Amazons of art 

A large-scale installation by Anita Valencia adorns one wall of Blue Star’s main gallery. Ten stars of varying sizes, three in silver and seven in blue, glisten majestically. A closer look reveals that they are made of metal lids and the bottoms of aluminum cans. It is surprising to observe the beauty expressed by such mundane detritus.

Valencia works with recycled materials to address her concerns about consumer greed and the fragile state of our environment. “The stars ... are big and bright” calls attention to the volume of waste humans generate, and underscores our need to cut back on the amount of garbage we produce.

The piece is a part of Arte Latina: ROAR, curated by Arturo Almeida, will be on view at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center through June 8. Almeida has chosen a fine group of prominent Latina artists and writers, who, through various forms of expression, share their experiences as women, as Hispanics, and as humans.

Six mixed-media paintings by Carla Veliz from her 2006-07 series entitled “Lo que el viento se llevo” hang along the back wall of the gallery. These canvases incorporate myriad objects, from fabric swatches to nuts and bolts, a brooch, dried flowers, and copper wire. Veliz further challenges the one-dimensional nature of traditional painting by covering her surfaces with coarse sand, broken glass, and wrinkled plastic, which she then disguises under pigment. Atmospheric swirls of color create distinctive moods that are specific to each piece. Some boast dark burgundies and ominous shades of black and brown, while others show lighter blues, cheerier pinks, and comforting peach hues. In sum, these works express the joy the artist finds through creative expression, and the strength she has attained in overcoming the inevitable hardships of life.

A vague din drifts out of the Middle Gallery. The sound of sewing machines working furiously is punctuated by loud, grotesque coughing and hacking. The source of this noise is an insightful installation by Guillermina Zabala entitled “Ready to Wear.” Three mannequin torsos hang along the back wall, each serving as a screen for video footage. Images of women posing, smiling fatuously, and twirling their hair bring these plastic busts to life, while facts about sweatshops and worker exploitation flash alongside them.

Each bust flaunts a neon-green or purple backdrop, attracting the eye — and curiosity — of the viewer long enough to get Zabala’s point across. She forces consumers to acknowledge the inhumane conditions factory employees must endure so that our favorite stores can stock up on the latest styles. Our patronization of the fashion industry serves to perpetuate this vicious cycle, which is also destructive to women’s self-images, as the curvaceous forms of the mannequins further emphasize.

Irma Carolina Rubio explores various female identities in a new photographic series starring herself. In “Republicana,” Rubio wears the sort of red power suit favored by Nancy Reagan and a white wig reminiscent of Barbara Bush. Standing in front of the U.S. Capitol, she holds a cell phone and stares blankly at the viewer. “Esposa Ideal” is shopping in a supermarket produce section, holding up a ripe tomato, a fake smile plastered on her face. Her appearance is impeccable — hair held back neatly, nails freshly manicured, makeup gracefully applied — though she appears vacant behind her pretty eyes. Each color image is bordered in white and mounted behind plexiglas to hang a few inches away from the wall. The titles are emblazoned in white capital letters somewhere on each photograph. These institutional-style touches highlight the artificiality of each stereotypical construct, provoking questions about the reality behind appearances.

In a straightforward and energetic written statement, Ellen Riojas Clark expresses what success in life means to her, as well as her plan for achieving it. While she does make certain references to her personal experience as a Latina living in San Antonio, her hopes and dreams transcend place, race, and gender. While Almeida chose to create a show focusing exclusively on the work of Latina artists, much of which is informed by the identities and experiences of these women, the best pieces in the show are universally accessible.


A motherly roar

click to enlarge arts_arteroar2_cmykjpg

Jennifer Herrera
Artura Almeida curated Arte Latina: ROAR, the all-Latina group
show at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center.

We are still riding a post-Mother’s Day love fest with all things mom-related, so when we met earlier this week with Arte Latina: ROAR curator Arturo Almeida — who’s also curator of the UTSA art collection — we were pleased to find out that the exhibition is a tribute to his mother, about whom Almeida passionately gushed ( ... as he gushed over the 20 artists and writers featured in the show). The women chosen for the show were selected from Almeida, previous exhibitions, word of mouth at various events held around town, and simply working with them at UTSA.

The year-and-a-half journey to make Almeida’s vision a reality was born from his own adoration and respect for his mother, whom he calls a strong woman. Through divorce, the death of her daughter, and, later on in life dialysis treatments, she’s never faltered, he says.

“I see that a lot in women, how bold, how beautiful, how elegant they can be — that’s what they have that makes them special,” says Almeida. He’s frequently stumped, he says, over how to express his appreciation for his mother — and the women he handpicked for this first-of-its-kind show in Blue Star’s nearly 23-year history. Almeida found that oversight peculiar. “We should have these kinds of exhibits,”
he says.

The show’s theme and title encouraged artists and writers to express the beauty of being Latinas and each decided to tackle specific subjects in their works, from the beauty of a child, to honoring their Latina sisters, to taking a political stance as represented in Irma Carolina Rubio’s work — they embraced their culture while displaying their immense talent.

Almeida intends to make the exhibition a traveling show; its first stop after closing June 8 will be at South Texas College in McAllen. He hopes to take the show to Brownsville and Corpus Christi where he was born and raised.

Jennifer Herrera



Arte Latina: ROAR
Noon-6pm Wed-Sun
Through June 8
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
116 Blue Star
(210) 227-6960



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