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.
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 Monarchs 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.
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 lovers 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
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
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 Popos 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 Foundations Brody Visual Artist Fellowship,
and a California Arts Council Artist in Residency. Check out my website at