Art Show Filled With Elegance, Beauty and Subtlety

The artists presenting their work at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts’ gallery as part of this year’s Solo Mujeres show come from around the world, but they represent a range of experiences more complex than nationality, shaped by their identities as transgender, minority, or disabled women. Those identities, and how they layer and interact, are explored by the works presented in Intersectionality.

Ximena De Lourdes Soza, a doctor of philosophy and artist with some background in sociology, curated the exhibit to showcase artists whose work explored what she called “multiple layers of oppression” in a deep but also finished way. “Intersectionality” is a term coined by sociologist Kimberlé Crenshaw, who considered the oppression of women who also belonged to other marginalized groups as combinations of factors that produced a unique experience rather than a simple sum of two known types of oppression.

“We cannot talk about women in only one dimension,” Soza said. She said she sees the different dimensions of these artists’ identities presented in the collection “as a woven piece.”

The collection is filled with elegance, beauty, and subtlety, but is at times also stark, unsettling, and unapologetically critical.

That last, says Soza, is important.

“It is urgent to talk about privilege, about power. It is urgent to talk about oppression,” she said. “It’s very brave to make this art.”

The exhibit opened Thursday evening and will run until May 2nd. Scroll down for a sampling of the art on display.

Judy Shintani

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Art by Judy Shintani

Shintani is a third-generation Japanese woman, and described herself as “kind of removed, feeling more disconnected” from her culture. One of her pieces features three kimonos, gently deconstructed, their patterns removed from parts of the fabric, but then gathered almost reverently in little bowl altars beneath the garments.

Though they are symbols of beauty, Shintani said, the kimonos also reference an ideal that is restrictive, in that a woman wearing the traditional kimono is very tightly bound and can barely breathe or walk. The restriction is often seen as serene or meditative, she said, but her work is more about breaking out and exploring new possibilities.

“I wanted to alter the kimono so that it would allow a lot of light into the garment,” Shintani said.

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Another of her works on display is an American flag made of wood sourced from barracks at a former Japanese internment camp where her father was held. Shintani recalled visiting the former camp with him and discovering that one of the structures was to be demolished. She said she went to collect some small pieces as mementos, only to find her father ripping whole boards off the structure.

Susana Aragón

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Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in Aragón’s piece physically. A chair and some headphones await the viewer, who hears music composed by the artist’s daughter, Anaís Azul, and is presented with research findings about the hardships young women around the world face projected on a nearby wall. They also hear the sounds of weapons.

“The facts are so strong they really are like weapons hitting you,” Aragón said.

Before the viewer floats the ghostly shape of a girl’s dress, whose train grows into a tree veined with shining copper wires. The dress, evocative of the absent young woman or the daughter who may “grow strong like a tree,” is made of tea bags.

“The tea bags are like grandma,” Aragón explains. “Tea heals everything. When we dress in our tea dress we dress in our memory, in our roots.”

Tea bags, once they are used, are also trash, the artist reminded me. “But I reused it.” she said. “We can change the meaning of it, transform it, and we can transform the way we see ourselves too.”

Katia Perez (Orlando de la Garza)

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In this self portrait, the (transgender) artist is wearing a traditional costume of Tamaulipas, Mexico, her home state, where she has faced hostility when presenting as a woman and exploring femininity.

“It’s very easy to produce, but it’s not easy for a lot of people to look at it,” Perez said. Nonetheless, “the older I get, the less I care about people’s opinion.”

Her exploration of femininity is a celebration of women that she has admired.

“I was very concerned about what people might think if I apply for this show,” Perez said. But, “I related with the term ‘intersectionality,’ with how many layers there are.”

Breena Angelica Nuñez

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Nuñez’s graphics meld her cultural heritage with inspiration from modern comic books. She said she acknowledges that her ancestry is filled with”powerful, intelligent, and talented artisans” but also had to find her own way into her art in a family that, preoccupied with survival as immigrants in an unfamiliar country, never encouraged its practice.

She uses herself and her friends’ bodies as inspiration to portray women of color and of all shapes and sizes, trying to steer clear of the feminine image established by the very comic books she draws stylistic inspiration from.

“I’m trying to be real with the female body,” Nuñez said. She said she feels successful in doing that when women see her art and tell her they see themselves reflected in it.

Debra Stuckgold

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Stuckgold’s work often reflects the memories attached to homelands and explores her family’s history as well as Jewish history in general. Here, she said she started out with a memorial to those killed in Palestine in the Israel-Palestine conflict (though she refers to it as an occupation), and then expanded it to include dimensions of people both past and present.

The fabric squares, printed with photos of families’ and individuals’ ghostly faces, explore “loss of life, but also that really deep-rooted desire to cling to a place that you deeply love,” Stuckgold said. Lines of poetry and scripture are written across some of the faces, passages about how one should treat the stranger.

“I wanted it to be ephemeral and very fragile,” much like the lives commemorated, Stuckgold said.

Tessie Barrera-Scharaga

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Children’s songs connect the hands in these paintings with childhood memories made tangible. The songs come from all over Latin America, where Barrera-Scharaga memorized them as her parents migrated from one country to the next. Perpetually the new girl, the immigrant, and the outsider, the artist said she worked her way into her teachers’ good graces at each school by volunteering to perform these songs and poems at school events.

“I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but I can still remember those songs,” Barrera-Scharaga said. “That was a way for me to cope.”

As her parents, both well-educated, traveled around the world for work, Barrera-Scharaga left behind pieces of her childhood with each move. A tricycle, a rocking horse – these are things your parents are unlikely to take with them when they transplant yet again, Barrera-Scharaga said.

“They’re memories of my childhood, things that were dear to me.”

The Mission Cultural Center’s Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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