrigal

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.

CREDIT: Jose Villalobos. Sin La ‘S’, 2017. Mixed media installation.

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.”


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.

CREDIT: Mark Anthony Martinez

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.

CREDIT: Daniela Madrigal “Sopita De Letras, 2017”

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.

CREDIT: Paloma Mayorga. Poderosa II (Powerful), 2016.

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.

CREDIT: Michael Martinez

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.

CREDIT: Nansi Guevara

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.”

CREDIT: Andrei Renteria

“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.”

The exhibit will be open until Aug. 27.

READ: This Young Latino Creates Art Inspired By His Immigrant Parents

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This LA Play Explores The Mystery Surrounding Frida Kahlo’s Death, Her Love Affairs, And Her Passion For Art

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This LA Play Explores The Mystery Surrounding Frida Kahlo’s Death, Her Love Affairs, And Her Passion For Art

fridakahlo / Instagram

Frida Kahlo’s Death Has Long Been The Subject Of Debate —This Play Unpacks The Painter’s Last Week Of Life 

This LA Play Explores The Mystery Surrounding Frida Kahlo’s Death, Her Love Affairs, And Her Passion For Art

This Play Explores The Last Week Of Frida Kahlo’s Life —And The Mystery Will Have You On The Edge Of Your Seat

There have been many movies, television dramas and stage productions based on the life and works of Mexico’s most famous artist Frida Kahlo, but none of these stories had ever explored the woman’s last week of life. As it turns out, her death has been an open-ended and unanswered question mark. Many believe there was a cover up, and this play dives deep into the mystery. 

The award-winning playwright and actress, Odalys Nanin explores the mental, emotional and physical condition during the last week of Frida Kahlo’s life in her latest play.

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$25 Early bird tix at machatheatre.org

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‘Frida: Stroke of Passion’ peels away the secret cover up of the painter’s death and reveals what or who killed Frida Kahlo.

Until recently, Nanin, managed and produced at the MACHA Theatre in West Hollywood, CA, a company she founded years ago.

After writing and producing nearly a dozen plays, Nanin presented her last production at the MACHA last fall. The play was another original she wrote, this time about Mexico’s most controversial artist, and one of the world’s most famous painters, Frida Kahlo. 

Frida: Stroke of Passion, enjoyed a three-month long run last fall and received rave reviews and awards.

Frida Kahlo died July 13, 1954. Her death certificate alleges cause of death: “pulmunary embolism” but no autopsy was allowed and she was immediately cremated. The play explores her mental, emotional and physical condition during the last week of her life – exposing her love affair with famous Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, Maria Felix, Josephine Baker, Tina Moddoti, Leon Trotsky, a Cuban spy and her complex passionate love for Diego. 

Back by popular demand and with a grant from LA County Arts, DAC and CAC, “Frida: Strokes of Passion” premieres February 7 in Boyle Heights for six shows.

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In Nanin’s tale, Kahlo’s bout with bronchopneumonia and the loss of her right leg left her frail and numb, “Her right leg had been amputated from the knee down so she is either in her wheel chair or bed ridden.  She was under a lot of pain killers and alcohol in order to numb her pain. So she was between a daze of sleep and awakening.”

“Espero que la salida sea gozosa, y espero nunca mas volver.”

https://twitter.com/laravalverde_99/status/1027297278032334848?s=21

In a diary entry written just days before her death, she wrote, “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return.” For these reasons, Nanin believes the artist took her own life.

In the play, Nanin delves deeper into Frida’s sexuality.

https://twitter.com/womensart1/status/1147401383706017792?s=21

“What initiated the spark of passion in me to write about Frida Kahlo was because as a lesbian Latinx I relate to her courage and fearless determination to stand up to injustice and to be the voice of the voiceless through her art and political activities.” 

The main players in the story are Kahlo’s tormented husband, Diego Rivera, the love of her life, but there were other lovers.

https://twitter.com/miss_rosen/status/1218909891991044096?s=21

Her passion didn’t just start or end with Rivera, there were several women in-between and one other man who also captured her heart, and during her final days, they all came visiting– taunting and haunting her with the memories they each represented. Women like Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, Mexican movie star Maria Felix, cabaret singer and dancer Josephine Baker, famous model and photographer Tina Modotti, and Cuban revolutionist/spy Teresa Provenza. There was also the ghost of Leon Trotsky, a man she admired and loved and whose murder haunted Kahlo for the rest of her days.

The production has also been released in the form of a book. 

Nanin has written a book capturing her play in print– the story goes far beyond Kahlo’s Mexican and European Surrealism, and her indigenous Mexican culture influence. Frida Kahlo hated societal rules and traditions at every level, and she felt shackled as a woman. In the book, Nanin explores her frustrations, her love affairs, her queerness and overall, her passion for art. 

“Frida – A Stroke of Passion” runs February 7–9 and 14–16 at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Casa 0101 Theatre in Los Angeles. For tickets and more information, click here.

25 Years After Her Death, A San Antonio Art Museum Is Displaying Some Never-Before-Seen Photos Of Selena

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25 Years After Her Death, A San Antonio Art Museum Is Displaying Some Never-Before-Seen Photos Of Selena

mcnayart / Instagram

If you’ve already given up on 2020, you’re wrong. This year will mark 25 years since beloved Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla was murdered by Yolanda Saldivar. Of course, knowing the singer would have turned 49 years old this year is horribly tragic. However, the legal magic of ’25’ means that copyright law from her last year of life is about to expire. For the first time, some of the last photos taken of Selena are on public display at a San Antonio art museum. Photographer John Dyer had the privilege of photographing Selena for her cover shoot for Más Magazine in 1992 and again for Texas Monthly in 1995. Dyer has allowed for both sets of photographs to be put on display, and the contrast in her mood is striking. 

The second set of photographs was taken just months before her murder. 

Book your flights to Texas, and buy your tickets, mi gente!

CREDIT: @MCNAYART / INSTAGRAM

There isn’t a look or photograph of Selena that a child hasn’t dressed up as for Halloween, that a Guarcado plushie hasn’t donned, or that the public hasn’t revered. From Selena’s purple jumpsuit to her fire red lipstick, everything the artist has done has become part of the Mexican-American zeitgeist. And yet… Selena is still giving us more to take in. The signature piece of the exhibit features the 23-year-old star wearing a sequined bustier and high waisted black pants, black patent leather heels firmly planted on a black and white tile checkered floor with a red curtain in the backdrop. 

The photo is so iconic that the museum has reconstructed a look-a-like set for visitors to take their own Selena-inspired photos.

CREDIT: @MCNAYART / INSTAGRAM

The exhibit, named in both English and Spanish “Selena Forever/Siempre Selena,” is on view at the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio’s first modern art museum. “The exhibition pays tribute to ’90s icon, singer, designer, and Texas legend—Selena Quintanilla-Pérez—with a series of five photographs by award-winning San Antonio photographer John Dyer. Selena was the subject of Dyer’s photo assignments for the cover of Más Magazine in 1992 and again for Texas Monthly in 1995, just months before she was tragically killed at age 23,” the museum states.

The photographer noticed how much more muted Selena was in the shoot months before her death compared to three years prior.

CREDIT: @MCNAYART / INSTAGRAM

In an interview with Heidi Vaughan Fine Art, Dyer recalls how “she drove up by herself in her little red hatchback and parked in front of my studio” the first time they met in 1992, as Selena’s career was beginning to take off. “She jumped out of her car with a big smile,” and brought in her hand-made, self-designed performance costumes. The checkered floor print was taken during that first shoot. He recalls that “Selena’s quick smile, infectious laugh, and unending energy made her a pleasure to work with. This was in 1992.”

By early 1995, Selena was at the peak of her international fame when Texas Monthly hired Dyer to do another photoshoot. “She had just finished two exhausting days of shooting TV commercials for a corporate sponsor. She was tired. I had brought a beautiful hand-made jacket for her to wear. I posed her in the alcove on the mezzanine of the theater where the light is particularly nice. She was subdued and pensive. A far cry from the ebullient, excited young singer I’d photographed 3 years earlier. Later I thought her mood might have been an eerie harbinger of what was to come,” Dyer concluded. We may never know what was going on in the emotional world of Selena on that day — if tensions were rising with Saldivar, or if she was simply an exhausted superstar.

Between the time of the shoot and the magazine cover release, Selena was murdered.

CREDIT: @MCNAYART / INSTAGRAM

The magazine decided to use “one of the more somber shots” Dyer captured for the magazine cover which ended up becoming a story that chronicled her death. “It’s a cover I would rather not have had,” Dyer recalled. Tejanos and Selena superfans alike, Selena is waiting for you.

The “Selena Forever/Selena Siempre” exhibit is on display at San Antonio’s The McNay Modern Art Museum for the price of general admission ($20). The exhibit dates are Jan. 15, 2020, to July 5, 2020. Selena Forever/Siempre Selena is organized by the McNay Art Museum, curated by Kate Carey, Head of Education.

Pro tip: The museum is open for free on Thursdays from 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.

READ: The Comments in This Photo That Chris Perez Shared of Selena Proves That Her Fandom is Truly Timeless