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An Understanding of Self, Identity and Belonging in New Mesa College Art Exhibit Celebrating Latino Heritage

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There are clear references to moments in the life and culture of Los Angeles artist Maria in the pieces selected for an upcoming exhibition, featuring her work and that of her husband and fellow artist, Ryan Bonilla. “In Lak’ech: Tu eres mi otro yo” is on display Monday through October 13 at the San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery and demonstrates a Mayan concept of connecting with the human spirit of others, in celebration of Heritage Month Hispanic.

In her wearable paintings, drawings and sculptures, Los Angeles says she uses her own observation, memories and imagination of her personal history as an undocumented immigrant to comment on concepts of identity, citizenship and of belonging.

“Some of the dresses feature family symbols, fertility, lots of images of boundaries, lots of images around my experience of growing up undocumented, what it meant, what it means to find your sense of being or belonging through all these experiences. There are a lot of things related to Mexican heritage that are presented in my work,” she says. “There are also other things that are not in this specific context because I really want to talk about how me, as an artist and also Mexican, I have all these things that I love in my culture and that I’m a part of, but I think that identity is a bit more in flux. We have many ways of being in the world and calling ourselves. For me, that’s really important; that my work not only borrows from Mexican heritage, but to other visual elements from other sections of my life, experiences and learning.

De Los Angeles, who grew up in Mexico before immigrating to California at age 11, currently lives in New Jersey and recently joined the faculty at Yale School of Art, where she earned her master’s degree in fine art. -arts and now teaches painting and printmaking. A vernissage for “In Lak’ech” is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at the gallery and she will also speak at an artist talk from 10-11 a.m. Thursday. She took the time to talk about her work and the social justice issues explored there. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: The description of “In Lak’ech” says it invokes a Mayan concept popularized by Chicano playwright and filmmaker Luis Valdez, reflecting “a philosophy of caring for and connecting with one another’s human spirit.” Can you tell us about the meaning of this concept for this show?

A: I think the theme of the exhibit is perfect and relates to the self being something we share and replicate for other people, and that relationship. For me, this exhibition is perfect because it is my work, which is about how identity has so many facets. In our society, or with our friends, there is what we project for people as opposed to what we kind of keep hidden. It’s this idea of ​​self-reflection, and within that reflection we can see an overlap in identity between one person and another. It is this duality, this shared identity, that we are looking at in this exhibition. For me, my work relates specifically to this idea as there are many themes of belonging, migration and symbolism in my paintings which relate to both my upbringing in Mexico and the United States Ryan and I we are collaborators and he will show an installation of hundreds of Polaroids, and he will also have works on paper and some videos. Her work is very much about celebrating life and culture, while touching on current social issues.

Q: I understand that your own lived experiences have found their way into your art and your decision to push back the concept of American citizenship a bit. Can you explain a little bit what you mean by that?

A: I think pushing this concept back was just a survival mechanism at first because of the legal situation. Not belonging legally also makes you think about what it means to belong, what it means to be a citizen, what it means to vote and even get a driver’s license. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time thinking about what it means to belong in the United States and to feel empowered, culturally, to be in the United States and to be Mexican. It’s a very big challenge for a lot of people, especially people my age who came here without papers. In my work, when I was at Yale University during my Masters of Fine Arts, I began to reflect on these stories, my memories, and what I thought of the “American Dream” and citizenship American mean to me, or still mean now. I didn’t really start to find this subject in my work, or bring it to the fore in my work, until I was at Yale University.

Q: Four of the dresses you created are central to the exhibit and include items such as American flags, tortilla warmers and t-shirts. Tell us why you chose these elements and what they mean to you in this context.

A: They’re sort of elements of everyday life, depending on your cultural background, but they’re also things that signal both Mexican and American identity, to me. The American flag contains a lot of symbolism and is very powerful. One wonders who carries the flag and how we own it. For me, putting the American flag in dresses is a signal of what it means to be American and to belong, but it’s also a property of the American flag. The American flag has also been used extensively in protests and activism, so what does it mean to wear and have the American flag in your work? It has a lot of social weight, but it depends on who is watching it. Some might see it and be proud that the flag is on the dress as a source of pride. Other people might feel slightly upset, maybe I cut it off and put it in a dress.

For tortilla warmers, it’s just part of Mexican culture and it’s also a very playful thing. You see it when you go to your aunt’s and there are different kinds of embroidery. It’s an interesting thing and it comes from homes, from education, from everyday life.

With the T-shirts, I use a lot of recycled fabrics, so some of my dresses have a canvas base and in addition I use embroidery, stencil, paint, ribbon, recycled patches, t shirts. I just like to use things that are part of your everyday life. There’s a dress in the show called “Family Dress” that I made with material I was working on during my grad school years. It’s the oldest dress and it doesn’t have a lot of embroidery. It’s a single sheet of material with other components of the same material attached to it, so it looks more like a painting. The new clothes are more like drawings, performances, protests; they are a mix of many more elements than that first dress, but i still love this dress. It’s a beautiful composition [in this exhibition] from the beginning, until I do more and more now, with the “occasion dress”, which is a very layered texture and has a different shape and discipline.