YLA 21: AMEXICAN@ at Mexic-Arte Museum
reviewed by Rachel Koper
Now in its 21st year, the Young Latino Artists (YLA) exhibition continues to provide experience and exposure for emerging Latina/o artists. YLA 21: Amexican@ at Mexic-Arte was curated by San Antonio artist David Shek Vega, a prolific mural artist and director of Gravelmouth Gallery.
I appreciate the wide range of media, overall technical quality and the variety of voices Vega chose to present. Some works are charged with personal emotional content; others are political or humorous. The artists surveyed are digital natives and their art-making “reflects an inner dialogue, one that resonates with their Latina/o upbringing, nostalgia, the influence of the digital age, and the current cultural climate in the United States.”
Disney characters appear in works by several artists. I see the Disney references as a figurative depiction of ‘consumerism’ or ‘America’ in a symbolist pop art context. The United States is a gigantic and varied place, but Disney is a ubiquitous brand, a global powerhouse. I asked Vega if Mickey Mouse substituted for an American flag symbolically. He said maybe. I see it as a bourgeois flag. I’ve never been to a Disney park, but I fully acknowledge the economic power of their magical brand. Mickey Christ is a charming ink and gold paint piece by James Medrano that portrays Mickey Mouse as a spiritual leader and potential savior.
… their art-making “reflects an inner dialogue, one that resonates with their Latina/o upbringing, nostalgia, the influence of the digital age, and the current cultural climate in the United States.”
Figurative work is strong in this exhibit. The largest single piece is Hood Rich by Christopher Montoya. He depicts a lady in repose which I read as both romantic and aspirational. His signature geometric blanket pattern is faint, dominated by the model, a Chanel logo and the word Chicana. Is she in a perfume ad? Will she be modeling next to Willow Smith this fall? The female, draped in pink, is based on a neighborhood acquaintance of Montoya’s and partially inspired by the young Columbian American singer Kali Uchis, who has been recording with the likes of Diplo and Tyler the Creato.
I see the painting as youthful heteronormative imagery with an ambitious scale and great technical skills. I like the text and background and the clean, crisp lines. Limiting his palette, Montoya repeats colors throughout the composition. The edges are touched by the foreground figure, creating interesting crops. Christopher Montoya has clearly worked on his technique of applying aerosol paint, a difficult process. In San Antonio, he is known for his Selena mural and San Antonio Spurs tribute piece.
The exhibit has a range of perspectives. A large space is devoted to the Essentials Collective. An abstracted alphabet is painted on a wall, while large digital collages, video and sculptural vignettes are also displayed. In this series of works gender and identity are purposefully complicated and obscured. The thread is a vibe of hide and reveal—a game of cat and mouse where costuming is required. I like the use of bedazzled jewelry on the faces. These handmade and elaborate items overwhelm and mask the wearer. They end up reading like a bizarrely fancy muzzle, or an elaborate horse bridle or a really odd burka. In the photo-based works, the photographers, costumers and models all seem to know each other well and to have created an elaborate place of trust and expression.
I see the Disney references as a figurative depiction of ‘consumerism’ or ‘America’ in a symbolist pop art context. The United States is a gigantic and varied place, but Disney is a ubiquitous brand, a global powerhouse..
The central focus of La Chica Boom invades Funkterra: Free Your Mind and Your Nalgas Will Follow is an active woman, not a passive thing. Zeke Pena portrays burning tires and a lit match. He writes the word ‘future’ on a woman’s puffy trucker hat. This incendiary piece is my favorite in the show, not because of his 1970s Funkadelic or fashion references. It’s the way he painted the corn. It’s purple and golden yellow and close to life size. It just made me want to eat corn right away. Seriously, I relate to the imagery used in this piece. High school kids in my Michigan hometown used to burn tires out in sweet corn fields. This disgusting smell and delicious food is etched into my memory. Tire fires signify a direct action to me, as in “time to go, leave now.” In Pena’s description of the work, the burning tires are dropping riotously from the sky, a symbol of revolt and of chaos.
This incendiary piece is my favorite in the show, not because of his 1970s Funkadelic or fashion references. It’s the way he painted the corn… It just made me want to eat corn right away.
Zeke Pena’s website says, “Xandra Ibarra is an Oakland-based performance artist from the El Paso/Juarez border who performs and works under the alias of La Chica Boom. Her work deals with sexualization and racialization. Xandra, a good friend, provided the reference photo and inspiration for this work.” So, there is a muse for you, boom indeed! She’s a good model for someone holding a match, unflinching, exploring boundaries with aplomb. As Pena says, “Fronteriz@s [a person from the U.S./MX Border] navigate American and Mexican spaces, they ride the cultural line and occupy the space between.” So with eyes wide open under safety glasses and the trucker hat, La Chica Boom grows and eats corn as conflicts go on around her.
At first I was a little nonplussed by the blank cartoon like caption bubble by her face. On the one hand it gave her a pictorial ‘voice’ but then, it’s blank “…” like someone who is typing you a text. Then I read her hat, “future”, so I suppose we will find out later what she is saying. It could be optimistic, as in we are in a dialog with our future. Or it’s a total blank, as in we can see the violence of today and cannot offer a prediction of outcomes. There is a story boarded narrative at work in this oil painting. It’s a real hybrid and a feisty thing— a trifecta of things I like: a social activist performance artist, elote, and the mothership connection.
Young Latino Artists 21: Amexican@ is on view at Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress Ave in Austin, Texas through August 28, 2016.