As the residency comes to a close, so does the semester at Franklin and Marshall College. I'm taking on a lot more educator-like responsibilities and I'm finding that I really, really like helping students. I'm also working on my thesis and have taken on some new public art projects with a crew of various folks. Summer is approaching and I'll be wrapping up stuff at the studio. I have a new sculpture that I'm really excited about and I'm toying with extending the busts to include some more of the body.
The show at DECA, which I realize I haven't spoken much about, spurred a lot of thoughts about where I'm going with all of this. I feel confident and happy with my work, but I also sometimes feel a bit lost. The pieces I included were deeply personal and the first time that I expressed some anger about how I feel as an American and as a Puerto Rican woman. I'm angry that I wasn't taught my own history. I'm angry that we don't talk about reproductive rights in terms of immigrants and non-english speakers. I'm angry at feminism that only discusses issues white, cis, able bodied women can relate to. I'm angry.
The piece with the 100 uteri over-layed on text detailing the atrocities of the forced sterilization program was the first piece that I feel like I was able to express the visceral nature of how I feel about all of this. It's also one of the first pieces that stepped out of my personal narrative and into a more critical, socio-political realm. I'm excited about the possibilities and looking forward to doing more research.
I also have recently come across two artist/groups that I feel deeply connected to. First Maritza Dávila, who goes by Atabeira Press, is a printmaker who plays with many of the same ideas I am. I honestly found her when googling images of Atabeira, the fertility goddess. Her work is really interesting and a bit collagey and she does collaborate quite a bit. She felt like home when I saw her work.
Here's a link to an interview she did while teaching at Memphis College of Art.
I also found a super dope article about chicana and boricua artists who are engaging criticisms of and the changes that need to be made in Guerilla Girls/feminist art movements. Brown bodies tend to be left out of these conversations. Often race relations tends to focus on the divisions between Blacks and Whites. Latinxs/Hispanics and Asians are usually nixed from these conversations and left trying to figure out where they fall on the Black and White spectrum. It can feel like theres not enough energy left after we're done fighting for one groups rights to fight for our own. I'm happy I've started engaging these conversations and articles like this one. I feel like I'm coming home.
Hello again! I'm in another show! The Fulton Street Arts Cooperative is hosting a Feminist leaning art show in the gallery space. Third Wave will open on the 2nd of April and I'm super pumped. I feel like a lot of the shows I've participated in lately have similar themes and I'm excited about that. Both DECA and this show were one's I was invited to show in. It makes me feel like I'm doing something right. I always worry about how the content of my work will be received. Is it easy to get. Especially the work that is more directly tied to my culture. The above piece, Cycle Piece, is a more light-hearted look at how a cycle fits into our societal norms. I wanted to take something that is usually perceived as disgusting and not just make it pretty, but make it overwhelmingly decorative. I think that there's a bit of irony there. The idea that a menstrual cycle is only when you bleed is a common misunderstanding of how cycles work in general. Also the idea that a vagina is dry unless it's bleeding or in the midst of intercourse is a common mistake people make. I wanted to take the cycle as a whole (all 28 days) and show how we are leaky bodies. Women, people with periods, and all humans in general are leaky and/or prone to leaking. The idea that we need to plug ourselves up and keep it all inside is a mistake that is hindering and time consuming. I also am interested in engaging conversations about periods in general. There's so much shit out there, like actual factual shit, about how periods work and how they affect women emotionally. Menstruation marks us as different and dirty and unreliable. And yet there's scientific proof that all of those ideas are more reliant on an individual and not necesarily their gender or sex.
I recently had a challenging conversation with a past professor about how my work should be read. They argued that they wouldn't "get it" and assumed that most people didn't "get" any of the work in the show right now. I actually felt like most of the people I spoke to (many of whom have not seen my work before) got what I was trying to say or at least understood my references. I was most excited that many latino and hispanic people I spoke to about my work got it. Many women got it. They argued that you would essentially have to be a woman or latino to get my work. I disagree, but I'm open to the possibility that this can happen. And I think I purposely make work that deals with that need for translation or what can get lost in translation. I think what challenged me most, or rather bothered me most, was the idea that making work about femininity and my latino heritage was somehow so drastically different that I would need to provide an explanation. This thinking prescribes to the idea that anything not eurocentric needs explanation.
All of it's super complicated and I get that it's all sort of subjective. I'll keep mulling over this whole idea.
Thanks to all who went to the show! I won't write too much today. I'm simply overwhelmed with how well it all came together. I had some great conversations and felt pretty confident, though terribly nervous, during my talk. I will share a video soon with a walkthrough of the exhibition.
Below are some images I took during install. Oz also shot a few and so did my mom. She managed to catch an image of someone using my bench and altar! I'm so glad she did. I was scared no one would catch that it was an interactive space. I'm pleased with the turn out and the connections people made during my talk. I also liked how the salt moved about during the duration of the show. I will post some nice images soon.
I'm back! Things have been very busy lately with our show coming up. We have 18 days left and I'm nervous getting a bit nervous about how it will all turn out. Not the bad kind of nervous but more of a excited/oh my god it's almost over nervous. I've settled on bases for my busts. I decided to make two tiered oval bases that are sleek and modern but sort of nod to classical bust bases. I'm looking at Janine Antoni and Kiki Smith a lot as the show is coming together. I'm also looking at a lot of info about altars and ofrendas. Especially Mesa Blanca's and Santeria altars. I'll be installing an altar with the flag I made and the rosary.
I'm making candles based on Templar candles out of plaster gauze. I've been painting on them so they're kind of cartoonish and childish. I decided to sort of defy traditionally Yoruba Santeria traditions and use images of women in my family that are both alive and passed on. Typically you are not supposed to use images of living people in a Mesa Blanca or in most Yoruba traditions but I think there is something significant about using them in this case. I wanted to mix references that I grew up around and are significant. I'll be installing them on the altar with the book I've been making.
I also have the plexi shelf done for the pastels and I'm planning on installing it with a salt semi-circle. Salt is a terribly important aspect of Dominican Haitian Afro-Latino culture. I went to a talk with Eldridge Danticat, a fantastic Haitian writer, and the timing of the talk with what I was thinking about with the pastels just seemed so right. In a lot of afro Caribbean cultures Salt is used to both ward off evil spirits and bring the dead back to life or consciousness. It's the only thing that can keep a person from being a zombie in Haitian culture and it's also placed in strategic lines in certain rituals in Puerto Rican religious practices. I wanted the pastels to look like an offering and I think adding that extra touch will hit the right tones with subtlety and sophistication.
And finally I have one more bust that I started and posted a bit about. MY MARY! I'm embroidering some Taino symbols and a Vulva on the back. Also just now while typing the word vulva, which is totally a word, my computer keeps autocorrecting it to Velva. DUMB. Below is a shot a took of the beading process. I had a wonderful series of opening this past weekend. Below is a shot of my wall. I'll post more about that next time. PEACE!!
I wanted to share a podcast I'm currently listening too because it's relevant to a lot of what I've been thinking and writing about lately. On Latino USA recently, Maria Hinojosa interviewed the lead singer of Hurray for the Riff Raff. I totally love everything she's done on the show and was super excited when I heard that she would be interviewing Alynda Lee Segarra. Alynda is, like me, Puerto Rican, from the Bronx and growing up identified very little with her latino culture. She talks about how unfortunate it was to grow up thinking your too different to fit into your own skin and how she wished that she had learned about the political and rebel legacy of so many Puerto Rican writers and artists she has come across recently. She described it as a "homecoming" experience. Where you think you don't belong, gravitate toward something that looks more like you think you feel, and thereby end up retroactively learning about how much of that feeling is ingrained in your own culture. I encourage everyone to give it a listen.
The whole podcast is about Tumbao. Tumbao is loosely translated to mean the bass and/or swing of a piece of music. Tumbao is a pretty universal term in Latino and Hispanic culture. Celia Cruz has a fantastic reggaeton/merengue song called "La Negra tiene Tumbao" that I super love. Give that a listen NOW!
I'm on break right now and trying to take it easy. I have spent the week pre-holidays working on a new bust and refining some of my other work. I'm addressing issues in the Atabeira piece and thinking about how to incorporate red lace somehow. Below are images of the new bust!
Here I started toying with my fleshy colored wax on a somewhat broken blank. I liked the way it soaked into the grey paper and how the translucent wax revealed some of that charcoal grey.
Here I stitched a gauzy fabric on the crown to get the Mary-veil I've been dying to work with. I like how dingy it looks. I'm also really liking how it's livened up the bust. I'm going to play with stiffening areas or embroidering details. Maybe I'll make it shorter.
So why La Virgen. I have a lot of reasons for wanting to approach this icon. One is the issue of Catholicism and religion in my culture (I'll dive deeper in another post). Growing up I knew half my family was Catholic and the other Pentecostal. I grew up deeply religious but not at all like my cousins did. My grandmother on my fathers side is where I experienced the stereotypical catholic and yoruba religious traditions and iconography. Despite the differences in Catholic and Pentecostal culture as far as saint worship and use of iconography, both share an overwhelming amount of beliefs regarding sexuality. Which in itself has always baffled me. Virginity, sexuality, and women's bodies are the topic of so many sermons it's outrageous. I'm interested in how these religious cross-sections are indebted to women and yet fear them. Mary is rarely spoken of on her own terms and that has always bothered me. When these beliefs mingle with the stereotype of the Latina vixen, it's a recipe for the ultimate paradox. Latina women are notoriously viewed as extremely religious yet unbelievably sexy. The two extremes are both attractive yet terrifying and thus leave Latina women in this exotic limbo. Mary, to me, embodies the paradox. We've managed to tell the conception story in pretty ways and yet there's no avoiding the fact that much of it sounds a lot like rape. In a lot of ways, the story is similar to how various carribean islands and countries in Latin America were forced to give up their traditions through colonization.
We are officially done with our first semester of the residency. All the Millersville students are on break and us EARs have the building to ourselves. I have been questioning so much of my work lately. Feeling like things are just not meshing well but I feel a bit reassured. We had a critique yesterday to mark the midway point and I think it went really well. I got some great feedback and food for thought that I will apply moving forward. I need to think about how the grotesque nature of some of my pieces might skew or color how I'm relating to or attempting to relate to my Latina identity. So far I'm on the right track! Below are the non-bust pieces I have brewing in my brain pot.
Above is a rosary made of birth control pills. I discussed this a few posts ago while it was 'in progress'. It is composed of casts from a blister pack of birth control pills (so they are essentially the voids where the pills used to be). The pendant is made of cloth and wax with gold embossing dust that is burned into layers of wax. With this piece and many of the others that deal with uteri, I was thinking about issues of fertility, femininity and especially cases of forced sterilization of women in the Caribbean. (Read More Here!)
Above is a series of uteri made from the same cloth and wax process I mentioned above and also referencing the same kind of issues I have been thinking about with sterilization and all. I'm playing with applying gold embossing powder to these. I like that red and gold are weaving through all of my work so far.
Behind the uteri are the gilt pasteles I'm working on. They are cast resin pasteles that I've applied gold leaf to. I'm working on how they'll be displayed now. I wanted to comment on how they're traditionally peasant food served primarily during the holidays. I wanted to elevate them and give them the appearance of gold bars. The last image is a meme that has been circulating on Latino social media pages. For us, the pasteles and/or tamales are so ubiquitous during this time of year. Their are jokes about how families come together to assemble them despite differences. The whole process crosses generations and at the same time encapsulates Afro-Carribean, Spanish and Taino culture in one neat package of meat, starches vegetables and banana leaves.
Happy belated Thanksgiving all!
This week has been super productive! Despite catching a cold and Thanksgiving festivities, I managed to wrap lots of pieces up. I burned my fingers pretty badly making one of the busts, but all in all I'm pretty darned happy with how much I managed to finish. Here are the four busts I have so far!
The far left is the newest. She's covered in sugar coated flowers. The flowers are the red carnations a lot of Dominican women wear to greet new arrivals in the airports and resorts. It's kind of kitschy and over done. The whole look is this colonial type outfit with layers of lacey skirts and off the shoulder tops. Its kind of a typical "Latina" costume but the references historically speaking are straight from the Spanish conquistadors stylistic preferences. I wanted to use something that's cheesy and crafty like these fabric flowers and make them even more kitschy by coating them in sugar. I wanted to burn the sugar too make it melty and syrupy too. I like the idea of the bust being stained and dripped on with something that is supposed to be attractive and sweet and yet also a symbolizes the sugar slave trade that took over/destroyed much of the Caribbean. Here are closer views of the busts below:
From top to bottom they are titled "Azuuucaar!", "Borron y Cuenta Nueva (Vejigante)", "La Mancha de Platano". Translation: "Sugar", "Let bygones be bygones or Erase and Start Anew", "The Stain of the Plantain".
This is the newest in progress bust. Its title is "Polo Bueno, Pelo Malo, Pero, Pelo". Translation "Good hair, Bad hair, but, hair". My great grandmother had extremely long hair all of her life and lots of women in my family still have their long hair. Many others chose to cut it. Some in an act of defiance and others because they were just tired of it. There's also so many racial issues tied up in hair alone. Our African ancestry is seemingly embedded in our hair. Fair hair and soft, less textured hair is preferred over curlier dark hair. It's a preference steeped in our complicated colonial history and heavy burden we all carry. My hair is in between. I cut mine shorter and shorter as I got older and now have tightly cropped hair like my mom. I never thought I would do it. I remember having to straighten my hair with an iron and "wear it long" for family coming to the mainland from Puerto Rico. It was my cape. My aunts loved how long and soft it was and yet they probably knew how much work it took to get it that way. I wanted this piece to be voluminous and have tons of differently textured hair. I sat with it for a while before I got the shapes I wanted. I really like how far it's come. I'm not sure about the hanging loop on the side or the long braids yet. I'm tempted to do another. I also coated the hair in hair dye and let it drip on the bust to bring a more cohesive layer to it all.
I have a few more objects in the works that aren't busts. I'm going to write about those another day.
Goodbye for now!
I just had a rather unexpected review that went unexpectedly well. I've been more reserved lately as things are ramping up with the residency. I'm excited about where my work is going but I'm in the self-concious stage of my things-making process. I've been unwittingly avoiding Line and MVU faculty because I feel like I need to be more alone with my work. I've talked about individual pieces but haven't really talked about EVERYTHING as a whole. Line came to the studio today and was really excited about my birth-control rosary. It has six months of pills on it and I'm working on the next half. Its the first piece I feel needs exist on its own. I've been thinking about the busts and how excited I am about them, but they've also pushed me to put some more thought in what other objects I need to make and why. For now I'll share the birth control rosary because I'm so so excited about it.
Microaggressions. What are they? They're that raw, gnawing feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when someone laughs at your having to take Spanish classes despite being latinx. Or when you someone touches your hair to see if it's real. Or when someone slaps your butt to see if its real. Or when they slap your butt and say 'Arriba' to acknowledge your heritage but also indicate that they're 'cool with it.' Or when they say "wow I didn't think you were latina? You're so quiet!" as a compliment. Or when your latino family jokes that you 'sound white'. All of these are microaggression instigators.
Textbook definition: "Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership " (UCLA)
Do the people that spur the microaggression mean to cause them? Usually they don't. Usually these kinds of vaguely racist thoughts are normal, if not acceptable to them. The popular game Cards Against Humanity is a perfect example of potential microaggression triggers. But it's funny right? Because it's a game? I'm not so sure anymore.
So why am I talking about this now? For the past week, I've been experiencing more of these events than I have in a while. That's not to say that I don't have a microaggression a day, but recently they've felt more hurtful and angering. I realize that diving head-on into my identity exploration has caused me to be more aware of who I am and how I fit in my world. I also realize that this exploration and awareness might make me more susceptible to these events. Is it fair? I'm not sure.
Two events have been coming up in one way or another the past month or so. I won't mention names explicitly but call them Person A and Person B.
Event 1: In a conversation with Person B, they told me they left a class because their professor was showing a clip of Kara Walker explaining her work. Person B stated that they did not like her work. I asked why. They said it's complicated. Person A overheard and said they "fucking hate Kara Walker" because she is a "pretentious bitch" who needs to recognize her privilege and has no right talking about race. I was taken aback and thought surely they're joking? Nope. I stated that I could maybe be more convinced if there was more explanation for their views sans the anger, but I didn't' think that privilege excluded someone of a particular race from engaging in conversation about their race. The conversation went nowhere. Lots of mansplaining later, Person A and Person B agreed that they would like to see Kara Walker "beat up" by the black female facilities woman that they both love and view as the epitome of the black struggle. I honestly felt so grossed out by the entire conversation that I couldn't bring myself to argue more.
Even 2: Event 1 was discussed one-on-one with Person A to which there were minor 'wins' on my side and some sarcastic apologies on their's. Event 2 happened after a student asked what shows I was into lately. I told them that I actually have been watching Jane the Virgin. They laughed and I said "Hear me out! It sounds silly at first, but it's all based on Telenovelas and is actually more humorous than serious. It's also kind of exciting because it has a pretty strong Latino cast and isn't extremely stereotyped. It isn't perfect, but it sure as hell is better than the 'work' Modern Family is doing for my culture." We had a nice intelligent conversation about it and they said they would watch it. Person A walked in and joked about how stupid he thought the show was. I repeated my argument and told him to give it a try. A week later he came back and said he watched one episode and had some opinions. His opinions were as follows: She's too 'white.' The basis being that she, Jane, would never take her child to Yoga as a latina. She talks 'white.' Because her latin accent isn't strong enough. There were no moments where he felt anyone screamed "Latinoness." I laughed and joked back saying well you basically summed up my whole life. He compared it to the Cosby show and the white-washing of black culture. I told him I could see his point, and attempted to look past the unnecessary stereotyping but he proceeded to say that he felt like the show was written by a Jewish person and that it just didn't quite hit any Latin notes for him. He said "I don't buy it. Are you telling me that latinos will see this and relate to this 'white girl' taking her baby to 'yoga.'" I told him I agree that it could sometimes be a bit white washed, but it's unfair to assume that yoga, an eastern tradition, is a 'white' thing to do. I emphasized that I didn't think it was perfect, but that I appreciated that there was show about a Latino family that wasn't solely about immigration (though it does come up), isn't using latin females as sex objects, and, doesn't make jokes of accents. He laughed my points off and the conversation continued to disintegrate. He insinuated that I was being too sensitive, that I should 'try being black,' and that everyone is bound to be stereotyped at some point. Lot's of this conversation was veiled in attempts at humor and rather vapid apologies. If the person that said these things ever reads this: I'm sure you think that I'm overreacting. I'm sure you think what you said wasn't meant to be read the way I read it and you weren't being "racist," but I honestly don't care.
Microaggressions exist because the person feeling the rage, anger, and contempt at whatever supposedly innocuous statement another person has made feels stuck. We can't sound too angry for fear that we might make the other person, who probably didn't mean to be offensive, feel bad. Then we're left with the responsibility of educating and consoling. But who consoles us? We're hurt more by statements and judgements passed off as "it meant nothing." Why? Because they think it means nothing. It erases our experience and invalidates our anger.
So think before you speak and don't pass things off as being "too politically correct." Because that's NOT a thing and don't get me started on how infuriating that little statement alone has been lately.
To sort of remedy all of this I've decided to keep a micro-book of my microaggressions. As a way of documenting and self-healing. I'll post more about it as it fills up.
Felicidades! It's been a while!
I just picked up Piri Thomas' Savior, Savior Hold my Hand and Julia Alvarez's collection of essays Something to Declare. My god they are fantastic writers. There's something really raw about both of them though their writing style couldn't be more different. I've also been attending several artists talks. The Lancaster Library recently received funding for PBS's Latino Americans series. There's a series of talks and screenings happening until next Spring and I'm so excited to attend as many as I can. Patricia Johanson came to Millersville for the Conrad Nelson lecture series. Her work is unrelated to my more identity based work, but she's very smart and works between education and fine art. I feel like much of what I'm doing is the same. It reminded me of how excited I was about the cross-section between education and art when I saw Latoya Ruby Frazier at the SPE conference. Both women are well-versed in their area of expertise and take time to really educate their audience beyond the work they produce. It was reassuring to know that I, too, can delve further into the references I'm interested in and take the opportunity to educate my audience as well. I always worry that I'm too much in my own head with the things I want to address.
Moving on, I decided I want to make 12 busts. 12 because I like making 12 of things. Because there are 12 months in a year, the 12 disciples, 12 people in a jury etc. etc. 12 just feels weighty and important and it's the only even number besides 16 that I've gravitated toward. 12 is also the age I was when I really felt 'different' than my peers. I moved to Lancaster in September 2001 from the Bronx. I had transferred to a 5th grade class in Lancaster City and was faced with a very different culture. In New York I felt like race didn't really matter. We celebrated everyone and there were so many different cultures in the area we lived in. We were also so so young. After 9/11, I think everyone became more race conscious. My uncle is has a more ruddy skin tone than his siblings. He worked at a Starbucks near the World Trade Center and had to volunteer handing out coffee and pastries to those that were cleaning what was left of the towers after the attack. I remember him calling several times angry that people would see his skin, assume he was muslim and spit, literally spit, at him and tell him to go back to his country. This was my first real encounter with race and understanding that I'm white-passing. Moving to Lancaster, I didn't 'sound' like my latina counterparts because I had a "New York accent" and most of the latinxs in my grade were bilingual. It was the first time I felt like my voice, my skin, and being from a different city set me further apart from them. We were also attending a baptist church with a primarily african-american congregation. Conversations about my hair, how I talked, how I dressed, and how "I wasn't one of the loud ones" were a daily occurrence. I can't say that I've experienced racism in all of it's ugly forms, but boy do I know micro-aggressions. So, for me, 12 feels like the age I lost a sort of naive sense of who I was and gained a more complex understanding of my culture.
Here is how many pieces I have so far!
This blog functions as a space for me to articulate what goes into making my artwork. As it goes, artists are supposedly notorious for being verbose and confusing writers that often come off as pretentious, pompous asses. That hopefully won't happen here. I intend to be as informal as possible. If you've made it this far I probably don't have to warn you that some of this might be NSFW because nudity is known to literally, and irreversibly, burn corneas.*