When a group of 11 queer artists and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes’s Erendina A. Delgadillo brainstormed names for an exhibition exploring identity issues in the LGBTQ Latinx community, they wanted something that was unapologetic and at the same time spoke to their need for visibility. They wanted something that encapsulated their experiences. After two weeks of going back and forth in a Google Doc, the California-based artists and Delgadillo landed on mirame – a word that says it all.
“It was actually (the artist) Julio Salgado who came up with mirame, and the reason that he suggested it was because it’s a Jenni Rivera song,” Delgadillo, who curated the recently launched exhibition titled ¡Mírame! Expressions of Queer Latinx Art, told me in a phone interview. “She was sort of like a champion of the LGBTQ, queer Latino/Latinx community and her sort of unabashed attitude and sort of ‘I am who I am’ really resonated with all of the artists, so they ended up choosing that one.”
Everything about ¡Mírame! has been a collaborative process between the staff at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and the artists. After Delgadillo identified a group of artists that represented as much of the queer Latinx community as possible, she asked them to choose what works they wanted to display and where they wanted their work to appear. With institutions like museums having a history of attempting to impose respectability politics on queer Latinx artists, it became important not to stifle these artists’ voices. “There’s a long history of art being excluded from display, from public display, for different reasons,” Delgadillo added. “But to me, the fact that we can talk about that openly and we can discuss the role of an institution in that kind of … process … is inspiring to me and it sort of shows both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But it’s absolutely, to me, a positive sort of first step.”
¡Mírame! launched on June 3 – at the beginning of LGBT Pride Month – and runs through December 9, 2017. Though the exhibition provides some necessary historical context about queer Latinxs in Los Angeles, Delgadillo wants ¡Mírame! to do more than teach audiences about the past. She wants the exhibition to evoke something in visitors. And very importantly, she hopes that through the 11 artists, visitors are able to see that there’s more than one way to find empowerment as a member of the Latinx LGBTQ community.
Learn more about a few of the artists participating in the exhibition below:
¡Mírame! Expressions of Queer Latinx runs until December 9, 2017 at 501 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, California 90012. For more information about the exhibition, visit LA Plaza’s website here.
Joey Terrill, former director of VIVA arts collective, has made art for the last 30 years. Terrill, who is in his 60s, knew he’d represent an older generation of artists – something he welcomed. “I already knew that I would be representing the ‘elder’ community, given many of the other artists were younger, which was fine with me,” Terrill said over email. “I think a show about queer Latinx artists’ work that provides a range of identities (Chicano, Mexican, immigrant, Spanish speaking, pocho, Latin American lesbian, non-gender conforming, age, and etc) makes for a richer exploration of the queer experience within the Latino diaspora.”
The LA native – who draws inspiration from Romaine Brooks, Frida Kahlo, and Mexican retablos – has used his art to explore the ways in which being gay and Latino intersect and clash. The exhibition is featuring two issues of Homeboy Beautiful magazine from 1978 and 1979. The magazine is a satirical art pieces that mixes elements from House Beautiful and Cosmopolitan to depict the world around him.
“Homeboy Beautiful was done in a magazine format as a parody of upper-middle class magazines like House Beautiful or Cosmopolitan with their benign [racial] bias … while at the same time critiquing the misogyny, violence, and homophobia I found ithin the gang or homeboy culture around me,” he said. “It was all done tongue-in-cheek and without any nod towards political correctness. In the first issue, I play a ‘journalist’ [named] Santos who ‘exposes’ a homo-homeboy underground party network. In the second issue, we expose a secret homeboy terrorist network that kidnaps a white family and tortures them by forcing them to eat menudo and watch Spanish-language television. But in the second issue, we [also] document a protest of homo-homeboys and takeover of the editorial offices of Homeboy Beautiful. [They] are upset with what they feel was an exploitative photo essay in the first issue. Each issue contains a ‘makeover,’ advice column, hair, makeup, and fashion tips.”
His Still-Life series, which depict what it’s like living with HIV, is also featured in ¡Mírame! Joey began Still-Life in 1987, and he said he will continue working on the series until he no longer requires medication or when he dies. He began the series because he had mixed feelings about the drugs he had to take to stay alive. While he needed them to survive, he also realized how much his dependency benefited the pharmaceutical industry.
“My intent was to borrow the trope of the Tom Wesselmann still lifes from the 60s, which presented graphics from American advertising combined to create skewed compositions that critiqued American consumerist values – or lack thereof,” he said. “In my series, I always place the items on a Mexican blanket/serape as a tablecloth to firmly place them within my Chicano context. From that premise and template, I can ‘play’ with the items indicated and juxtapose things that people may find familiar but also strange. I wanted to place HIV medications in a domestic setting where they compete visually with Cheerios, Coca-Cola, and pan dulce. I remain an HIV advocate and work to address the incidence disparities among communities of color, especially gay male youth.”
UCLA lecturer Alma Lopez has shown her work at more than 100 solo and group exhibitions. Using Mexican figures like La Llorona and La Virgen, Lopez highlights lesbian Chicana identities. One of her most controversial works is a piece called Our Lady, which features a young Latina woman as La Virgen de Guadalupe.
According to her website, Lopez has archived nearly two decades worth of emails that people have sent her as a result of the Our Lady. The responses range from those who call the piece “classic, timeless, current, cutting edge, alive, honest, amazing” to those who call Alma “human garbage and sewer slime” for “[desecrating] the image of the Virgin Mary.” But the reason Alma gathers all these emails is because she believes it’s an important debate that can’t be avoided.
Ixta, a digital photograph that interprets Jesus Helguera’s La leyenda de los volcanes, will be on display at Mírame! With Helguera’s work serving as the backdrop, Lopez’s piece includes the Los Angeles skyline and the US-Mexico border. In this version, she replaces lovers Ixta and Popo with two young women. “Growing up in El Sereno, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, I would see this image of Popo and Ixta on murals, lowrider cars, and Lowrider Magazine,” she said. “As an artist, I asked my two friends to help me recreate this familiar myth however, the two princesas are on the US/Mexico border. This image is important to me in that it addresses and challenges images that I grew up with in my neighborhood.”
On his website, Julio Salgado describes himself in three words: Artivist. Lecturer. Queer. Through his art and his work at DreamersAdrift.com and CultureStrike, he highlights these identities. While his work is inspiring up and coming artists, for Julio, the exhibition places him in the same room as some of the creatives that were important during his formative years.
“As a queer and undocumented Mexicano who grew up in LA, I was honored to be part of a show with artists that I grew up admiring,” he told me in an email. “I remember seeing Hector Silva’s work and how it reflected our Mexicanidad and queerness at the same time. During a Chicanas and feminism class at California State University, Long Beach, Professor Anna Sandoval introduced me to the amazing work of Alma Lopez and my political artwork was instantly influenced. I am the results of those queer artists that came before me and sharing space with them [is] truly an honor.”
Julio – whose bright, acerbic art is instantly recognizable – chose to feature pieces from his Because Frida Told Me So series.
“In [this] series, I follow Frida’s tradition of the self portrait and open myself and all my feelings,” he added. “As an undocumented immigrant, the current narratives out there go back and forth between the good and bad immigrant story. But we are more than that. Similar to my friend Yosimar Reyes, who is also part of the show, I wanted to focus on the undocumented joy and the things that make me happy and angry and sexual and beautiful. You know, feelings that humanize me.”
Yosimar Reyes and Walter Thompson Hernandez
Yosimar Reyes is a poet originally from Guerrero, Mexico. His work has appeared in the collection Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry. He also published a chapbook of poetry called For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly. Reyes teamed up with photographer Walter Thompson Hernandez for Acts of Resistance, a series looking at queer brown intimacy.
“As a poet and writer that happens to be queer and undocumented, participating in this exhibit was my opportunity to present a project that celebrates queer browness,” Yosimar said. “When I was growing [up], there was a huge amount of shame that I felt for not being masculine enough. Now that I am older, I see myself as someone [who] is redefining masculinity into something more tender and vulnerable. The piece I created with Walter Thompson Hernandez was dedicated to honoring what queer intimacy looks [like] in public spaces, specifically queerness of black and brown people.”
Both Reyes and Thompson Hernandez – who documents the Blaxicans of Los Angeles – tell the stories of resistance through their work. So this project was a natural progression for them.
“By centering the experiences of QTPOC couples in public spaces throughout Los Angeles, we hope each image challenges popular notions of love, romance, and space in a time of increasing political, racial, and gendered inequality,” Thompson said. “AOR is titled after Reyes’ influential poem, Acts of Resistance, and urges viewers to think about the beauty and complexity of QTPOC couples in a way that creates continued resistance in Los Angeles and beyond.”
For the past 30 years, self-taught artist Hector Silva that is sometimes divisive. But as he said on his website, “If no one’s trying to censor you, the you’re probably not doing anything that important.”
Silva doesn’t create work for those who go to museums, because that can be limiting and it can exclude different groups of people. His work heavily focuses on the cultural identity of the Latino community, which is oftentimes erased. “And then when you add being queer to that, we can really disappear,” he stated. “But I also think that the ‘positive image’ strategy can be a trap, and as an artist, I feel responsible for showing art that is not only beautiful, but more importantly, it should be truthful.”
¡Mírame! also features the works of Laura Aguilar, Ben Cuevas, Xandra Ibarra, Dalila Mendez, Jessica Gudiel, and Benni Quintero.