Celia Álvarez Muñoz

My work carries me, and my culture
Like the Rio Grande.
Bordering my birthplace, El Paso,
It runs and gives passage to a boundless assortment of stories
From both riverbanks in two languages.
Word and image meet, sweetly, wickedly, subversively,
Joining and locking the sensual or awkward.
Material and concept gush meaningful memories with new observations.
However eschew.
Deceptively simple tales spill into larger issues.

Knowing we belong to a tiny world pool
That magnifies petty differences,
It traces my own race and culture into the gulf streams and out the big ocean.

It echoes the songs of the women in my family,
Those strong currents of my existence.
Who wrote satirical family poems in eloquent Español.
Ellas, who made magic; with Salsas
On the dance floor, or en la cosina,
And drew silver ribbons on colored papel.
Ellas, who gurgled, book readings too fast,
And accounted the savings to be better spent.

It speaks of the men, Ellos,
Who pulled guard three months straight
Near frozen wide rivers or in the coldest tundra’s of WW II.
Who took me to ball games, played Spike Jones records,
And sang with the comic, Tin Tan.
Ellos, who created persona, cartoons,
Yet, seldom handled the money.

It races at a treacherous society and upholds women’s roles.
Contemplatively gathers questions,
Laughs in politically incorrect carcajadas.
Or meets situations straight, cara a cara-jadas!
It roars “what if,” “y por que,” kicking rapidly.
Meandering through a variety of challenging forms,
And sometimes satisfies my curiosity.

Ella” is a 20” x 16” cibachrome photograph using a 4” x 5” camera. This is the first of four photos from an on-going series, The Referentes, that alludes to references, such as pronouns or that stands for something. I call this my “token” piece produced to comply with the dialogue of Multiculturalism, an “ism” invented by the art world to open up the representation of artists outside the white art world and to obtain grant monies for individual and institutional programs. It is my statement to declare my awareness of the system in operation knowing well that after the trend would run its course the focus might once again turn to the old standard.

The original dialogue places Hispanics in the category of “the other” or the exotic. Both, white and non-white curated projects, emphasized the primal or religious or domestic ritualistic, thus, origins became recurring theme underscoring the art dialogue. And if the works did not fit into that category they were made to do so, by both sides of the curatorial fence. In most cases the issues of a more intellectually conceptual nature were often bypassed, lightly skimmed or totally ignored. Thus, often a poor analysis went repeated and standardized. Very few Latino artists were recognized as part of the bigger art dialogue. And lots of previously hidden “other” ties were suddenly endorsed and everybody recognized their grandmothers and made altars.

Ella is a photograph, and also, a part of a larger wood cabinet construction or “reliquary.” As a photograph it uses a seductive red, yet innocent little girl’s garment as surrogate for constructed societal roles, along with tokens of pain and endearment. As part of the cabinet it is paired with a photograph of a little boy’s garment and real tokens similar to those photographed. A romantic narrative about male and female psychological roles is also an element. Both reproductions are the doors to this construction.

The form represents the case into which the art and society has attempted to place the Hispanic or Latino. The piece has been exhibited widely and included in the 1991 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of Art. As a wall cabinet, it was made in an unfinished edition of seven, the first one bought by the Lannan Foundation, the second by the Tyler Museum of Art, the third by the Barrett Collection of Dallas and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. As a photograph it has been in numerous exhibitions and is in private and public collections.

Tolido, the installation, was first conceived and produced simultaneously with another similarly sized installation and is a departure from the early book works and succeeding wall cabinets. The narrative style continues and the form expands the notion of the lie. The previous bodies of works were encased or constructed “lies.” The installations magnified them. They also paved the way to the environmental installations and public art that followed.

Tolido is a mixed media installation using wood, acrylic airbrush painting, white sand, and neon light. The painting is a copy of El Greco’s “Toledo” with a story about value. The tale is about buried treasure and is set in my grandmother’s backyard. Language comes into real play using the Spanglish word tolido as derived from the word toilet. El Paso’s backyard is White Sands Missile range.

Tolido, the silkscreen, is a return to the print form. Since the late 70s I vacillate between a lithographic and silkscreen effect. It is the print version of the installation and done much later.