Delilah Montoya

Of primary importance is my view of art as a serious and responsible vehicle for exploring issues of Chicana ideology. In my own evolving critical study, I question my identity as a Chicana in occupied America, and articulate the experience of a minority woman. I work to understand the depth of my spiritual, political, emotional and cultural icons, realizing that in exploring the topography of my conceptual homeland, Aztlan, I am searching for the configurations of my own vision.

My approach to art makes use of documentary methods. With each project I study the discourse by examining the issues. The projects, I produced, Crickets in My Mind, an artist book in collaboration with Cecilio Garcia Camarillo, a Chicano poet; Saints and Sinners, a photo installation exploring the nature of the Hermandad (a penitental brotherhood); The Codex Delilah; Six Deer a Journey From Mechica to Chicana; From the West: Shooting the Tourist; El Corazon Sagrado/The Sacred Heart; Las Lloronas, a collaboration with printmaker Asta Lkuusinen; To Be Invisible; and La Guadalupana.

El Corazon Sagrado/The Sacred Heart is a collection of collotypes that portrays Albuquerque’s Chicano Community. The images explore the manifestation of the Sacred Heart as a cultural icon. This symbol is a spiritual icon that is embedded in the religious fabric of my culture. Basing my research on my own Mestiza perspective, I have concluded that this Baroque religious symbol expressed shared cultural religious patterns that connote a syncretic relationship between European Catholicism and Aztec Philosophy.

When the Aztec Indians, for example, fashioned the bleeding heart on the Franciscans’ coat of arms, they included their own stylized circular glyphs. For the Indians these glyphs represented the blood flowing from the sacrificial victims. Consequently, this representation could no longer exclusively be considered the heart of Christ in the sense previously intended by the European monks. Likewise, because of the new Christian definitions, the glyphed bleeding heart was not simply the sacrificial heart the Indians were being taught to forget. The Baroque Sacred Heart in the Americas is an icon that resulted from an encounter. It is not purely Indian in content and never completely European in its form. Rather it is a hybrid of two diverse cultures that clashed and bonded at a particular historic moment and created the foundation for religious syncretism.

My approach to the Sacred Heart was to involve the community in a contemporary manifestation of the heart as a cultural icon. As a photographic printmaker, I photographed members of the Chicano community with an 8 x 10 view camera. The portraits were shot in a constructed space and reproduced as Collotypes. The constructed space was the result of collaboration with Chicano youth (aerosol artists) who sprayed-painted images on the studio wall. These murals were used as backdrops for the portraits.

The installation Saints and Sinners is an investigation of Chicano spiritualism. This investigation is part of a study to define a personal and collective identity. Spiritualism, a binding force of the Chicano homeland, is crucial to maintaining the mental boundaries of Aztlan. The study deals with iconography used by the Hermandad for the transmutation of sin to absolution. The exhibit expresses the universal themes of life, death and salvation.

The glass jar series, a component of Saints and Sinners, refers to the alchemist’s method of transmutation. The alchemist places a material together with a catalyst in order to change it into a superior material. The jar symbolizes the corporeal and the materials placed inside the soul. Like a being, each jar is unique and possesses the potential for transformation. The exterior environment in which the jars float represents the land as altar space. Just as the cathedral provided a spiritual uplift for the Western man, the land is the uplift for the Indigenous American. The exterior landscapes echo the interior ambiance of the jar.

Within the framework of a feminist vision The Codex Delilah: A Journey From Mexicatl to Chicana approaches the Spanish/Indian encounter from a mestizaje perspective. As a Chicana, I am conscious of how the historical contributions of women have been undermined or completely ignored. This project attempts to correct the injustice by rethinking the traditional interpretation of the European/Native Encounter. The narrative of this artist book is viewed from the perspective of Six Deer, a fictional Mayatec young girl from the Tutuepec region near present day Mexico City. From her home to the nuclear weapons laboratories in New Mexico, the codex details Six Deer’s journey of enlightenment.

As she journeys “pal norte,” toward Aztlan (the spiritual home of her ancestors) Six Deer also travels forward in time meeting well-known women of the Chicano folklore tradition. Each of these characters informs her of the long and negative historical processes that were initiated by the European encounter. For example, Six Deer meets La Llorona, a manifestation of Cortez’s mistress, Malinche, who describe the effect of the conquest on her people. As Six Deer travels through time and space she learns and simultaneously reveals to us our historical identity and how, for our people, survival has meant learning to live within a multicultural heritage and ambiance.

From the West: Shooting the Tourist attempts to redirect documentary photography from the “objective” vision of modernity by documenting the search for the “West” by way of the tourist attraction. The notion is to return the documentary gaze. This work was commissioned by the Mexican Museum for the traveling exhibition From the West and consists of seven artist books constructed into accordion fold postcards and one photomural. The mural depicts a tourist line waiting for a ride on Thunder Mountain at Frontier Land in Disneyland. The series of post cards documents various tourist activities such as staging, going native, collecting, and looking.

During the summer of 1996 I assembled an installation in a bathroom in a room at the Hotel Santa Fe in New Mexico. The intent was to tie the Chicano Myth of Llorona/ the Weeping Woman with the contemporary news stories of young women that denied their pregnancies. Like the story of Llorona these women are ostracized for killing their offspring. The room is converted into Llorona’s room complete with her trappings like water and a grapevine with exposed roots to resembling wire-like hair. A Cherub floats around the room. A shower curtain is screen printed with a line of young female faces expressing shock. Tossed onto the bathroom floor are green hi-heels and for reading entertainment are the tabloids about the heinous newborn killings. Grafitied on the wall is the installation’s title, For a Good Time Call 1-900-Llorona. I believe everyone pays on this issue. In collaboration with Asta Kuusinen, with the same intent of For a Good Time Call 1-900-Llorona, Las Lloronas installation was installed in various locations throughout Albuquerque.

A recent work, La Guadalupana, is a 15.5-foot photomural that was installed at theMusee Puech Denys at Rodez, France. I was invited to create an installation that would source the Guadalupe. Since a 17c-easel painting resided in the town’s cathedral, they were familiar with the icon as a religious relic. I wanted to present them with the Chicano vernacular concerning the Virgin. The mural depicts a “Pinta” (inmate) standing in front of metal bars, he is wearing handcuffs, and a tattoo of the Guadalupe is on his back. Shot with an 8 x 10 camera, the negative holds amazing detail and blown up to 15.5 feet the pores on the back and the hairs on the arms are quite visible. It resonates a massive projection. The intention was to return an image of colonialism’s dark side to Europe. Ultimately the piece resonated the sacred and profane. Once again Saints and Sinners theme emerged. The installation resides in the collection of the New Mexico Fine Art Museum.

At present, my conceptions are rendered though printing processes like photographic lithographs, serigraphs, collotypes or chemical/digital photographic prints. My formal interest is to incorporate computer and graphic skills with photo processes that together form a photographic printing technique. This composite skill, a result of experimentation with printmaking, computer technology and photography, allows for the interjection of my conceptual expression to the photo image.

Digital Imaging Statement

As an artist with a history of creating photographic images with different media, I find the malleability of digital technology offers compelling imagery. The truth of the matter is that most of the special effects produced through the computer can be composed by a comparable analog method; the computer simply does it with greater efficiency. Throughout my career, I have worked the image by re-constructing it through various processes. This resulted from the desire to bring together a mark making response into process oriented applications like printmaking or photography. In my estimation with the arrival of the digital age my technical aptitudes have crystallized.

As a photographic printmaker (who developed collotype, photo-lithography, photo-serigraphy, non-silver and special effects technique), I have insight regarding image support surfaces. The support surface is the sculptural aspect of the image and constructs the conceptual as well as the formal intentions of the artist. As far as outputting the digital images onto various surfaces one must be prepared to experiment. The printer responds uniquely to each surface. Minute changes in the software profiles will dramatically change the ultimate look of an image. Currently, the industry offers a variety of print materials such as mylar, canvas, rag and cover stock papers. Each surface will either hold the image with the amazing clarity of color balance and contrast or soften it beyond recognition. It is my experience that cover stocks and mylar surfaces tend to hold the digital image well. Certain rag papers like copperplate, Somerset, or a German etching paper make for an exquisite print. Once the photographic digital image has been outputted to a well-suited surface, it lands between the chemical photograph and the photo lithograph/collotype and thus rivals the graphic print.

The most rewarding aspect of digital imaging is the way the initial capture can be worked. The possibilities are endless. Yet with a little skill and vision those possibilities are edited to meet the needs of the designer. “Guadalupe En Piel,” a window installation at the Andrew Smith Gallery (12/2000) in Santa Fe N.M., was precisely that type of project. The intention was to take an eminent myth and frame it by evoking an intellectual response to an archaic symbol.

The Guadalupe, a bi-cultural icon, denotes not only the international Baroque response immersed in Catholicism but references central parameters to Nahuatl thought. The apparition story is seemingly simple. On Saturday, December 9, 1531, “Our Lady” first appeared to Juan Diego, Mexican Indian and recent Catholic convert. She requested that a church be built in her honor. The “señal”/sign or proof that Juan Diego had spoken to Guadalupe or “Our Lady”/Tonantzin is her graphic appearance onto his cloak known as a “tilmatli” or tilma. Like the Guadalupe, herself, the collective understanding of the tilma has remained intact throughout the centuries and resonates in the consciousness of Xicano society.

The tilma references cloth as a symbolic “magical alteration of reality” and a metaphor for the second skin. The first skin of course is nakedness and the second skin conceals that state. In addition, for Nahuatl society the second skin evokes the “Xipe Totec’s flayed skin garment, which was presented to this Amerindian deity following sacrificial rituals in observance of military and fertility rites.” The Xipe Totec was considered the male equivalent to the earth and moon goddess. During the ritual the youth to be flayed wears a mask made of skin that was considered to be the sacrificed Earth Mother/Tonantzin. Interestingly, prior to the sacrificial flaying of the woman who represented the goddess, she wore a tilma made of maguey. This act binds the tilma into the ritual practice associated with the “Xipe Totec.” The tilma that Juan Diego was wearing when the Guadalupe’s miraculous image imprinted onto the fabric was made of maguey. Like the Guadalupe, the maguey is native to the Americas and is associated with Nahuatl spirituality. The tilma that was worn by Diego hangs to this day in Mexico City at the basilica that was built at the request of Guadalupe and in her honor.

It is believed that without the Guadalupe myth that bridged the Spanish and Native American cultures, an absolute holocaust may have ensued. Her acceptance by the Catholic Church opened the door for the conversion of the Amerindian people by extending the spiritual views of both societies.

With all this in mind, the contemporary tattooing of the Guadalupe onto the backs of Cholos is not an odd coincidence, that is, if one trusts the collective consciousness. This act in many ways is a ritual practice that is meant to provide protection against harm and also empowers the Cholo during conflicts. It is the protective symbol for the pugnacious person. In tattooing Guadalupe’s images onto their backs, the ritualistic wearing of “Our Lady” is referenced. In following the myth, the tattooed Cholo can be though of as the Xipe Totec who is the male aspect of Tonantzin. This act binds together both the male and female energies of “Our Lady.”

The installation makes indirect reference to these ideas by displaying a Guadalupe tatoo located on the back as a rollout; creating a college digitally: the left pectoral, left shoulder, back, right shoulder and right pectoral are displayed as a seamless image. The image resembles a garment or rather the second skin that has been flattened. In photographing the original tattoo work onto 8 x 10 black and white negatives then capturing them to a digital file, the final output has an impressive clarity. This clarity compares to the immediacy of a photographic imprint while at the same time is structured to my conceptual ideas concerning the tilma as the second skin. The ideas are further elaborated in that the tattoo work exemplifies the style of the Cholo Artist. On the left shoulder lies a depiction of Cristo Crucificado, the back has “Armijio” written in Old English lettering with the Guadalupe positioned below it, and the right shoulder displays the praying hands. This image, laminated onto three panels, is located on reverse side of a nine-panel mural that measures a total of eight feet. The digital image is of a Cholo/Veterano handcuffed with a Guadalupe tattooed on his back. He stands in front of iron bars in a detention center.

Below the “Armijo” image is an additional rollout of a full-bodied female torso and depicted between the shoulder blades lies the Guadalupe. The image is printed on frosted mylar that gives it a front/back view and then the rollout is suspended with filament wire. One is struck by the fleshiness that fractures the body onto valleys and hills that conceal contouring crevasses. The form references the “earth” and the nipples suggest “mother.” It is the visual kenning from Earth Mother, “Our Lady Guadalupe”/Tonantzin. The image becomes fully awake during daybreak and twilight when the lights in the window back-light the “Earth Mother” and illuminates the image with a warm glow while the ambient daylight clarifies the front surface. The moment between night and day speaks of the dual nature invested by Nahautl thought concerning “difrasismo.” It is a poetic technique in which a single idea is expressed by two words, either because they are synonymous or because they complement each other. In this case the daybreak express the crack between worlds as a creative act that moves between worlds.

Pressed , with white vinyl lettering, onto the window is a poem composed by Alurista that was written specifically for the installation. It reads:

Corazón colonizado
como rosa blooms

guadalupe tonantzin
en la tilma de nuestra

xicana piel


The poem grounds the installation’s concerns of presenting a contemporary Xicano expression of the Guadalupe. For the Xicano, she is our protector, a symbol of empowerment, and “Our Lady” of the Americas.

The installation is entirely constructed digitally and outputted with an Epson 9000 onto mylar and cover stock paper. It was laminated with an UV protective film and then the photo-mural was adhered to panels made of Syntra. The viewer rarely stops to consider if the installation is a digital display. It is accepted as an art-piece and at times confused with the chemical process. At one point, I was asked, “So are you working chemically?” In general, the window installation, “Guadalupe En Piel,” is discerned as photographic in nature. In my estimation this certifies that the photographic environment has effectively implemented the digital electronic image into its paradigm and if the work is compelling the distinctions that divide the photographic imprint from the drawing become moot.