Originally published on Remezcla.
Chicanas, chingonas, and cholas deified as fierce queens glare down from the canvas in Crystal Galindo‘s paintings. The rainbow of brown women depicted in her oeuvre are not your typical portrait subjects. They’re artists, immigrants, and activists with an air of nobility, bedecked with beaded jewels in indigenous designs and necklaces of human hearts – similar to the one worn by Aztec goddess Coatlicue. Galindo’s work goes beyond traditional depictions of the muse as an airy waif. She instead portrays resilient women who put their culture at the forefront.
With crowns of sugary pink conchas and headdresses of mazapán as her jeweled tiaras, Galindo’s self-portraits are also a political act of cultural inclusion. In the age of the front-facing camera, where many people arebeginning to see selfies as political and aesthetic acts of resistance, her portraits are bestowing power on a different crop of women. They’re on par with the idea behind #XicanaDaily Instagram posts on @Xicanisma_ , where reposted selfies are designed to celebrate of brown woman aesthetics.
In the last few years, Galindo has been on her hustle creating new work out of Oakland, sending off paintings to galleries across the U.S., and even doing her own curating. She curated the show Muxeres at El Comalito last October, the same month she gave birth to her daughter Iyari, whom she calls her pan dulce cósmica. Last March, the two were used as models for a mural painted at Facebook headquarters by muralist Jessica Sabogal.
I truly believe that selfies are so much more than a shallow, narcissistic tool.
While Galindo has begun finding a captive audience for her work via social media and small shows, her style of painting wasn’t always accepted. She had it tough while getting her studio arts degree from Sonoma State University, where her classmates’ critique of her work was that it reminded them of bad Mexican paintings. “They remind me of being drunk in Mexico,” they’d say. “You need to stop painting yourself. Are you trying to be Frida?” She says there were times she wanted to give up. Not until she began showing in pop-up shows and small galleries did she receive feedback from women who saw themselves in her work. “People told me my work made them feel empowered and beautiful. So I told myself I’m going to keep going because our stories need to be told. That’s more important than somebody telling me they can’t relate because they’re privileged,” she said.
Galindo spoke with me about the political elements of her work and how diversifying images in our visual landscape is so important.
With the subjects of your paintings as cholas, indigenas, Chicanitas, chingonas, and black xicanas, you really define the multiplicity of what a Xicana is. Can you talk about what you believe encompasses the Xicana experience?
If I were to speak broadly about it, I think that we’re navigating multiple worlds. It’s not just navigating two. It’s not just the ‘ni de aqui, ni de alla’ mentality. To say my history, my heritage, my culture, my ancestors are from the other side of the border, but I was born and raised on this side: I think it’s more complex than that. There’s so many different identities. Like do you speak Spanish or do you not? Do you identify with colonization or do you want to decolonize and reclaim your roots? In that sense, I think there is a struggle to reconnect and reject even the colonialism that exists within Mexican culture.
Can you give me the background story for your painting ‘Black Xicana Queen’?
My sister and I grew up in a small town of predominantly Chicanos, indigenous Mexicans and a lot of white people. We didn’t really have a lot of diversity in our schools and with our peers. I knew she always felt different. I decided that I wanted to paint her not to tokenize her struggle but to celebrate her and give her the platform she deserved. I wanted to address in a proud way that she has overcome the type of racism that exists in our community. Not only is she a black queen but she’s a Xicana queen too. That’s something people where we grew up did not understand. I think within our community there is a lot of anti-black racism that people like to ignore or normalize, and I think it’s time to speak on it and hold people accountable. I think that painting has sparked those type of conversations.
Using her sister Rocio as the model, Crystal celebrates the beauty in indigenous cultura and the mix of African and Mexican ethnicities Rocio comes from. Beautiful and proud, a crown with an eagle perches on her majestic curls. She is a queen, gazing at the viewer with her spirit animal by her side, protecting her from harm. Images of her past and symbols regarding her childhood encompass the background.
Let’s talk about the selfie. Do you believe selfies have a bigger symbolic meaning, maybe some sort of political element?
I truly believe that selfies are so much more than a shallow, narcissistic tool. I see it all the time on social media where people are calling other people out saying, “put the phone down, stop talking selfies, worry about something else,” or “all these selfies and no knowledge of self.” It’s coming from a misogynistic standpoint. I think selfies are combating the stereotypes and ideas that society has put upon us that we have to fit some sort of mold to be beautiful. It is totally amazing to combat the idea of Eurocentric whiteness as the pinnacle of beauty by taking a selfie and posting it. In doing that, we are letting the world know: “I think I’m beautiful. I think I look fine as hell today, and I don’t care what you think of me.” It creates a sort of camaraderie among people of color. We appreciate each other. We can uplift each other with that and we can love ourselves despite what society thinks we should look like or how we should behave.
Representation matters. When you see yourself in works of art or on TV it helps you to realize that you matter.
You explicitly say you do not identify as Latina, Hispanic, and do identify as Yaqui/Xicana. Can you explain why you don’t identify as Latina/Hispanic?
Growing up, I didn’t think that people would understand what Yaqui or Xicana meant. As I started to gain more confidence in myself and learn more about the complexities of colonization, assimilation, and cultural genocide, I decided I didn’t want to label myself in a way that would give credit to colonization or those that oppressed me for my identity. There’s more under the surface than that. Using those all-encompassing terms can be almost dangerous to our identity. It can whitewash us and strip us of our indigeneity. I felt that’s what it was doing to me. It was stripping me of my indigenous pride and roots.
Why do you have to explicitly put on your Tumblr, “I do not consent to porn, fetish or nude blogs reflagging me or my work?” Is this the down side, problematic part of social media?
Social media has its quirks. People feel like they know you in a more personal way than they should. It makes way for people to slide into your DMs, especially patriarchal men feeling the need to message me, to hit on me, or to try to tell me that what I’m doing is wrong because they feel for some reason that being empowered as a woman is offensive to men and families. They tell me I have a child, so I shouldn’t be on social media showing cleavage. It’s usually people who at first try to talk to me in some sort of sexual way. I’m in a monogamous relationship so I feel the need to shut that down right away.
“I’m Not Your Puppet” 3x4ft acrylic and colored pencil on wood. Copyright 2015 Crystal Galindo.
The fact that I have to put that message on Tumblr is indicative of how a lot of men see our selfies and photos as a means of consumption. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a picture that’s a full body or if it’s from the neck up, the photos get reblogged, and I start to get unsolicited dick pics. It’s a means of harassment that I don’t think anybody deserves. To shrug our shoulders and to say, “that’s just men” feeds into a type of culture where women always have to be on guard and we are blamed for the things that happen to us in that way– the catcalling, the harassment online. Ultimately, we’re see as less than human because we’re here for male consumption and were disposable.
I think I would be doing a disservice to the body positive movement to not discuss how your work is a celebration of women who challenge beauty ideals. The women you paint are forces of nature.
I don’t just choose to paint people who are beautiful. Even though they are beautiful to me, it’s something that is secondary. I choose them because of the feeling I get from being around them or seeing them on social media. Especially with the next series ‘Chingones.’ I’m not thinking, “Oh I have to choose someone because they have this body type and they’ll look good in a work of art. It’s more like, “Wow this person has persevered. They’re doing their thing and I’m really proud of them, and I want to paint them.” I end up painting this whole spectrum of women who don’t always fit the beauty standard. We’re creating this whole different side to beauty that is representational of us. Representation matters. When you see yourself in works of art or on TV it helps you to realize that you matter. If you look around and don’t see anyone that looks like you or reflects a similar background or body type or awkwardness, it makes you feel isolated and that you shouldn’t exist. Representation is crucial to helping others accept themselves and love themselves.
Raquel de Anda is a cultural organizer and advocate for diversity in the arts bringing international public art projects to light in roles as a curator and producer. She’s organized art shows such as ChicaChic: La Nueva Onda, and other transmedia projects like Question Bridge: Black Males, a project that aimed to break down stereotypes about the black male. You can also thank her for getting groups like Culture Strike and Ropavejeros to make art installations for the historic People’s Climate March in 2014. Her work is multifaceted yet consistently retains the element of social justice at its root. Her most current endeavor is working as the Executive Producer on The Argus Project, a performance intervention about police accountability which will debut at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
Growing up outside the city limits of Laredo, Texas, De Anda has what Chicana feminist and theorist Gloria Anzaldúa calls a “consciousness of the Borderlands” where you are integrally a part of two worlds and develop a dual understanding of the world. This upbringing is stamped on all the cultural work De Anda does. She says, “Being bilingual, bicultural is at the heart of who I am. And part of that is trying to understand how other people see the world, how we can use culture to extend those difficult conversations about race and social justice in our country and give them a wider reach.”
Technology lead, Ayodamola Okunseinde at the Argus command center testing out multiple body cameras.
During undergrad at Middlebury College, De Anda discovered her love for working with artists to create experiences rooted in culture when she helped found the college’s first artspace. She then began her post-grad career atGalería de la Raza, a San Francisco gallery created out of a need for Latino representation in the arts. In 1970 when Galería was founded, “If your last name was González or Rodriguez there was no place for you to show your work. You had been erased and were not validated in the art world,” De Anda said. She worked there for seven years putting together shows likePistolitas de Azucar about the influence of Mexican culture on American pop culture and No Distance is more Awesome, a show about the effects of immigration policy on Latin Americans. It was at Galería de la Raza where she learned about the power of extending art projects beyond the gallery. “Yes galleries are great to show work and to discuss the power of artwork, but that power really resonates when you can extend outside of those walls,” she said.
This idea of moving beyond the gallery walls is at the heart of what is called transmedia production such as work like The Argus Project. Transmedia storytelling involves using various media to directly engage your audience. The Argus Project does this by opening up dialogues around solutions to ending police brutality. In the latest installation at Project Row Houses in Houston, the Argus Project showed a 23-minute film, displayed an informational timeline about the history of police monitoring, and presented the interactive suit, a wearable sculpture that has built in cameras, lights and looks like a cross between RoboCop and Batman. “One of the great things about the piece is it’s using mythology and superhero culture as a way to pull people into a very serious conversation about police accountability and brutality,” De Anda said. The figure Argus is the name of a 100-eyed watchman from Greek myth.
An early concept sketch of the Argus exo suit. The Argus Project
De Anda described a moment at the opening when an 8-year-old kid ran up to the suit saying, “Whose team is this guy on?! I want to be on his team!” She then invited him and his grandma to attend a discussion about how to protect their communities from the police. “Transmedia is something that’s really important to us because it’s not something that begins in the gallery. It’s something that begins in communities where these issues are arising.” After being shown at Storyscapes, the Tribeca Film Festival’s transmedia showcase next week, the suit will be sent to protests, different Copwatchdeployments, and will travel to police-watching trainings and workshops.
De Anda recently won the “Artist as Activist” Rauschenberg Fellowship in 2015 for her work with the People’s Climate Arts collective, and with many successful public art projects behind her back, it seems she’ll only continue to create a space for social activism in the arts. If you’re an artist, culture creator, or arts advocate with social activism in mind, Raquel de Anda is a role model worth imitating. Her collaborations and future undertakings will help pave the way for establishing new models for creative intervention into tackling social problems through art.
Ayodamola Okunseinde and Yvette King, part of the Argus technology team, wiring together an early prototype of the Argus suit.
For a chance to win a pair of tickets to attend Storyscapes and see The Argus Project enter here.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 – 24, 2016. We partnered with Tribeca to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Latino talent at this year’s fest. Follow our coverage on remezcla.com and tribecafilm.com.
Gabriel Garcia Roman is a Mexican-American visual artist best known for “Queer Icons,” a series that depicts queer subjects haloed amid glittering verses of poetry and striking patterns. Using vivid colors and a portraiture style that references Renaissance and Saint-like postures, Román transposes queer people of color into positions of royalty and martyrdom. The chosen figures of Román’s pieces are undocumented poets, sex worker organizers, body positive femmes, and other activists who only add to the aesthetic vitality of the works.
The Zacatecas-born, Chicago-raised artist uses intaglio printmaking with delicate additions of collaged material and other screen-printing techniques to make his elaborate prints. Seeing a digital reproduction of one fails to convey its exquisite craftsmanship. The frames are also handmade, sculpted from vintage frames and wooden pieces. Román’s skillful artistry as well as his chosen theme of queer visibility make his first solo show at Newark’s Gallery Aferro something you shouldn’t miss. I had a chance to speak with the artist at his Harlem residence about his work and inspirations.
It’s interesting that you choose Catholic iconography considering the church’s complicated history with homophobia and misogyny. Why reference Catholic images in your work?
I use Catholic iconography because I grew up Catholic. Catholicism is so ingrained in Mexican culture. I don’t have to go to church to know what the Virgen de Guadalupe or St. Anthony looks like. Growing up I was drawn to all of these murals and paintings with beautiful glittery frames. I’d say religious art was my first introduction to art. I remember that no matter what was happening in the background, even if the saints were suffering, they were still portrayed as noble. That’s what I wanted to take from those images and put into my series. It wasn’t to be controversial or to say, “Fuck you church.” To me, it made sense because this is what I had to work with in my list of experiences. I wanted to merge that imagery with my community that I hardly ever see represented anywhere.
Mitchyll, 2014. From the series ‘Queer Icons’.
In some of the comments on the articles written about me, people were upset because I was using religious iconography. At the same time I also get messages from people who are Catholic and queer who say, “Thank you for not shying away from representing us in this light.”
My favorite piece in the series of Queer Icons is ‘Mitchyll’ as la Virgen de Guadalupe. Can you tell me about that piece?
Mitchyll is actually the reason why I started focusing on activists. Nobody tells them to go out there and fight for sex workers’ rights or immigration rights. It’s in them to put that at the forefront. Mitchyll’s portrait took me into this other realm of making my work more focused on activists and community organizers.
I can see why they [compare me to Kehinde Wiley], because not many artists focus on depicting people of color. But that should show you how homogenous the art world is.
Considering that, how do you choose your subjects?
I usually start these projects with my friends and then do a public call or through recommendation. Getting Jennicet Gutiérrez to do the portrait for me was a big deal. She’s the one who called President Obama out last year at a pride luncheon. All these gay organizations were invited to the White House because the marriage equality ruling was about to be announced. At the event she started chanting, “Not One More. Stop the detention of queer immigrants!” basically to bring attention to the fact that misgendering immigrants puts them in danger. She was escorted out, but even before that, her supposed “allies” were saying, “This is not for you. Get out of here.” And that was a big slap in the face. It showed the polarization in the gay community between established white gay males versus queer people of color and how the issues they’re fighting for are different. She is the epitome of this project. She’s so outspoken while being undocumented, and for her to protest the president himself… that takes such guts.
What do you think about people who compare your work to Kehinde Wiley?
His work is incredible. I’m a huge fan. I love being compared to him, but I don’t like people to say that I ripped him off. An interviewer recently asked me this question that was kind of assuming, “How did Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas influence your work?” And it frustrated me because I can’t honestly say I was influenced by them. My culture influenced my work a lot more. I really like vibrant colors and patterns. You go to Mexico, and everywhere you go houses are painted bright colors. There’s gold and gold frames everywhere. I could see why they try to put us in a category because not many artists are focusing on depicting people of color. But that should show you as a critic or art writer how homogenous the art world is.
Carlos & Fernando. 2016, From the series ‘Queer Icons.’
I want to talk about the elevation of queer people of color. Why is that visibility and elevation needed?
I wanted to make the queer trans community of color visible because I wasn’t seeing it represented anywhere. Four years ago was the major push for marriage equality. There were television shows with married gay couples, and sure, that’s great. But why were they all white? I was never seeing myself represented. I was never seeing a queer Latino, Black, Asian anywhere on television. Why is it that the only time I see a queer Black or Latino person anywhere in media is in an ad for HIV medication? That’s why I wanted to insert my narrative not just in the art world, but in the world in general.
At this point it’s become bigger than me. It’s not just for me. It’s for that 14-year-old kid in the South who has no outlet but on social media. Through my Instagram or Tumblr page they can follow me and see positive imagery of themselves. Ever since the NPR and Huffington Post coverage I get a lot of e-mails thanking me. I’ll never forget. One kid wrote, and all he said was, “You saved my life.”
Can you tell me about why you are naming the show ‘To Your Father’ and why you’re literally inserting your dad’s presence in the show with that weaved dual portrait?
The funny thing is that growing up my Dad and I did not have a relationship. He was a strict disciplinarian and was really quick to call you a pendejo or estupido. I harbored this anger toward him up until my late 30s. My mom and my dad were not affectionate at all, no hugs or kisses. My parent were like, “We’re here to work so you can go to school. Here’s your food, do your homework, go watch TV, and leave us alone.” Three years ago, I started working on shifting the narrative that I created about my dad by talking to my brothers who stayed and lived with my parents after I left. Over the years I’ve begun to see my parents in their complexity and how tough it was for them to come to a country where they didn’t know the language and had five mouths to feed.
Gabriel García Román stands next to a woven portrait of himself and his father.
Not until now did I realize it was my dad’s inability to sit still and his constant tinkering with things were characteristics we shared. On the weekends he would be in the garage with his cerveza in one hand and a tool in the other figuring out what was wrong with the car.
Last year I decided I wanted to commemorate my dad’s passing now that I have this newfound love for him. I went back to these images where I had digitally put my image on top of his, aligned the eyes, and literally everything fell into place. I had never even noticed that he had a moustache. We had the same wrinkle, the same jowl thing, everything. I decided to weave them together. That’s why I named the exhibit ‘To My Father’ because now I have the relationship I’ve always wanted to have with him. I feel a lot more resolved about it.
"Lick Ass" is not your typical brand name, but it's the English translation for Lambe Culo, the alias for genderfluid visual artist and fashion designer Roy Martinez. In Martinez's artwork, clothing designs reclaim old school cultural terms like "Brown Pride," lucha libre masks substitute gimp masks in BDSM-inspired photoshoots, and harness sculptures are made with the traditional patterns of the Mexican serape.
The queer, punk, and Chicano cultures are intrinsic influences to Lambe Culo's work, even though they may seem to have irreconcilable differences. Traditional Mexican-American families tend to employ strict gender roles and conservative values, so being queer and Chicano can be complicated. But instead of rejecting Chicano identity, Lambe Culo finds inspiration in it and navigates these tricky aspects through art. "I want to evoke the complexity of my being. I don't just want to do abstract expressionistic stuff. I also want to reference Mesoamerican and indigenous influences because that's just as important as my color theory. Part of being queer is not being set on one thing," Martinez said.
Originally from Chicago and Texas with roots in Zacatecas, Mexico, Lambe Culo is now in LA finishing up a studio art degree at Cal Arts while maintaining social media celebrity. Lambe Culo's images on Instagram and Tumblr are often sexually provocative, challenging respectability politics at all turns. Unsurprisingly, Martinez's bathtub nudes and simulated cum pics have been censored by Instagram.
I had a chance to talk with Lambe Culo about sketching Selena outfits, growing up Chicana in Texas, and using art as a means to analyze the fluidity of gender and cultural identities.
Why Lambe Culo?
At first it was a joke. I showed my mentor Harry Gamboa Jr., from ASCO [a Chicano art group from the 1960s], a picture of the label Lambe Culo, and he told me I should use it as my brand. It's very abrupt and in your face, and it's resistant to traditional brand names. For me, it rolls off my tongue.
When you explain it to white people, it's like, "Oh it's 'lick ass.' It's not a typical brand name." When you brand something, it has to be respectful and thought out and not very ratchet or punk. I'm really into punk, so that's why I did it. Also being queer and brown is in a way being punk.
I fangirled when I saw you at the C'mon Everybody bar in Brooklyn. How does it feel to meet people from the internet who know your internet persona?
When I went to Mexico, I crashed with a friend from Instagram. We went out, and I think he thought I was going to be out there, like drinking and out of control. It was my first time in Mexico City, and I was shy and very aware of my surroundings. Being queer and non-binary, I have to be cautious of my surroundings. He was like, "What's wrong?" I think he had a vision of me that didn't relate to the real me.
Your social media image is very punk, intense, sexually overt, but in real life, you're so approachable. I think these dualities such as shy boi and hard femme also reflect in your artwork and fashion design.
I find the virtual world to be a safe space. I can be who I am without any restraints or confinements. I can be free in that realm, but in real life, you have other constraints. There are weird people in the world out to destroy you. If you're not conforming to their binaries, it's like you're meant to be destructed.
Some of the clothes that you make have culturally specific identifier words on them—Xicanx, Cabroncita, Brown Pride. Is there a larger reason for using these words in your clothing line?
I think part of it is to push an identity forward. I do borrow from old school Chicano aesthetics. While I want to push an identity forward, I also want to rethink it. There are people who are straight or hetero or cis that relate to my work because of Chicano 60s and 70s movimiento (movement) shit. Then there are these new wave queer Chicano/as who also relate to it.
I don't think many people outside of California and Texas understand the term Chicano, much less Xicanx or Latinx. Can you give me your rundown on the x-ing out of gendered words?
The word Xicanx is open for interpretation. It has room to move. It's very inclusive for anybody that relates to it. A lot of people are like 'Oh you weren't born in Mexico, so these identifiers exclude you... ' I feel like Xicanx is inclusive to anyone who identifies with it. I'm not an identity politics enforcer. But for me, in general, Xicanx is not being bound to the feminine or masculine aspects. I'm very fluid within myself. I accept both masculinity and femininity equally. It's a word that is new and is still getting meaning. People can interpret it how they feel like. It's not a set thing. I feel like being bound to that is not what Xicanx is. It's fluidity.
Why do you use pre-Columbian and Mesoamerican images as ancestral references in your work?
For me, it's empowerment—it's digging up what came before me. You can't move forward without knowing what your past is. It's like, Wow, my people fucking built pyramids. Someone did this without modern machinery. For me, that's why I invoke it—to feel more empowered by my culture or who I am. Assimilation has erased all that. In high school, I didn't know what Mexican really was, what Olmec, Aztec, Mayan, and Mesoamerican identities were. I had to do my own research. It was nothing that I was taught.
I remember seeing the Chicana punk Alice Bag's book in your studio. Has she influenced you? Who else are your influencers?
Again, because I wasn't brought up knowing anything about my identity, I've had to research. Alice Bag, a Chicana in the 70s who was in the punk movement, just came up recently. When it comes to punk culture, white cis males are known as the punk innovators or originators. So to see Alice Bag who claims her Chicanidad (Chicano culture) is awesome. Like, "I'm Chicana, and I'm fucking punk!" It was amazing to find her out. Also, the Chicana writers Sandra Cisneros and Gloria Anzaldúa definitely.
I love your conceptual Selena GIFs! What does Selena mean to you?
Selena means childhood. I remember when I was 10 or 11, I was sketching her outfits. I don't know if I was inspired by her music, fashion, or by her being a fashion designer. I guess I saw a little bit of myself in her. Being Chicana, being Mexican-American, being Tejana is a connection to her.
How does the BDSM imagery (harnesses, chokers, chains, etc.) function within your work?
People automatically associate that work with gay leather-daddy culture, which, yes, I can see that. But, for me, it represents a willful restraint. Especially when I did the harness sculpture with the serape. That represented culture. Yes, I love culture so much, but I'm not able to be who I truly am within my culture sometimes. It's a metaphor for me, for how I feel.
There's some shit within our culture that is shitty. It's very complex. That's why I identify with Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands. She puts it into words so perfectly. When I first read her, I was getting chills and crying. There's a passage where she says she feelsmariada (dizzy) from pulling in and out of different cultures. It's part of survival to go in and out of these different cultures.
I read that you want to eventually have an art history class based around people of color?
Yes, that's why I want to get my Master's to be able to make courses that were not available to me. They only have one Chicana feminism class here that they offer once a year. There's no other Chicano/a course that they offer at all. And that class was very valuable to me. It gave me terminology that I didn't know existed, words I could relate to my practice. When I learned about terms like "rasquache" and "domesticana," I was like that's definitely what my art is. Rasquache is doing with what you have. Domesticana is using what you have around the house, which is totally inspired by my mom.
Do you feel your art is rebelling against everything at once—overwhelmingly white art institutions, homophobic society at large, and traditional and conservative values of the Chicano/Mexicano culture? We also have to admit that, within our culture, there is a lot of misogyny, homophobia, anti-blackness.
Yes. It's kind of overwhelming to think that I have all these things on my back. There are days where I just want to be me. Like this is really heavy, but that's where art comes in—where I can have that freedom to express myself without any constraints.
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On March 2, the Supreme Court will assess the constitutionality of two provisions of the2013 Texas law HB2 that have already forced 21 of the state's 40 abortion clinics to close. If upheld, this law will leave the entire state of Texas with only about ten facilities. In response to these measures that place extreme barriers to abortion care in Texas, Brooklyn-based fiber artist Chi Nguyen is organizing a public embroidery art project that will visualize the 5.4 million Texas women of reproductive age who will be affected by this bill.
Nguyen, in collaboration with the Textile Arts Center, is holding public stitch-ins for participants to stitch tally marks onto swatches of fabric that will eventually become part of a massive quilt. The quilt, which could end up being more than 86 x 86 feet, will represent the number of women whose access to abortion is being compromised by this bill. The embroidered quilt will accompany those attending a rally, organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights, outside of the Supreme Court in DC on March 2.
Critics of anti-abortion measures refer to laws such as HB2 as "sham laws," indicating that they run under the guise of improving women's health when they're essentially hoisting unnecessary barriers to a safe abortion. The law requires all abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards of an ambulatory surgical center and for the clinics to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the center. The requirements would amount to millions of dollars in updates that a coalition of medical experts, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say are unnecessary.
The numbers show that banning abortion does not actually decrease the number of abortions. Instead, it pushes women to seek more dangerous means of terminating their pregnancies. RH Reality Check has reported that since HB2 passed, the number of self-induced abortions has increased. In addition to increasing harm for all women seeking abortion care, the law places an undue burden on the working class. "Texas is home to a large population of immigrants and communities of color, as well as areas of significant poverty. If HB2 takes effect, it will make it vastly more difficult—if not impossible—for low-income women to travel to a clinic to get the health care they need," Nguyen said.
After traveling to Texas in 2015 for National Women's Day to speak with women of the Rio Grande Valley and learning about the dismal state of reproductive health services there, Nguyen decided to make art about it. I spoke with her about her embroidery project and how she's aiming to get the word out about the urgent consequences of this anti-abortion bill.
VICE: You're an artist living in Brooklyn who came to the US from Vietnam as a kid. Can you tell me why you became involved in a project that is about Texas women?
Chi Nguyen: To me, it's not a Texas issue but an all-of-us issue. The decision of this case will impact the state of reproductive and abortion care for decades across the country. It could be you, me, or the women we love who might have to face these hurdles when we need a safe and legal abortion. Texas is also where my niece is growing up. It scares me to think that she might have less control over her body than I did—than women in 1973 did before Roe v. Wade was decided.
What did the women in the Rio Grande Valley say was happening in Texas?
One woman could not get a Pap smear because the waiting period was from six months to a year. Another mother, whose application for low-cost health insurance was rejected, could not afford a biopsy for her daughter when lumps were found in her breasts. This is evidence of how our health care system is failing women. However, these women are not powerless. They call themselves "poderosas" or "the strong women" and have organized themselves to fight for their reproductive rights in the Rio Grande Valley. I urge everyone to read their testimonies from the Women's Human Rights Hearing in March 2015.
Your past projects included one where you cut your hair, solicited other's hair donations, and weaved them in an act of solidarity with LGBT youth, suicide prevention, and anti-bullying. Is most of your work based on some sort of activism?
As a queer woman of color and an immigrant, I use my art as a way to fight for social justice. The foundation of my practice is rooted in personal experiences. In that performance, the act of cutting my hair and encouraging the public to donate theirs was meant to create a space for a collective exploration of emotions. That project was dedicated to the first woman I loved, her suicide, and my subsequent coming out experience after her passing. With the 5.4 Million and Counting project, I hope the public will use the quilt as a stepping stone to learn more about the Supreme Court case and the condition of reproductive health care in the US today.
So tell me about the stitch-ins...
For the New York stitch-ins, we're providing embroidery hoops, fabric, needles, thread, and background information for people to learn about the case. I'm also encouraging people to bring in a special piece of textile and to use whatever thread in order to create their own aesthetic. The reason behind that is because everyone has such a different aesthetic in embroidering, and we want to visualize the amount of different people who are participating and supporting the right to abortion access.
How will the quilt function at the rally?
I really wanted to use a quilt because it represents comfort, safety, and security, and the lack of access to abortion care and reproductive health care in general is anything but that. The quilt represents those things for me and also creates a sense of unity from supporters across the US who can send in swatches, which we will sew together. Right now, I have no idea how many swatches we will get by March 2. If we don't get enough, we will hold stitch-ins at the rally, but if we finish, we will use it as a banner. However, it won't just be a banner. It will also provide warmth.
How does the fact that stitching and textile arts have historically been a woman's craft fit in?
I honestly love the idea of the subversive stitch where you reclaim that form of craft. As a woman, [I think] anyone who identifies as a woman [should] challenge the idea of what a woman's craft is, and if it is a woman's craft, reclaim it and use it as an activist's tool to make sure that we have the right to our bodies, our choices, and our destinies. I think that's the beauty of craftivism.
I've seen photos on your Instagram from other people who are sending in swatches. Is there a way for people outside of New York City to participate?
Yes. There are also going to be stitch-ins held by people who heard of this project online. I recently got a comment from a clinic worker who will be holding a stitch-in at her clinic. There are a lot of fiber artists sending photos through Instagram and email showing that they are embroidering these lines. It's incredible to see that happening. It's incredible that we can use our embroidery and own mediums to support a cause and a movement.
The last NYC stitch-in will be Sunday, February 28 from 11 AM to 6 PM at Textile Arts Center, Manhattan Studio 26 West 8th St. New York, NY 10011.
Melanie Gonzalez knows the saints pretty well. Growing up in a strict religious Latino household in the Bronx, she was surrounded by Catholic rituals and iconography; in art school, she got into Renaissance and Baroque art and later traveled to Italy enough that she became fluent in Italian.
All these influences show up in her newest photo, video, and sculpture production,Discount Saints. For the show, which will be on display at Medianoche New Media Gallery in Spanish Harlem until January 30, Gonzalez transformed the gallery space into a "hood chapel" complete with a mini nave that holds a crucifix assembled out of gold door-knocker earrings and hairpins. The imagery includes traditional Renaissance motifs, but in her version of the Last Supper the Saints dine wearing their dollar-store regalia at a table littered with Chinese takeout, grape juice, and soda bottles.
It's an art history nerd's modern adaptation of the Catholic paradigm, not dissimilar toKehinde Wiley's juxtapositions of historical references and modern-day cultural tropes.
This is Gonzalez's second major solo show after her exhibit Letters to Armando at BCAD Art gallery in 2014. Recently, VICE talked with Gonzalez about her art history influences, the interpretation of her work as an art photographer, and the gospel of "the bigger the hoop, the bigger the attitude."
VICE: Considering the work of female artists such as Ana Mendieta or Cindy Sherman who used the self-portrait for political statements in their art, does the inclusion of your image in your work have any political or feminist statements?
Melanie Gonzalez: Not necessarily. As a whole feminism influences me, but I don't try to speak on any particular point in my work. I want my work to be universal. Although obviously Discount Saints is personifying a very niche character—a Latina from the Bronx—I want my work to be universal, so that someone who is not from the Bronx can still appreciate it.
I started photographing myself because I was tired of auditioning for stuff and not getting the parts. I was like, you know what? I'm going to shoot myself because I want to be in photos and videos. Obviously, that has a feminist connotation which is fine and great, but my initial thing was: I'm tired of not seeing enough people like me and my friends, so I'm just going to shoot them. Why do I have to wait?
Who are your models?
My models? Oh, I love them. They are all creatives I know from different aspects of my life. Jesus is Joel Suarez, a muralist, painter, and influential guy in the Bronx and uptown scene. Mary Magdalene goes by Jar. Her name is Julissa and she's a tattooer, body painter, and artist. Athen Wade, who played St. Peter, is a photographer. Chazz Giovanni Bruce is an actor who played Pontius Pilate, and I was a theater major with Paula Diaz, who played St. Elizabeth, in high school. Most of them are from the Bronx. And one is from Harlem. Everyone is from uptown Manhattan.
The symbols you use in the photos—dollar store objects, rollers, du rags, gold costume jewelry, chains, a Louis Vuitton head scarf—can be interpreted as signifiers of race and class. Do these objects have anything to do with the lack of diversity and representation for people of color in the art world?
I feel like that would be the critique on it, which is fair, but that's not my take on it. My intent is to show my version of black and Latino identity in the outer boroughs—people who are from the Bronx and uptown, but who could also be from Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, or the Heights. But yes there is a lack of representation in the art worlds. I love shooting people of color but not consciously like I'm trying to make a statement. It's just natural. It's not that I'm excluding anybody else. These are my friends and my neighbors and I think they're beautiful, gorgeous, and I want to shoot them.
Is there any irony in the fact that you're referencing these Renaissance–style images we normally associate with wealth and power to get some people of color in front of the camera?
Going back to Renaissance art, all of those artists used models from the street. Someone who saw the work pointed out that I was shooting "everyday people." Caravaggio used prostitutes or beggars—the everyday person—as models, and made them saints and mythical characters. That's literally what I just did but with photography and digital form.
Some people might interpret your work as a subversion of the Catholic Church, but I don't see a critique of religion. I see you using a recognizable avenue in order to elevate the people you want to elevate.
If I was Hindu, I would use Hindu gods. If I was Muslim, I would use Muslim attributes. I was raised in a Catholic home, so I feel like I have the permission because I know enough about the religion to properly use it as a tool for the art. I'm not religious or practicing, but I was raised in a very strict Hispanic Catholic household. I was forced to go to Catholic school and forced to take my communion and confirmation.
I was actually held back in Sunday school because I didn't want to go, but I love the art. It is so exaggerated and dramatic and circus-like. I appreciate religious art's iconography and symbolism. I love how a painting can have so many objects that mean things, like pomegranates being symbols for fertility.
Your mom is still really religious, right? Was she offended by the show at all?
Yes she is, but no she wasn't offended, thankfully. Other people have asked if it's blasphemous. If you're offended, you're not looking at the artwork. It's also a production, a photo shoot that involved lots of editing. If that's how you feel, you're not looking deep enough.
Can you talk about some of the symbolism in the portrait photographs of the characters?
Well Pontius Pilate has no crosses or symbols of Christianity because he was a Roman. Adding him was creative curiosity. I wanted to include a villain, and the model is from Harlem when everyone else is from the Bronx. So if they lived today, they would have beef [laughs].
St. Peter was the first Pope and it was a conscious decision to make him a black guy. There are none of us [pointing to her skin] in religious depictions even though all of the people of the Bible were people of color, but I don't really want to talk about that.
I wanted Mary to be that woman in your apartment building that you love and respect but who knows all the gossip. I wanted her to be every mother— not just a Virgin Mary, but everyone's mom or titi. I wanted her to be wearing rollers, long nails, and makeup—but with the blue vata (housecoat) that makes her a recognizable Mary figure.
The cross made out of bamboo door-knocker earrings has so many connotations to culture and a very specific woman. Are you expressing an ode to someone, and if so who?
As a black and Latina person growing up in the Bronx, we're always in the salon! Hairpins and hairnets are important objects to a woman there. Gold is also important. But the piece is not about excluding men because a man from the same area knows exactly who that cross is referencing—that's his ex-girlfriend, his cousin, or his aunt or his mother. Those objects are important to everybody, not just women. And this can relate to many people—not just New York Latinas.
The Last Supper is one of the most satirized images in the world. What makes yours unique or different?
Mine is different because I include women. The whole point is that Mary is the narrator of this story. This is her point of view. Most Bible stories are told from a man's point of view, and I wanted to have women in there. I replicated the idea but not the actual painting because I didn't have all the disciples there, just a select few. Also if the Last Supper took place in the South Bronx, it might have Chinese food, beer, and soda. Maybe St. Peter would be wearing a snapback, and maybe Jesus would be Puerto Rican and drinking 40s instead of wine.
Melanie Gonzalez's Discount Saints is on view at Medianoche Media Gallery in Spanish Harlem through January 30. She will also talk about her artistic process at the gallery on December 5. See her website for more info.
It's been a minute since we heard from Princess Nokia, the artist who owned last summer with Metallic Butterfly, the genre-jumping mixtape that we're still streaming everyday on SoundCloud. Yesterday, she finally returned to the internet with a music video for her new song "Soul Train." This time around, she's going by the name Destiny and she's traded in the Matrix vibes for the aesthetic of a disco queen.
The new video, which premiered on Dazed Digital, offers a carefree vision of young New Yorkers wearing 70s-inspired outfits and hairstyles, licking banana popsicles, and dancing in the streets. It's a nostalgic ode to the summer block parties of Destiny's youth and the Saturday mornings she spent learning how to do the hustle with her father.
I caught up with Destiny at her brother's studio in the East Village a few days before she dropped the new video and I could tell that she felt she was on the brink of something big. "I'm the happiest I've ever been," she told me, with her hair worn in a high ponytail and her eyelids glittered. "I've worked really hard. I'm taking care of my body, my artistry, my life."
She was telling the truth. This year she's been creating at a breakneck pace, playing shows all across the country, hosting her Smart Girls' Club radio show, and giving lectures at places like Harvard University and the New School. Not to mention, she's also been working on a brand new mixtape and three additional music videos that will drop later this summer.
But as much as things have changed for her, she still knows exactly who she is. "I am Destiny, a woman, a feminist, a cultural activist who is just trying to make my culture as relevant and as celebrated as possible," she told me with pride. I used our meeting to ask her about her new mixtape, her cultural inspirations, and the direction of her new body of work. Here's what she had to say.
VICE: Your new track "Soul Train" and your new mixtape has a whole 70s disco vibe. What is the story behind this new direction?
The mixtape incorporates a lot of positive aspects of my upbringing such as black power, brown power, Puerto Rican culture, community value, and community lifestyle. The whole soul disco era is very reflective of my personal self. Looking at the musical renaissance of the 70s and at these different parts of my upbringing made me think of the sociology of today. I thought of block parties, watching Soul Train, and television that was made for black and brown youth and the fact that these images are not available to our community right now... They are, but in an underground way.
The video for "Soul Train" is a day in my life, learning a dance and dancing with my father. It's seeing brown people on television being celebrated, being happy and dancing, and being liberated and empowered. I wanted to make music that reflected that. I wanted to speak to the community of young brown kids who are making and re-narrating these stories of radicalism and happiness through music and art.
As an artist, you go through an aesthetic transformation in the "Soul Train" video. Can you talk about the aesthetic value of the video and why it's important?
It's a vintage nostalgic aesthetic that is in line with my free spirit and inspirations. I really love and am inspired by Puerto Rican culture in New York in the 70s, rock n' roll-inspired street gangs like the Black Spades and the Savage Skulls. Also salsa groups like Fania records, and Woodstock.
That time period was one of the first ages of enlightenments in the last 100 years with psych culture, disco, and soul. It was a period of time where brown kids were finding themselves and finding freedom and fighting against a systemic oppression, and that's what kids are doing now. Today, they're so empowered by new ageism, by Afrofuturism, and by community and friendships.
In the video, you and your crew march down the street with solidarity fists raised in the air. Considering this reference to social unrest, how related is your new work to the Black Lives Matter movement and the daily stories we hear of police brutality happening toward people of color?
I'm very empathetic to what's going on right now. My community is hurting; they're bleeding and suffering. I've thought about what I can do, and as an artist, I can contribute art through which people can live vicariously. I want to create work that celebrates us as people because I see that we are being brought down. When I made the video for "Soul Train," I wanted to make a visual that showcased black and Latino children being happy, just being happy and funny.
Images of kids having a good time seems like it should be commonplace, but thinkers like Bell Hooks talk about being "Tired of the naked, raped, beaten black woman body" in entertainment and media. Are you drawing from that idea and from the general lack of positive images of black people in the media?
Yes, absolutely. We are constantly portrayed as angry or as the victims. Urban life, women, and children are disrespected, demonized, dissected, and stolen from constantly. There are many communities across the entire United States who are fighting in our own ways. We're joining together with friends and family and creating these adhesives to make our environment better.
I wanted to make a video that showcased black and Latino youth creating a party in the neighborhood for each other. The video touches on those community aspects of friendship, love, and neighborhood values. Everybody in that video looks beautiful and happy.
How did you cast "Soul Train"?
A lot of women in the video are from my art collective, the Smart Girls Club. Many were my friends and some were casted from Instagram. I invited whoever wanted to come. All those kids are hippies, radicals, and activists. And they all have beautiful minds and are involved in the emotional aspects about what the song is about.
Where was it shot?
It was shot on 7th street at my brother's house. We had a team and the car with the music. Every stoop was taken up with children of every background and race. It was just all love. It was so emotional because it showed a lifestyle that isn't really appreciated or available right now. I grew up going to block parties, street jams, and hanging outside until the lights went out. There would be kids dancing in the street, loud music playing, and dominoes—all simplistic values that are undervalued as much as our culture is undervalued.
You were recently invited to Harvard University to give a talk on afrofuturism and the concept of urban feminism. How did that come about?
I was performing in Boston and in the audience there happened to be a queer Afro-Latin professor who does a class on the demonization of witchcraft at Harvard. Her name is Professor Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, and she's a Santera and author of a book calledElectric Santería. Afterwards, she came up to me and said, "I'm so touched by the themes you're talking about in your show. You're in a nightclub and you had a song about African spiritualism in Spanish, one about female empowerment, and another about utopian native community value... Who are you?!"
In two weeks, she had set up a talk at their beautiful hip-hop archive at Harvard and I spoke about new age spirituality, Afro-Caribbean spirituality, and witchcraft in her Voodoo class. I did a Q&A, and her class was assigned my album Metallic Butterfly. Later on, I gave a talk about urban feminism and afrofuturism.
The music, art collective, and radio work you've done until now is very heady, intellectual, and based in a lot of historical research. How do you feed your intellectual spirit?
I'm an extremely spiritual being. I read a lot of holistic health books because I'm always trying to constantly evolve my higher self and accept organic matter and raw beauty into my life. I really take it day by day. I wake up; I pray; I meditate; I do magic. I always cultivate protection and I'm always trying to expand my dreams and ambitions.
Recently, I've read the autobiography of Assata Shakur, and re-read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, The Diary of Anne Frank, House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and Maya Angelou's poetry. Also seeing Nina Simone, Audre Lorde, and YouTube clips of female Black Panthers. I'm inspired by their revolution and radicalism. I have surpassed every statistic that has been put in front of me, so I wake up very grateful. In the last couple of years, I have become really woke in my consciousness and my culture. I am a proud Afro-Latina and Native American woman, and there are many aspects of my pride. It's not just a deep cultural pride; it's a pride in my ancestors.
How does this ancestral pride function in your work?
People expect us to forget and not over-exaggerate the pain and sadness of oppression and genocide, and I think that's bullshit. I have an obligation—not only to the women in the last two generations of my family—but to my ancestors, so that they are proud. I incorporate my love for their values in my work. I'm black as hell, and I'm so prideful to be a black woman.
Do you think your music can help us go a step further in terms of social progress?
There are more things I wish I could do. I wish I could go to the South and do more protests, but it's really unsafe and I'm very scared. Sometimes it's hard for me to want to fight because I'm afraid for my life. I think we can be as vocal and expressive of our beauty and of our fight as we can. I have songs on my mixtape called "Happy and Brown" and others that speak about black pride and black genocide. Time will tell what will happen, but it's not just me. There are so many amazing acts right now that are accelerating the community. Afropunk is an excellent example, bands like Oshun, Lion Babe, Wynter Gordon, and even Kendrick Lamar's " King Kunta" on the radio are pushing a different narrative. "Soul Train"—even though it's lighthearted and may not be the most radical song—is a contribution.
Any advice for other artists on the come-up?
Work really hard, be consistent, make a decision, and treat your body good. Physically, be in shape. Eat good things and be aware of what's going in and out of your body. Have good friendships, make good memories, appreciate the people in your life, forgive, and have compassion and kindness.
Sad Girls y Qué are a glittery girl power gang based out of Tijuana who offer an alternative to "white feminism." Five Chicana-identifying women started this collective in October 2013 with a Tumblr-style Facebook page that has gained more than 12,000 followers through its curation of images of alternative icons like Selena, animated characters like Sailor Moon, and sex-positive imagery. They also use the platform to publish heartbreak poems and notes on depression and solitude. Through the dissemination of internet art, they seek to retaliate against the culture of machismo prevalent in Mexico and the world at large while reappropriating a girly "feminine" aesthetic. Since their inception, they have garnered fangirls from Pakistan to Mexico who identify with their chola chic propaganda and messages of feminine solidarity.
The whole concept of the "sad girl" was inspired by the Chicana chola culture highlighted in the 1994 movie Mi Vida Loca,which takes place in the Los Angeles neighborhood Echo Park. The sad girl is often depicted in LA tattoo art as a gangster chick with tears running down her face. She's beautiful with a hard-edged pachuca style. However, this image of a crying woman is not a weak victim. She's tough and conveys a more complex range of femininity.
I spoke with recovering Catholic schoolgirl Maite Soleno, Selena-obsessed Anna Bon, hustling hair goddess Pau Lia, glittering anthropologist Ariana Bon-Hodoyán, and taxidermy aficionado Ana Laura Camarena of the Sad Girls over Google Hangouts about their backgrounds, what it means to be a Sad Girl y Que, and why they reject "white feminism."
So how did SGYQ come together?
Anna Bon: The collective started with eight of us. Now there are five of us. It began as an online outlet for our frustrations regarding being girls in a patriarchal world. I started the Twitter and Facebook and let all my friends in on the fun. I just told them to go crazy. It was kind of by accident that we created this character of the "sad girl." At the beginning we used it to say anything we didn't feel comfortable saying on our personal profiles. It became popular instantly and we realized we weren't alone in our frustrations. SGYQ has given us the courage to stand up for ourselves and others against misogyny and racism. At first it was sort of a shield and now it's our weapon.
Why do you feel you need to defend yourself?
Growing up in a society that is so macho-oriented and Catholic, we've felt limited and oppressed by those forces. Mexico is one of the countries where cat-calling is prevalent. You can't really walk alone at night or during the day without experiencing it. I don't want to reinforce this idea that Mexico is this shitty, unsafe place, because it's not. But there is this macho culture that is very apparent and dominant. It's insane how much shit you go through as a girl.
Can you explain what a sad girl symbolizes to you?
It could be any girl who is fed up with society's standards and patriarchy. But it's more specifically for Chicana girls. There's this group of artists in LA who call themselves "sad girls" and they're all white girls from CalArts. It's cool that the sad girl term is a trend and a thing, but the appropriation of it is annoying and offensive. You can like other cultures and admire them and be interested in them without appropriating them in a way that devalues their origin. It's important for us to let it be known where we got our name from because it validates a culture.
So what is the origin of the sad girl?
I got it from the movie Mi Vida Loca. A scene in the movie provides a good metaphor. One girl's baby daddy dies, leaving behind his lowrider car, Suavecito. The girls imagine doing laundry easier, filling it up with groceries, and going to Disneyland. But the men have other ideas about putting Suavecito in a car show and splitting the prize money. The girls find out about it and say they should get the prize money. "That motherfucker left us with kids, bills, etc." But the women are robbed by the men. It's relatable to what we go through as second class citizens to the necessities of men.
Can you describe the aesthetic of SGYQ?
Feminized things and anything pink. Those things are usually devalued, made less important. Even women who have corporate jobs have to dress like men to gain respect. We are trying to be aggressive about it. Just because we like those things doesn't make us superficial or dumb or any less smart.
Maite Soleno: The symbol switching can be used to negate the idea of what the media says a feminist has to look like. A feminist doesn't have to be some hairy girl. A feminist can be whomever. It doesn't rely on the fact that she likes pink or not.
Ariana Bon-Hodoyán: We're trying to fight against this whole angry feminist stereotype. I'm not trying to blame men.
Maite Soleno: Even bell hooks says that patriarchy is genderless. It's this massive thing that's oppressive. The media has created this stereotype that feminists hate men and they're lesbians. Actually, you can wear short skirts and be smart and a feminist.
Is there ever any disagreement over what to post?
Anna Bon: When there were more of us, there were differences in how we defined feminism and objectification. We're totally into girl power and being naked and whatever, but we also had to have a standard. Facebook doesn't even let us show naked bodies. We've gotten so many bans from Facebook.
Maite Soleno: And it's all because of nipples and vaginas. They want to equate vagina with porn and reduce it to that. I'm not saying anything shady about porn. I watch porn. I love porn. But it's a reductive thing.
Do you have any feminist icons?
Ariana Bon-Hodoyán: The story of Malinche is very relatable to us. She was an indigenous Mexican woman who interpreted and advised the Spanish colonizer Hernan Cortés. Everyone in Mexico believes Malinche to be the ultimate national traitor because she betrayed the Aztecs. However, she was a slave who was sold by the Aztecs and simply used the Aztecs' enemies against them. She embodies characteristics not typically associated with women in Mexican culture like intelligence, adaptability, leadership, and forward thinking. And by adapting to unexpected historical circumstances, she defied social expectations of women's role in society.
I think Sad Girls y Qué represents these same characteristics and attempts to fight traditional social restraints set by macho values in the culture we live in. In Mexican culture, la Malinche represents the antithesis of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Unlike the holy virgin, la Malinche has become equated with being a sex object or "whore" who slept with Cortés and betrayed her own people. Even if in truth she was used as an object of exchange among men who delivered her into the hands of the Spaniards.
What are your thoughts on "white feminism"?
Anna Bon: White feminism is mainstream feminism. It's controlled, superficial, carefully packaged, easily digestible, and "one size fits all." It's non-intersectional and binary. It does not understand race, culture, and gender diversity when it comes to inequality. It's focused on body hair, the pay gap, make-up, skirts, Joan Rivers, and "not all men." It's the feminism you learn when you're a teenager. A well-rounded feminist looks out for everyone, especially oppressed groups that for centuries have been demonized, dehumanized, and exoticized by Western culture.
Maite Soleno: White feminism is what bell hooks refers to as the "eat, pray, love" kind of feminism that enables a ruling section of women to appropriate all kinds of cultures to empower themselves from their already coveted position of privilege. It reinforces patriarchal notions that only the problems of the bourgeoisie are relatable and worth noting. It's a smoke curtain. But white is not a concept to be reduced to skin color, white is the combination of privilege and ignorance that constitutes a culture that believes we live in a post-racial, post-sexualized society.
What kind of feminism would you call your type of feminism?
Ariana Bon-Hodoyán: Common sense.
What about feminine rage?
Anna Bon: Yes, we are angry at society and everyone who has ever tried to oppress us, but we are more sad for you. We're really sad for you because your thinking inhibits you. You are the one who is losing more from ascribing to patriarchy than we are. We're conscious and we know what we're up against.
Thirty years ago, South Williamsburg was one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. As is still true in parts of the neighborhood today, it was a predominantly Puerto Rican community, and people danced in the streets to Caribbean beats while musicians played drums, palitos, maracas, and güiros. The younger crews held public breakdancing competitions, and everyone felt like they knew one another. At the same time that this culture was flowering, the neighborhood was also experiencing high unemployment rates, dilapidated housing, and inadequate public resources. Drug use was rampant, and many wanted to leave the area for fear of violence.
Diego Echeverria documented this era in his 1984 film Los Sures, which screened last week at the New York Film Festival after being restored by Union Docs. Echeverria was born in Chile and grew up in Puerto Rico. He came to the US in 1971 to study film at Columbia University. After completing a graduate degree, he started a career in TV. When he wasn't working his day job, he hung out on the streets of South Williamsburg shooting what would ultimately become Los Sures, which means "south side" in Spanish. Over the course of ten months, he filmed the lives of five Puerto Ricans living in the Brooklyn barrio. The film illustrates how single mothers, workers, immigrants, and young kids battled poverty and survived in the hood.
Today, South Williamsburg looks very different from how it did in Los Sures. While parts of the neighborhood are still largely inhabited by Puerto Rican residents, the area has also become a mecca for moneyed young people all across the globe, forcing rents to skyrocket. Today it's not uncommon to see young banker dudes with Hitler Youth haircuts enjoying boozy brunches at overpriced restaurants on the south side—a sight that would have been unheard of back in the 80s. But a few vestiges of the era of Los Sures remain, like the bodega on Division Avenue and Berry Street that still serves hot mofongo and empanadas while old men play cards or dominoes outside.
In light of the recent screening of Los Sures, I gave Diego Echeverria a call to talk about his documentary, rapid gentrification, and the ways in which the historic culture of South Williamsburg can be carried on.
VICE: There are so many people in your film who talk about wanting to leave Williamsburg. I can't imagine people saying that today. Why did they want to leave?
Diego Echeverria: There was a high level of unemployment. Economic survival was difficult. The services were lacking. Schools were going through a tremendous crisis. Young people were dropping out at a high rate. There was also no housing renewal or support.
When was the last time you visited Williamsburg?
I was there three or four months ago. It has definitely transformed. It's a more prosperous area. Even physically, it has changed. But at the same time, there are still signs of what used to be. Just last year, for example, you saw the Latino community participating in the streets with some wonderful festivals.
Did you witness any violence during the filming of your doc?
No. That was not what the film is about. In fact, I would have avoided it. My film is about how people cope in very difficult situations and make the best they can out of their lives.
When did the neighborhood really start to change?
The late 80s. I remember that by then there were several artists moving in. This is not something that happened from one moment to another. There were many people in the film, like Cuso the construction worker, who saw the change as well.
One of the things that struck me was how graffiti functioned in the film versus how "street art," as it's called now, functions today. What was the point of graffiti back in the 80s?
I remember in the early 80s when graffiti was all over the city. It had to do with asserting a sense of identity. There were lots of names and commemorative elements that had to do with culture and ethnicity. It was something very unique to New York in subway stations, bus stations, and out in the streets. It was a way of actually saying, "Here I am." Today graffiti has a different sense—at least the stuff I've seen in Dumbo and areas of Williamsburg.
What other cultural markers have you seen take on completely different meanings?
The break dancing that was going on in the streets. When you look at the dancing that takes place in Los Sures, you find this urban culture evolving. That was the beginning of a whole movement that later on, throughout the 90s, took over the country. Young people came together and participated in these cultural manifestations that really gave them a strong sense of identity, while the older generation was still dancing salsa.
The film does a great job of depicting fashion trends of the 80s—plastic aviator glasses, feather-cut bobs, side ponytails, etc. Some of the most weird and trendy folks still seem to reside in Williamsburg. Despite its evolution, the neighborhood still seems to have retained that stylish characteristic.
It's different. There was actually a cultural cohesiveness in Los Sures that is no longer there. It is part of our cultural cohesiveness where you see break dancing, murals, and cultural manifestations taking place. They are tied to traditions that are part of your own kind of cultural roots, and they are different. What you are seeing today is a manifestation of a different kind of varied community. Also, because it is now a community of artists, it doesn't have that raw kind of expression. Back in the day, it was a force that was really at its first stage.
There seemed to be a greater sense of community in South Williamsburg back then.
I sensed that when I started hanging out on the streets. People were truly connected. They knew each other. They would say hello—connecting, making jokes, remembering things. And people would hang out in the streets, especially in the summer.
What is the feeling you get when you go back to Williamsburg?
It's definitely different. What happened in Williamsburg is what you see in most other cities in the country. The immigrant groups who settled there in the 40s are not there. They move away. They die. It's also because the socioeconomic situation has changed. When I went to film there, it was in the midst of Reaganomics, when support for immigrant groups started to diminish.
Do you have a particular opinion on the people who have taken over the neighborhood?
With any change, there are positive and negative aspects. You can't say that it's surprising. Very often, neighborhoods have to transform. That's the story of most urban centers in the US. Nothing remains static. It was only natural that as New York City became more expensive, people would look for neighborhoods that had proximity to the city and inexpensive housing.
And the negative aspects?
New York became very expensive, very fast. There is a population that feels left out of the transformation that is taking place. But at the same time, it's a regular process. You can't change economic forces. Very often politicians are not sensitive to the feeling of loss that takes place as a vulnerable population has to deal with a whole set of challenges. Moving out of the place you grew up in is very difficult. Having to re-root yourself and your family and break away from what you've known for years is very painful.
Do you think the divide between newcomers and long-time residents is a problem?
You're witnessing the community going through a process that has been very drastic for people who have strong roots in that community. It's only natural that they have some level of resentment. Their rents have gone up tremendously. It has become a different neighborhood.
Do you think there's any solution?
It's not a question of finding a solution. Neighborhoods change. Many of the people have already moved out. The community organizations are playing a role in giving support to the people who have stayed. Those organizations are wonderful. It is a question of creating the links and acknowledging the history as the neighborhood transforms. The one solution is making housing more available, creating the kinds of jobs that people can depend on, making schools better, and making sure those families who live there get the level of support they need.
For more on the evolution of South Williamsburg, check out Living Los Sures, Union Docs' new short films project, which was inspired by Diego's Los Sures. The project aims to reunite the community by continuing to document the local histories of Williamsburg.