New exhhibition 'Soy de Tejas' highlights a diversity of themes explored by Texas' Latinx artists

The exhibition at the City of San Antonio's Centro de Artes was curated by Rigoberto Luna, co-owner and director of San Antonio's Presa House Gallery.

click to enlarge In La Linea Imaginaria, Karla Michell García presents a series of ceramic sculptures resembling cacti. - Marco Aquino
Marco Aquino
In La Linea Imaginaria, Karla Michell García presents a series of ceramic sculptures resembling cacti.

The new exhibition at the City of San Antonio's Centro de Artes, "Soy de Tejas: A Statewide Survey of Latinx Art," lives up to its title, showcasing more than 100 works by 40 contemporary Texas-based creators.

Curated by Rigoberto Luna, co-owner and director of San Antonio's Presa House Gallery, the exhibition reflects a diversity of work and themes explored by Latinx artists across the state.

The idea for the show, which runs through July 2, has been years in the making, according to Luna, whose biggest challenge was selecting the 40 artists from a list of over 200 he considered for inclusion. Starting with such an exhaustive list required him to do additional research online and spend time visiting with creators to learn more about their work.

"There isn't one particular theme," said Luna, who's long emphasized Latinx art at Presa House shows. "It's just about a lot of things happening throughout the state that we are all having to deal with. It's just a bunch of conversations from a bunch of different artists and most of them haven't met."

Some of the pieces focus on the familiar subjects of identity, borders, race, migration and displacement. Others delve into gender, class and even mythmaking.

The exhibition fills both floors of the Centro de Artes galleries, and it contains a variety of large-scale and innovative installations. The works encompass nearly every medium, including video, sculpture, painting, photography and printmaking.

Esto Cala

Among the exhibition's highlights is the work of Gil Rocha, an artist who was born and raised in Laredo. Fittingly, Rocha's work often speaks to the ways people learn to adapt and survive in underserved communities.

His mixed-media installation Esto Cala finds beauty in disaster and offers a testament to the strength and resilience found in Latinx households.

The installation consists of a fence made out of wire, wooden crates, banners and a variety of found objects — the type of construction common in impoverished areas. The work demonstrates how residents of neglected communities learn to make do with whatever they have.

"For me it really hits home because it reminded me so much of the way I grew up," Luna said. "I grew up with a father that was a 'Mr. Fix It,' and things weren't always done the way they were supposed to be done. There was a lot of Chicano ingenuity in finding solutions to things."

Crude yet inventive, Rocha's structures seem to hold countless untold stories from the past and current lives of the objects that comprise them.

QueeRider

Born in El Paso, San Antonio-based artist Jose Villalobos is heavily influenced by border culture, and his work often appropriates macho-identifying signifiers such as vaquero outfits. Villalobos dismantles their meaning through explorations of his queer identity. Most recently, he's been exploring toxic masculinity in objects and imagery associated with Chicano car culture.

With the series QueeRider, Villalobos presents three horse saddles decked out in the kind of gaudy objects normally seen on lowrider cars. Fuzzy dice, rearview mirrors and a chrome, heart-shaped muffler transform these otherwise ordinary horse saddles into a spectacle.

Standing tall on their white pedestals, Villalobos' horse saddles present a contradiction in cultural and gender norms.

"When I was a lot younger my mother used to always say that I was going to be a fashion designer," Villalobos told the Current in 2017. "I would always say, 'No, that's gay!' because I was hiding myself. But I've always loved creating something that goes over a person, clothing and accessories and things like that. I think my goal is altering certain things, to change the perspective people have. ... It's like bending reality."

La Linea Imaginaria

In La Linea Imaginaria, Karla Michell García presents a series of ceramic sculptures resembling cacti. Presented on a bed of sand, the work captures the natural beauty of the desert landscape along the border.

"She's talking about these self-imposed borders that we create," Luna said. "I think the message she has in her work is one we're all dealing with."

Although born in El Paso like Villalobos, García was raised on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. In an online statement, she describes how that bicultural experience informs her artistic practice.

"I create desert landscape installations as a metaphor for my upbringing in the border towns of Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, in the United States," she explains. "I create cacti sculptures with clay to reference my Mexican cultural heritage and as a metaphor for the resilient spirit of our collective stories as immigrants in the U.S."

"Soy de Tejas" comes at a significant time for Latino artists in Texas. A report in the Texas Tribune last fall revealed that Hispanic residents now make up more of the state's population than Anglo residents. That demographic shift reflects a growth in Latinx populations in other parts of the country.

Ahead of the Feb. 9 opening reception, Luna said he hoped people could identify with the pieces on display. And they did.

"A lot of people came up to me and were just really appreciative of the work," he said. "It's hard if you've grown up in Texas to not connect with some of the images or material."

Free, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, noon-5pm Saturday-Sunday through July 2, Centro de Artes, 101 S. Santa Rosa Ave., getcreativesanantonio.com.

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