‘Listen Global, Act Local’: A SXSW 2014 Recap

originally posted on Remezcla.

SXSW, the music festival that turns Austin, Texas, already dubbed the “Live Music Capital of the World” into a musical mecca and media frenzy came and went in the last weeks [Ed Note: this is roughly the amount of time needed to recover from the festival...hence the late recap]. At some point in the past, SXSW was a homegrown festival offering 20 shows for $20, but now the official showcases attract literally thousands of musical acts and multi-billion dollar corporations seeking music festival cred and advertising opportunities. Alongside the official SXSW that requires a music badge costing somewhere between $600 to $800, is an unofficial free scene with venues providing spaces for alternative sounds. Although, even massive unofficial parties like the Fader Fort are super commercialized at this point, providing free entry via limited RSVP tactics, free booze, and superstar acts like Rick Ross and Julian Casablancas. Still, it’s possible to find that ray of underground musical sunshine spotlighting blossoming musicians on the come-up in certain parties. The ‘Listen Global, Act Local’ showcase put on by Sol CollectiveConrazón, Kenny Dorhman’s Backyard, and DiverseArts is one of those covert parties flying low on the SXSW radar but hosting a hotbed of talent.

This backyard party presented by The Sol Collective, an organization that intersects art, community and activism, gives exposure to global artists with unique sounds that challenge the status quo and often get lost amid the mainstream corporate-backed acts dominating SXSW. On March 14th in a beautiful hilly space couched in colorful graffiti and local vendors, the carefully curated mix of artists on the bill for ‘Listen Global, Act Local’ came through with a cosmopolitan blend of international musical artistry.

From 2pm to after midnight, the party maintained a consistent offering of artists on the cusp of new and interesting sounds. I showed up as activist-minded artists ‘Quese’ and ‘Nymasis’ performed their conscious hip hop act that set an energetic and charged tone for the day. Later, Oakland-based Panamanian duo ‘Los Rakas’ got everybody live. Their smooth Cali vibes and plena, dancehall, rap musical blend was on point. Electronic First Nation DJ group ‘A Tribe Called Red’ from Canada “headlined” the event in the middle of the showcase right before ‘Zuzuka Poderosa’, along with ‘El Nego Mozambique,’ gave us an intense Brazilian baile funk performance. DJs from the Austin-based DJ collective ‘Peligrosa’ also injected their personal flavors of cumbia mixes in between acts. Peligrosa DJ ‘King Louie’ fulfilled cumbia dance dreams with a chopped and screwed version of Selena’s ‘Bidi Bidi Bom Bom’ track. Ugh it was just so good. Olmeca, Buscabulla, Las Krudas, Scatter Their Own, El Indio/ World Hood, Dre T, Luke Tailor, GTW, Atropolis, Canyon Cody and Precolumbian were also performers at the event.

Along with the music, vendors like Flores y Canto vintage clothing and radical bookstore MonkeyWrench perched their tents on the sidelines. The event was free, open to the public and all ages. ‘Listen Global, Act Local’ put a community-minded activist twist on what a music festival event can embody. Human rights activist and rapper Olmeca said, “En la oscuridad that is SXSW, venues like the Sol Collective showcase gives us alternative artists a place to shine.” It brought together members from the activist community, those wanting to hear autonomous music unchained from corporatized brands, and the musical artists themselves who need a space to share their creativity. I really can’t wait to see how this event evolves in terms of providing voice and space for this globalist collection of artists and people who make change. Hope to see you next year in Austin at the unofficial SXSW ‘Listen Global, Act Local’ party!

Artist Profile: Miguel Ovalle

originally published on Remezcla.
all photos by Miguel Ovalle unless stated otherwise.

all photos by Miguel Ovalle unless stated otherwise.

A human body draped with silver sequined textile slept on its side at the center of a room lined with photographs documenting a psychedelic celebration. ArtNowNY exhibited the remnants of an event named Glitterati, an imagining of artist Miguel Ovalle aka Dizmology. Photos at the gallery provided evidence of a party that recreated live distortions of everyday movements. Ovalle’s Greenpoint studio/living space supplied an atmosphere reminiscent of 90s clubkid warehouse raves but fashioned by an artist’s eye.

Spandex walls produced liquid partitions that allowed guests a tangible trip off the textures their bodies formed behind the fabric. Gold mylar created a mirroring effect around the rest of the space. And in a bluetron room, live projections of performers in LA, surround sound and a nice supply of party-enhancers contributed to the environment. Who were the partygoers? A select group of 40 to 50 artists, writers, curators, creators… people open to embracing a bizarre environment. Ovalle substituted party scene faces with silhouettes of sparkling texture and opalescent reflections. The photos are like the cloudy memories of a druggy hangover. Your memory of the night before is a blur of glitz and half-recognizable faces. “There’s beauty in these errors, distortions, imperfections…” Ovalle says.


Miguel Ovalle grew up in Opa-Locka, Florida, one of the more violent hoods north of Miami but had what he calls an “exit out of poverty,” which was his access to art magnet schools. Since 2nd grade Miguel commuted hours to a school out of his district to receive training in the arts. He grew up in a very religious, ultra conservative Pentecostal household and when it was time for him to fly, his family was against him going to college. They dubbed him “el pajaro loco” as he escaped on a full ride scholarship to Maryland Institute College of Art where he eventually graduated with honors.

After a stint in Tokyo where he got deported for doing illegal graffiti, he hustled his way into becoming Marc Ecko’s senior designer for the brand Ecko Red. He then worked with Victoria’s Secret PINK line doing their branding and logos for 6 years. He’s done apparel design for The Roots, Erykah Badu, Common, Lil Wayne, and MF Doom. But even though he’s made his name in the corporate world, his nights are dedicated to his personal art.

Although actual mentors were few for Miguel, his personal art is steeped in influences that range from street art, graffiti, hip hop to b boy and Japanese culture. In his show at ArtNowNY ‘Encryption,’ the street art and graffiti scene appear as important influences. Especially in his neo-futuristic architectural piece where he seems to be paying respect to the art of graffiti. Another human figure draped in a sequined cloak functioned as a kind of sacrifice laying elevated in front of his architectural tag piece. However, the sensation from the piece is not morbid. Instead it feels positive, more like an immortalization.

photo by Barbara Calderon-Douglass

photo by Barbara Calderon-Douglass

Miguel’s exhibits are always multi-sensory, which is what makes Miguel so interesting as an artist and why he can throw such a badass party. He understands how our conscious senses intersect. At the Encryption show, a cellist played in the corner while everyone drank their alcohol and peered into his glitch-inspired idea of the world. Intricate drawings of underwater femme fatales, architectural graffiti, dissected 3D paintings and human figure casts all populated the space showing the diverse mediums he uses to create his art. These unlikely juxtapositions are all over his work and not just in Encryption. In ‘Black Market,’ an exhibit Ovalle did with Citizen Kroger, he exhibited very taboo works -- motorcycles like orgasm machines, art that were also weapons, swords, and machine guns.

Miguel’s parents are both Dominican, raised in Williamsburg Brooklyn and the Bronx. His neighborhood growing up was a primarily Dominican and Black community. But when asked about the Latino element in his work, he says he doesn’t feel his art reflects that “Latino” thread that gets play at museums like Museo del Barrio or galleries that primarily exhibit Latino artists. He also doesn’t see his work as political; he sees it as therapeutic. The art world and institutions in general like to compartmentalize and pin people’s work as one thing or another, but Miguel’s work is hard to label. His thesis at MICA involved taking his professors to an abandoned tunnel behind a railroad track where he presented his thesis of atmospheric aerosol graffiti-- something that few if any other art students had done. But even those Latinos that fall through the cracks of art history eventually get their day.

Keep up with Miguel Ovalle on his instagram Dizmology and his website. We’ll update you with any future art shows in State of the Art.

A Romanticization of Mexico

originally published on artluxmag.

I have a very Mexican mother in Texas who almost choked on her mid-afternoon pan dulce when I told her I was traveling to Mexico this past summer. The border violence and drug war circumstances--beheadings, sequestrations and drug cartel violence-- are what most media outlets cover in regard to Mexico. Oh, and of course immigration, the other hot topic. If a news story on Mexico isn’t about human bodies being hung from bridges, it’s some xenophobic diatribe about how undocumented immigrants are destroying the pristine United States of ‘Merica. The word ‘Mexico’ can sometimes feel like a bad word, highly charged and controversial. This is particularly problematic for me and many people I know because to many Mexican-Americans and Mexicans in the U.S., Mexico is the Motherland. There are untold histories about the ancient civilizations, cultural relics destroyed or hidden during colonization and a sinkhole of untapped art history.

I flew over the golden-sparkled cityscape of Mexico D.F. to land in the Mexican state of Oaxaca for a day of solitude before my friends’ arrival. The margins of the capital Oaxaca city are lined with mountains where many Oaxacans live. About 48% of the population in Oaxaca is indigenous and speaks an assortment of native languages-- the most of any other Mexican state. Streets are made from round stones and the walls that border the avenues are an amalgam of bright colors. My first morning in Oaxaca began at my hostel Casa Angel where ladies from the mountains cooked fried eggs with fresh salsa and bread for the guests.

Art is omnipresent here. Scattered around the city are open air galleries with centers of fountains and gardens, no roofs to halt the sun, like a Turrell skyspace but au natural without all the LED bullshit. Flyers for poetry readings, book discussions, film viewings and art-making workshops signify an active art community. And the political street art in the form of stencils, graffiti and murals critiquing the government, predatory corporations and political corruption make it known there is a politicized youth.

I talked art and politics with a few of these artists, most affiliated with the art collective ASARO, a collective aimed at creating public art with a social consciousness. Associated with the collective is an artspace and printmaking studio called Espacio Zapata where I spent a chunk of down time drinking jamaica-infused mezcal. The space has an attached cafe called Café Colectivo Atila del Sur where bohemian artist boys serve tasty breakfasts and lunches while graphic t-shirts, prints and stickers are for sale in the entrance. Things like the revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata drawn as a punk with a mohawk are plastered on most objects.

Even though Oaxaca state had a 16.3% illiteracy rate in 2010, libraries are in abundance.* Home of the most calming menagerie of a study area, complete with drooping plants and fading sunlight, Biblioteca del Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca has the art book goods. They even had the recently published ‘Mexican Portraits’ by Pablo Ortiz Monasterio ready to peruse. Another library, Biblioteca Infantil de Oaxaca, a children’s library full of hot topics explaining religion, philosophy, and sex to young ones, was another beautifully planned out space with an open veranda, no shortage of trees or treasures.

After my first day of exploring libraries and art spaces, I began to saunter into unknown areas with glazed eyes, and I was outed as a tourist. A young guy asked me if I was German and told me he was a native Oaxacan, legit Zapotec, who knew everything about the city. He wanted to show me some sites! Woohoo, I met a local! He escorted me to Pochote, an organic market in Xochimilco where I drank Tejate, a drink made from cacao and other mountain-dwelling plants. Then, we sipped Espadín mezcal at a mezcalería closeby and talked politics until the topic turned to astrology and I had to make my way home.

My three Xicana power sisters from Austin, LA and Guatemala City showed up and we became the Oaxaca 4. Together, we tasted grasshopper-laden tlayudas (a giant fried tortilla like a tostada with beans, salsa and veggies,) bought textiles and artisan jewelry, and took a six-hour overnight bus to Mazunte, a beach where we moon-bathed and saw the sun dip out of the ocean. To access beaches in Oaxaca, you have to travel hours outside the capital through windy mountains, so yes dramamine was necessary. However, the beaches are godly. It’s like there’s no such thing as pollution; people are conscious of their waste and actively reuse and recycle. After eating a pineapple tamale on the beach, the seller asked me to return the corn husk.

And of course, the more institutional art world was not forgotten. We visited the contemporary art museum, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, and Museo de Ferrocarril, an abandoned train yard beautified with murals, but Museo de Textil de Oaxaca really took the cake. Museo de Textil is a textile museum with tapestries, traditional dresses and other clothing made from organic fibers and dyes of the region showcasing the weaving techniques artists have passed down for generations. In addition to their permanent collection, they had an exhibit ‘The Decent Women of 58th Street’ by Elena Martinez, a show centering on the status of female prostitutes in Yucatán. Paintings of nude women like paleolithic venus figurines were depicted in soft blues and pinks lounging or flaunting themselves for the painter. Photographs, bare ink illustrations and stitchings of an array of women were displayed on the walls leading up to more sculptural installations. Then, a bed stitched with an image of a woman covering her face, a stream of red yarn bursting from her vulva. In spanish, the words stitched on the bed read, “I am the prostitute and the saint. Always respect me.”

There’s something sacred about the ground in Mexico, and it’s not just some romanticization or exoticization of the foreign. That earth teems with a buried history. One of the last places we visited was the Museo de Arte Prehispánico Rufino Tamayo, which held Pre-Columbian artifacts from all over Mexico. Clay men and anthropomorphic animals from Aztec and Mayan civilizations stared out from behind glass. “They’re angry,” my friend Maribel said. “Their anger is palpable.” The true history of Mexico is what seemed most relevant to me after my trip. In the U.S., Mexico is degraded by sensationalistic media outlets with an agenda. It is also economically pimped out by the U.S. for it’s land and it’s people. There’s a tree I visited called “Arból de Tule” that was planted for the Aztec wind god Ehecatl. It’s magnificent and now thousands of years old, slowly dying a human-induced death. The ancient ruins of Mesoamerica speak for themselves.

View a slideshow of Oaxaca here. 


originally published on Remezcla.


The PINTA Latin American art festival came to a close yesterday and whisked away an assemblage of polished art professionals along with their cosmopolitan art pieces that included (among many others) a gold painting of Fidel Castro, a world map realized in colored-pencil shavings and a life-size dollar bill, slashed and coiled in a corner.



The scene at PINTA included a gathering of modish gallerists, curators, and artists smattered among two floors of exquisite installations. Art admirers floated among the gallery walls nipping at champagne and brie along the way. For fancy treat and drink offerings, the Latin-inspired restaurants Novecento and Comodo provided bars and seating areas for the diverse and stylish crowd. And the center of attention, the art, came in all forms: velvet knots, tropical bird chandeliers, and Yves Saint Laurent lipstick scrawlings were a few. And in addition to the visuals, lectures boasting keen analysis and contextualization accompanied the festival, even though most of the art spoke for itself.



This is the seventh installation of PINTA in NYC, and it’s sure to return next year. But in case you missed the art fair and would like to keep an eye on the Latin American art market, several art galleries in NYC host work from Latin American artists including: Cecilia de TorresHenrique FariaJosée BienvenuSalon 94Cristina GrajalesY Gallery andJulian Navarro Projects.


James Turrell


The center of my body, the solar plexus chakra remained warm throughout my visit to Aten Reign (2013) at the Guggenheim Museum a few weeks ago. It was one of the three installations by James Turrell happening simultaneously at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the LACMA in LA. The embryonic roundness of the rotunda and the gentle fading and then igniting of pink, purple, red and blue hues maintained the pleasant heat emanating from my center.

My interaction with Turrell's work tends to intersect with the most charged and meaningful relationships of my life. I previously wrote about my visit to Turrell's skyspace where I watched the dawn sky transform laying next to my first love. The last time I crossed Turrell's underground tunnel 'The Light Inside' at the MFAH was with my niece Dezma. We got in trouble taking photos of her in a meditative Buddha position between the dissected neon rectangle.  She passed away in March from childhood Leukemia at the age of 11.


I stayed watching the hypnotizing gradients, allowing the flux of memories and physical sensations to wash over me.  Most observers stayed with their necks bent back, mouths open to receive the rainbows. Others laid down to open their bodies in full appreciation of sense. I would almost describe it as a spiritual ceremony in the guise of "art." And I think that is exactly what gives Turrell's work such a powerful relevance. It cuts a hole in the ceiling, redirecting your gaze and clearing the way for a much-needed communion with the self.



Los Muros Hablan Creates Artistic Bridge Between NYC and Puerto Rico in El Barrio

At the center of Los Muros Hablan is a concept that reminds the community of the long history of Puertorriqueños in the tight-knit community of Spanish Harlem. “One of my main goals and my main dreams is to connect history with the culture already existing in El Barrio,” Jose Morales, producer of the event, says. Muralism is a way to facilitate direct contact with artists and the public without a museum setting which can sometimes turn people off, he explains. Painting in the street and on public property is a way to break down barriers, create conversations within the community and get youth interested in history.

Artist: Don Rimx & Nepo

At the center of Los Muros Hablan is a concept that reminds the community of the long history of Puertorriqueños in the tight-knit community of Spanish Harlem. “One of my main goals and my main dreams is to connect history with the culture already existing in El Barrio,” Jose Morales, producer of the event, says. Muralism is a way to facilitate direct contact with artists and the public without a museum setting which can sometimes turn people off, he explains. Painting in the street and on public property is a way to break down barriers, create conversations within the community and get youth interested in history.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Council Member and the first Puertorriqueña to serve in her council, was essential to making the event happen. “In East Harlem we have high gentrification pressures and a lot of displacement. With that, comes the possible erasure of communities and the invalidation of long struggles that have happened here. I think Los Muros Hablan is a way of affirming our existence, our contributions, our presence,” she says.

Jose Morales and Celso González, producers of Los Muros Hablan also have plans for El Barrio in the future. They both run an alternative artspace in Santurce, Puerto Rico called La Respuesta, a space that hosts events ranging from philharmonic orchestras to musical acts like Calle Trece. The space has been highly successful in engaging the Puerto Rican community in Santurce with performance, theatre, plastic and public arts, so they are looking to do the same here and open a similar space in El Barrio.

Artist: LNY

The artists involved come from a range of places including Puerto Rico, the U.S. and different parts of Latin America giving the event diverse and cosmopolitan exposure to a spectrum of styles and perspectives. Betsy Casañas, a muralist from Philadelphia with Puerto Rican roots, identifies as a public artist, first and foremost. Her mural will be a portrait of a 22-year-old girl who grew up in a family riddled with drug addiction. “A lot of my work is art and activism, art and change, transformation. The idea of exposure, if were not exposed then we have no idea.”

In another mural, Celso González will create a double-headed parrot with one face looking toward Puerto Rico and the other toward the sparkly skyline of NYC. Celso says, “We would like to create a bridge between Puerto Rico and New York City because there’s obviously a big connection between the two places. Puerto Rico is not only what happens on the island but what happens here as well.”

NY-based Puerto Rican artist Don Rimx says, “El Barrio es un lugar mítico que lleva muchos años de historia. Se va a pintar un poco mas de historia de una comunidad de Nueva Yol!” Make sure to check the calendar for updates on Los Muros Hablan events throughout the week. It’s the beginning of something big.


, NYC Council Member and the first Puertorriqueña to serve in her council, was essential to making the event happen. “In East Harlem we have high gentrification pressures and a lot of displacement. With that, comes the possible erasure of communities and the invalidation of long struggles that have happened here. I think Los Muros Hablan is a way of affirming our existence, our contributions, our presence,” she says.

Jose Morales and Celso González, producers of Los Muros Hablan also have plans for El Barrio in the future. They both run an alternative artspace in Santurce, Puerto Rico called La Respuesta, a space that hosts events ranging from philharmonic orchestras to musical acts like Calle Trece. The space has been highly successful in engaging the Puerto Rican community in Santurce with performance, theatre, plastic and public arts, so they are looking to do the same here and open a similar space in El Barrio.

Shepard Fairey in town for Wooster Collective 10 year Anniversary

So yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet one of the most regarded political artists in the street art world. Needless to say, I was super nervous. My stomach was a gravity-defying empty bubble and everything seemed like it was floating. Introvert problems. For real.

Shepard is in town for the Wooster Collective's 10 year Anniversary celebration and art show. Tonight is their opening, which includes work from world-renowned street artists like Miss Van (a personal favorite (!!!)) Swoon, Space Invader, ice cream lover BuffMonster and so many more.

We talked about art history, politics in the art world, immigration reform, and fellow artist beef. I got a lot of content for my graduate thesis as well. Some of the interview is published in an article on Remezcla here.




Fairey and his assistants were putting the finishing touches on the mural when I arrived. The center of the mural features a lotus flower woman holding an Obey emblem betwixt the words Peace and Justice. The details were rendered in a cream paint while the background brick was stained a deep maroon. I visited several of the other murals, part of the Dumbo Murals project metamorphosizing the walls under the BQE. See below.

shepard mural.jpg
mural 2.jpg
mural 3.jpg

Trayvon Martin Protests in NYC

"They found that man who killed that kid in Florida not guilty," my roommate said.

"What the FUCK? Isn't someone dead?"

The news of Trayvon's injustice did not settle til I got home and began reading Facebook and Twitter on my laptop. A friend from Houston posted she was at Razoo's when the news announced the verdict. White people at the bar whooped in celebration, while one black lady stormed off to the back of the room. The anger spread from my throat like food poisoning. My insatiable desire to read everything related to the case fanned that rage. While consuming the reactions, I received an invitation to a 3-hour silent protest in Union Square the following day from 3 to 6pm from my friend Dominique. After the silence, would be a rally and march to express the sorrow, frustration and anger at the state's failure to protect and provide recompense for the murder of a 17-year-old boy who committed no crime.


It was 90 degrees outside but that didn't stop us from donning our black hoodies and joining the circle of reticence. People came and went. The circle widened and contracted as strangers grasped hands and reflected on tragedy. As the hours changed and the heat penetrated our black clothes, the circle felt full, full like church on Easter Sunday.


Phones and cameras flashed in between connected figures. It was a media watering hole. Shining faces stopped to thank Dom for organizing the observance that proved an accessible way to communicate solidarity and express grief. By the third hour of silence, Union Square was thick with bodies. Crowds formed around the folks with bullhorns: Occupy folks, politicians, grassroots organizers and lots of young people.

The march that followed was more of a natural convulsion of rage. The crowds as wide as the street snaked south from Union Square hooking around the Lower East Side and returning North with the full force of a charging army. The goal was Times Square-- to show the tourist suburbanite townies, hopefully some Florida conservatives, how the fuck we felt about the Zimmerman verdict. The police attempted to halt us, to trap us by Penn Station, but there was no budging. The apathetic masses sheltered in their cabs were caught in a chanting gridlock. The police didn't have a choice but to let us through. My blistered feet brought me to the cocky luminescence of Times Square and for once I greeted it, greeted it with a sunburned face.

And the tourists stared. They stared puzzled and dismayed, open-mouthed and fascinated. From the tops of open roof buses, from the Olive Gardens and TGIFridays, from under the campy glitz of corporate ad glamour, they stared. They stared with a camera at their chin and a fanny pack at their gut. We chanted his name and we projected his picture in retort. THIS. THIS is why.

On my retreat to the subway, I heard a woman explaining to her little girl, "Honey, it's because I don't agree with what they're saying."

What do I do you ask? I lift my sign higher and ask myself, what's next? What do we do to prevent another Zimmerman? What about the opposition-- the opposition that's on my facebook feed? The shameless white people who express their apathy toward the case? What about all those that deny a racial component to the murder? And the hate? What about the people who want to buy Zimmerman a new gun?

In the following days of the verdict and nationwide protests, I felt compelled to discuss the matter in any possible way. I even found myself trapped in a two hour conversation with commenters on a YouTube video. First time in my life.

The common excuse for apathy is that in a few days everyone will have forgotten. I disagree. I drown out those defeatists.


Trayvon Protest in NYC

Yesterday communities all over the U.S. organized to profess their disapproval of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Late Saturday night George Zimmerman, a man who shot and murdered an unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, was acquitted of all charges, revoking any observable justice for the family of the dead teenager. In reaction to this, NYC protesters from the Bronx to Harlem to Union Square to Brooklyn took to the streets to show their disdain for the judicial system, a system that allowed a man to follow and kill a young boy armed with nothing but skittles, iced tea and his dark skin.

A public display of human sorrow for Trayvon culminated in a 3-hour silent protest at Union Square with people holding hands in a circle. After the silence, thousands marched in the streets chanting, “No Justice, No Peace” and sometimes adding “Fuck the Police.”

A sea of protest art including a life-size image of Trayvon attached to wood accompanied the infuriated rainbow of mostly young people.

In addition to the impromptu posters, signs and performances throughout yesterday’s protests, professional artists and collectives have articulated their passions through art as well. Dignidad Rebelde, artist duo Melanie Cervantesand Jesus Barraza based out of Oakland, CA, collaborated with Just Seedsartist Santiago Mazatl to create the green and sepia print of a smiling Trayvon. “I am Trayvon and My Life Matters,” the piece reads.

Street art and graffiti artists have joined the fight for Trayvon as well. Wheatpastes and spray-painted figures donning hoodies and skittles have become a symbol for the unnecessary crimes and institutional injustice against people of color. Needless to say, the rage is palpable and that rage has activated artistic expression across the U.S. And it will only heighten in the coming days. I mean, if this isn’t political artistic expression, I don’t know what is.


La Pocha Nostra

I came across Guillermo Gomez-Peña's performance art collective, La Pocha Nostra, as I was doing research for my weekly art column for Remezcla. Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival is this month and the group gave one performance at Grace Exhibition Space in Bushwick on July 5th.

I remember Gomez-Peña from "The Couple in a Cage" performance he did with Coco Fusco. My professor John McKiernan-Gonzalez for a 'Mexican Americans in the U.S.' class at UT Austin showed us the video my sophomore year in college. The two artists, dressed in feathered headdresses, face paint, and at times Chuck Taylor sneakers, are locked in a cage and put on display in a museum as fictitious members of a "lost Amerindian tribe" from the Gulf of Mexico. They type on laptops, engage the audience with dances and watch TV. Their activities were described to the audience as "traditional" and "authentic" and at one point they were referred to as "specimens." Nearly half of all the people who saw the installation believed Fusco and Gomez-Peña were real "discovered" indigenous people.

The performance was a critical stab at the mainstream's practice of otherizing or exoticizing the cultures of indigenous groups. This idea that one's culture can be bottled, scrutinized and defined inside museum walls or any institution, even the institution of the psyche, powers the colonizer mentality. Once "understood" by the mainstream and dwindled down to a nicely packaged definable stereotype, the cultural practices of non-Anglo people are ready to be appropriated. The consistent appropriation and/or mockery of cultural practices that can include clothes, customs and ceremonies happens daily and especially on Halloween (i.e. Chola/ghetto parties, Cinco de Mayo drunk Mexicans etc.)

Gomez-Peña's performance was one of the early artistic critiques that helped mold my consciousness, so it was essential to see his current work, especially since the collective is international and prefers to perform in smaller cities and villages as opposed to cultural meccas like NYC. I've known performance pieces to be pretty strange, sometimes boring but usually off the wall. Nudity, weapons and indigenous imagery were scattered across La Pocha Nostra's website, and they spoke of "radical pedagogy." To get a better idea of what was to come later that night, I meandered down to Multimedia Services during my lunch break to watch Border Brujo and Son, a 52 minute film included in an anthology of Gomez-Peña's work called Border Art Clásicos. Gomez-Peña was adorned with saber tooth bracelets and banana necklaces, Batman buttons and calavera earrings, and talked to me in gringo drawls, Cholo slang and Chilango talk. At that moment I understood. Even if I couldn't explain it.

"Border Brujo speaks in Spanish to Mexicans, in Spanglish to Chicanos, in English to Anglo-Americans, and in tongues to other brujos and border crossers. Only the perfectly bicultural can be in complicity with him." - GGP

However, explaining to someone that dead animals, toy guns, dildos etc. are a part of a show about identity, Chicanismo and border crossings is difficult. Getting someone to go with me was quite a feat. I attempted to explain away seemingly esoteric concepts as I knew they would appear in a midst of absurdity and convinced my roommate to attend even though the cover was $20.

It began with the heavily costumed actors weaving through the crowd of 30 or so art-gawkers. An angelic boy-girl with ass-padded pantyhose was saran-wrapped to a column. A blonde Amazon woman clawed off his plastic cage with her cyborg-reptilian tail. A bald man with a coat of feather fingers flapped on a platform and a bare-breasted Sheeva policed the crowd wielding a bat. An altar held a naked woman being pricked with acupuncture needles bearing flags with corporate logos. At one point the angelic boy with hips twerked in pink panties next to a skinned lamb.


In the end, my roommate asked, "So all this had to do with Chicanos?"


Your Waste of Time @ PS1

Had a fun Saturday at PS1's Warm Up party in Long Island City. Met a lot of people from MeetUp's group United Latino Professionals and had the chance to visit the Ice Room, Olafur Eliasson's installation titled 'Your Waste of Time' attempted to get the public up close and personal with the effects of globalization. Blocks of an Icelandic glacier were imported across the ocean to be placed on display in a refrigerated room (see pic below.) I'm a little too happy considering the exhibit's topic. However, the novelty of prancing around an "ice room" with 100 plus degree temperatures outside was, at the time, nothing but a luxury.