.MACLA’s ‘Xicanx Biennial’ Returns

'Muxeres Rising' grapples with issues of culture and gender fluidity

The flowing beige and browns of Pilar Agüero-Esparza’s eight-paneled mural represent various skin tones.

The largest work of art at MACLA’s seventh “Xicanx Biennial: Muxeres Rising” is Pilar Agüero-Esparza’s eight-paneled mural. Without knowing anything about the artist, you notice the earthen color palette and a series of interlocking shapes and patterns. When you discover a “Skin Tone Drawing” series she experimented with in 2017, the meaning of the mural comes into focus.

Agüero-Esparza made that series in crayon and colored pencil using a variety of colors like white, apricot, peach, tan, burnt sienna, mahogany, sepia and black. The mural expands on the idea, as MACLA’s curators point out, to “depict evidence that skin cannot be reduced to a single color, when in reality, skin is spectrum of tones ‘woven’ together.”

“Muxeres Rising” is a group show of 13 “self-identified Latinx women,” some of whose work “openly critiques the repressive qualities of American politics and Latino culture.” Notable examples include an Elizabeth Blancas painting that contains the slogan, “The future is femme trans non binary now.” She halves the background at a 90-degree angle, painting half of it yellow, the other half magenta. A figure on the left stares at the viewer with long manes of pink hair.

Vanessa “Agana” Espinoza transforms the Statue of Liberty by depicting her in black and white, as an immigrant with an “indigenous connection” to the land. Instead of a torch held high above her head, she wields a stalk of corn. Her patterned dress recalls Incan and Mayan symbols. The scroll in her hand reads, “La Tierra es de Quien La Trabaja,” or, “The land belongs to those who work it.” She stands on a pedestal that’s embossed with a lotería heart, held in cupped hands, and a banner that declares, “Move Freely.”

Several depictions of the self, without such direct statements, are just as compelling. The artist Sandra Antongiorgi imagines herself in Trilogy with three self-portraits framed together. She uses three different skin tones, pale and dark, while also changing the headdress and stylized makeup on her face. This is a portrait of a warrior woman in touch with what’s divine in her. There’s a fine portrait by Shizu Saldamando, Sashiko, Wish Candy. The artist captures a 21st-century Mona Lisa smile in her subject, painting the figure with a striking purple lipstick and clear, retro cat’s eyeglasses. It “pays homage to a queer artist.”

Jessica Sabogal combines portraiture with the message, “Walls can’t keep out greatness.” She repurposes the American flag so that the teal stars and the carmel-colored stripes loosen their shapes. They become abstract and start to merge with Colombian patterns. The flag is a backdrop for an older Latinx woman who proudly stares out into the distance. She carries an ordinary handbag and wears the newly integrated, bold pattern across the front of her dress.

In Erika Gómez Henao’s self-portrait, she paints her skin the color of red clay but titles the piece Am I white enough? Her head is crowned with a laurel leaf made of flowers, hearts and either hands or fists. They’re as white as the frosting on a wedding cake and tinged with pink shadows. Her shoulder-length hair is also dyed in artificial streaks of silver, white, lilac and violet. But underneath her pitch black eyes, her nose and cheeks are smudged with white paint. It streaks across her neck and the top of her chest until it bleeds down and across her arms and fingers. Foregoing a brush, she’s dipped her hands directly into a can of paint or some other whitewashing substance. It’s a jarring image, especially in the context of the exhibit.

Henao is expressing the complexity of the dilemma that occurs to every artist in this survey: How do I assert my own identity in a culture that’s become hostile and intolerant to my heritage and the color of my skin?

Xicanx Biennial: Muxeres Rising
Thru March 10, Free
MACLA, San Jose
maclaarte.org

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