Alma López

I am a visual and public artist born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles. In 1996, I began creating photo-based digital images. These images are primarily produced as Iris/Giclee prints on canvas and paper. I view the computer as another artistic tool similar to a pencil and paintbrush. I feel that my work is much more closely allied to painting than photography or graphic design because I compose the images like a painter in terms of telling a story versus prioritizing the medium. The themes of the images are based on culture, gender and sexuality.

I feel that the only certainty about the future in terms of technology is that it will continue to evolve and therefore, profoundly influence how we express ourselves, how we communicate, and how we perceive, think and communicate with our world. As a Chicana artist living in Los Angeles, the metropolis of the future, at the beginning of a new millennium, I am interested in exploring the manipulation of digital technology as a tool in the production of images and investigating the role of the artist in a digital age.

Mermaids, Butterflies and Princesses, 1999

ONCE UPON A TIME…
While I was creating images for the series entitled 1848: Latinos in the US Landscape after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, friends asked me to design a party flyer for a lesbian/bisexual women of color event. The image of two recognizable cultural female figures appeared to me: the Sirena/Mermaid from the popular lotería bingo game and the Virgin de Guadalupe, the post-conquest Catholic mother of Jesus. In Lupe & Sirena in Love they embrace, surrounded by angels in the LA cityscape and the US/Mexico border as their landscape. Guadalupe and Sirena stand on a half moon held by a Viceroy butterfly instead of the traditional angel.

The Viceroy and Monarch butterflies look exactly alike except that the Viceroy has a black stripe on its secondary wings. The Monarch butterfly is most known for its natural yearly migration from Mexico to the northern U.S. However, the most remarkable aspect of this migration is that on its flight back to Mexico or the northern U.S. it is no longer the original butterfly, but it is the child returning on genetic memory.

Like the Monarch butterfly, indigenous people of this continent have migrated between both countries. Yet, as of 1848 -- after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which marked the ending of the 1846-48 US-Mexico war -- a border has been erected, impeding this natural migration. So, we tend to get stuck on one side or the other. Our families are divided. Racist/discriminatory policies such as 187 (opposing services for undocumented residents) and 227 (opposing bilingual education), arise due to the fear of a growing Latino population north of that razor sharp border fence.

The reason I chose to use the Viceroy butterfly was because I wanted to allude to more than the Monarch’s migration pattern and its genetic memory. I thought it was interesting that the Viceroy butterfly mimics the Monarch for survival purposes. The Monarch butterfly is poisonous to predators; the Viceroy is not. The Viceroy pretends to be something it is not just to be able to exist. For me, the Viceroy mirrors parallel and intersecting histories of being different or “other” even within our own communities. Racist attitudes see us Latinos as criminals and an economic burden, and homophobic attitudes even within our own communities and families may see us as perverted or deviant. So from outside and inside our communities, we are perceived as something we are not. When in essence, we are vulnerable Viceroy butterflies, just trying to live and survive.

IN HEAVEN…
Love is heaven. Yet, growing up, we are told that when we participate in acts that have been labeled perverted, deviant, or sinful, we are going to hell. In Heaven a young woman rejects the institutionalized religious patriarchal system and gazes at her lover’s image in the golden heart brought to her by an angel. This image was created in the tradition of a retablo or ex-voto, which is a Mexican Prayer painting typically done on tin. The retablo lends itself to an intimacy portraying personal themes that are important and sacred.

THERE WAS A PRINCESS AND A PRINCESA…
According to the Aztec legend, Popocapetl wanted to marry the Princess Ixtaccihuatl but to do so he had to earn his warrior feathers in battle, Upon his triumphant return, he finds that Ixta, believing he had died in battle, killed herself. Grieving, he takes her lifeless body in his arms to the highest mountains in Mexico so that the snowflakes would wake her. But she never wakes up and they both remained frozen, forming the now two famous snow-covered volcanoes in Mexico.

Growing up in El Sereno, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, I would see this image of Popo & Ixta on murals, lowrider cars, and Low Rider magazine. Every December, the local bakery or restaurant would give our family at least one calendar with the image of this Mexican Romeo & Juliet myth. As an artist, I asked my two friends Cristina Serna and Mirna Tapia to help me recreate this familiar myth however, the two princesas are on the US/Mexico border.

AND THE STORY CONTINUES…
Even as I attempted to return to my original project of 1848, images such as Lupe & Sirena in Love persisted. After some thought, I realized that these images were important to me in that they address and challenge images that I grew up with in my neighborhood. I am “re-imagining” these cultural icons from my own worldview as a Chicana Lesbian. For example, Ixta is a re-interpretation of the sexy Ixta draped over strong Popo’s arms as seen in murals or calendars. Tattoo refers to the tattooed men that have the image of the Virgin on their bodies. Mexican votive paintings inspired Retablo and Heaven. Old photographs of married couples are included in Pix. Diego, December 12 and Our Lady touch upon the myth of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego.

My life is special because it is shared with beautiful family and friends. This work was possible with the love and encouragement of so many friends, especially those beautiful beings who shared their body-image and a little soul-spirit: Jill A. Aguilar (Tatoo); Raquel Gutierrez & Raquel Salinas (Our Lady); Cristina Serna & Mirna Tapia (Ixta); Claudia Rodriguez & Stacy Macias (Heaven); Rigo Maldonado (Diego); and Noni Olabisi (Pix). Super special thanks to Raquel Gutierrez who posed for me for hours in the beginning when I was figuring things out. Special thanks to my dear friends and editors, Maria Elena Fernandez and Reina. A. Prado, and my printer Pedro Rios Martinez. The Lupe & Sirena series was funded by a C.O.L.A. (City of Los Angeles) Individual Artist grant from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the California Community Foundation’s Brody Visual Artist Fellowship, and a California Arts Council Artist in Residency. Check out my website at http://home.earthlink.net/~almalopez and www.homegirlproductions.org.