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"Transcendental Tricentennial: Love Letters to San Anto, the (he)Art of David Zamora Casas"

Over the last four decades, self-described “artivist” David Zamora Casas has delighted, shocked and intrigued San Antonio audiences with paintings, installations, altars and performance works that essentially present the artist himself as a canvas. Fusing elements of folk and outsider art with nods to the aesthetics of Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dalí, the DIY spirit of rasquachismo, religious iconography and Latinx and LGBTQ* activism, Casas has established something many artists strive for fruitlessly: an instantly recognizable aesthetic that’s distinctly their own. Nicknamed Nuclear Meltdown and dubbed a “clown shaman” by esteemed author and MacArthur Genius Sandra Cisneros, Casas often makes cameos in his own paintings, his fire-engine red lips, devilish goatee and Dalí-esque mustache emerging from surreal tableaus populated by skulls, deities, monkeys and mermaids swimming amid swirling patterns, Mesoamerican symbols and hand-painted text reminiscent of retablos. In the words of Chicano art specialist Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, Casas’ canvases “mix word and image to visualize autobiographical and universal stories  of homoerotic love, loss and persistent social concerns including immigration, environmental plunder, gender disparity and the multiple issues facing marginalized individuals and communities.” Billed as an artistic explosion of “folk-baroque manifestations” exploring themes ranging from indigenous history to gender fluidity, Casas’ new solo show “Transcendental Tricentennial” comprises “miles of ribbon, yards of fabric, embellished prints, various on-site assemblages, oil and acrylic paintings on canvas, barbed-wire and bone sculptures, and a Día de los Muertos ofrenda which spills into our collective consciousness.” Made possible by a grant from the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC), the “mega-installation” also involves creative collaborations with the likes of accordion queen Eva Ybarra and video/film producers Laura Varela and Fadela Gacis Castro. As for its slightly unexpected landing at the Institute of Texan Cultures, Casas reminds that the exhibition evokes the ITC’s mission to be “a lesson in diversity [that] shows the uniqueness and beauty of the many cultures that came to Texas.”

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