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
Albuquerques 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 alchemists
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 Deers journey of enlightenment.
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 Cortezs
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 Lloronas
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 installations 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.
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
towns 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
colonialisms 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
Digital Imaging Statement
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
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 Totecs 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 Guadalupes
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.
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 Guadalupes
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.
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:
como rosa blooms
en la tilma de nuestra
The poem grounds the installations 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.