Updated: Jan 9
For more than 20 years I have always painted from my own personal experience which has been the processing and abandonment of generational and ancestral trauma. Chicana philosophical writer, Gloria Anzaldúa, wrote an essay titled "Towards a New Chicano Consciousness" in which she redefined the 16th century Aztec word "nepantla" to mean "torn between ways".
She used her redefinition to describe the Mexican American experience living a dual American life under polarizing identity politics, where she asks her readers,
"..la mestiza is a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another...and in a state of perpetual transition, the mestiza faces the dilemma of the mixed breed: which collectivity does the daughter of a dark skinned mother listen to?"
This is a question that puts anyone of color at a crossroads. In other words, where do we go from here? The book was full of theorists and poets, mostly critics of race and gender, expressing injustice, anger and protest, which after a while, was difficult to read. But Gloria's essay was a call to action for "women of color" to begin the spiritual process of healing from institutional racism (now known as systemic racism), post colonialism, and gender inequality. It is no accident that she placed this essay as the last chapter. The book I'm referring is called "Making Face, Making Soul: Hacienda Caras" 1990.
MOVING TOWARD THE WITHIN
It was this essay and a few other quotes that changed my life. She once said:
"In order to heal the wound, we first have to reopen it."
Yet another call to take a step towards healing. In 1997, I wanted to do an art exhibition exploring sex positive feminism. And so I emerged into the art world with an activist art exhibition at Galería de la Raza, in San Francisco, California, called "My Life as a Comic Stripper," in which I used the cartoon as an editorial to comment on the politics of exotic dancing. The show was controversial and received mixed reviews. Over time, I realized that the only way to motivate myself to make art, was to define it as activism. I wasn't sure I liked that. Do I want to spend the rest of my life fighting something through my art? Can it be less political and more spiritual?
ONCE I OPENED THE WOUND, GUESS WHAT I FOUND?
In 2006 I began to distance myself from activist art. And this was very scary. Because most of my friends were leftist radicals like me and I didn't want to disappoint them. It was they who took me into the art world and stood by my side when I was attacked by conservative right-wing radicals. I felt a loyalty to them and leaving meant having no protection, support, or art world family. In 2007, I had lost a well-known gallery representing my art in Los Angeles due to the recession. And I finally lost my inspiration as an artist. I was struggling in my marriage. I didn't like myself back then and I felt suicidal. I was disillusioned and resisted therapy, because I was too vulnerable, fearing that it would throw me into a dark mental hole that I could never get out of.
However, the universe has a way of giving me an opportunity at my worst moment. It was revealed itself to me through an artist residency called, "La Curtiduria" (Leather Factory), where its founder, world-renowned Mexican artist Damien Flores, offered me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in my new ideas. I asked for 6 months and the next thing I knew I was on a plane leaving San Francisco, ground zero of the radical left-wing American conflict, to another place of conflict, Oaxaca, a state next to Chiapas, both ground zero for radical Mexican socialist conflict.
At "La Curtiduria", I brought many books, such as "The Primal Mind" by Jamake Highwater, "Hacienda Caras" by Gloria Anzaldua, "The Daily Practice of Painting" by Gerhard Richter, and my old catechism bible from the 70's. I started walking backwards, into my past and realized that now was the time to reopen the wounds of the past. I closed my eyes and picked the scab. There, bleeding, it was my old catechism bible that I was reading at the time that pointed me to the source, the shame. It showed me the powerful archetypes that have evolved in mythological history: the Virgin Mary and Eve. I realized that shame was a big part of my reason for being an activist artist. These archetypes were purposely designed to be conflicted and to be moral teaching tools that were long indoctrinated through the Catholic Church. I am not here to criticize religion nor am I going to cling to perceived past mistakes as an excuse to validate current stereotypical trends against religions. These days I have seen children's Bibles that have completely eliminated the expulsion of Adam and Eve and the blaming of Eve.
Because women are the guardians of beauty and sexuality, we are easy targets of shame. Shame is a negative emotion that, if left unchecked, can lead to devastating collateral damage, such as worthlessness and helplessness. And so I began my artistic residency developing a new female archetype protesting shame. The mask is inspired by Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas. The lingerie represents sexual beauty and the military outfit for the war inside myself. This series took me about 10 years to complete. The reason it took me so long, was that moving away from beliefs that don't serve me and creating spiritual art, took a long time to do. In 2017, I opened the doors of my concept gallery, Galeria Nepantla, to investigate the crossroads of conflict resolution. I opened it with finished paintings from the Masked Women series and called it "Legends of the Realm of Nepantla" where a group of women go on a journey to rid themselves of shame. And yes, the personal is the spiritual.
The pastel drawing of this blog, "The Desire", is for sale as limited edition prints. The original is also available.