.Pertenecer: To Belong Held at San Jose MACLA

Latin artists trace the outlines of identity in new MACLA show

Alyssarhaye Graciano had many expectations for her first curated exhibit at MACLA, but the preview walkthrough still managed to catch her by surprise. 

“I didn’t expect to cry,” she says. 

Featuring six Latinx artists, Pertenecer: To Belong, opened at MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana) last week. The exhibition boasts large textile art, clay sculptures and cyanotypes (a very old, slow-setting form of photography), paintings and a new spin on traditional Mexican tin art. Graciano says the exhibition, her first as the gallery’s new Visual Arts Curator, explores the duality of othering and belonging.

Born and raised in San Jose, Graciano grew up exploring MACLA as a patron. As the museum’s newest curator, she says watching the artists create the exhibition was thrilling.

“Being able to have a little bit of a hand in the arts community and give back to a place that gave me so much as a kid has been amazing,” she says. 

Half-Mexican and half-Filipino, Graciano grew up feeling othered in a predominantly white society and also within the respective immigrant groups she descended from.

“It’s happened to everyone,” she says. “I just want folks to be able to sit with that and think about it, and maybe perhaps also think ‘How have I ever othered anyone else?’” 

Pertenecer is Hector Muñoz-Guzmán’s first show in the Bay Area. Born in South Berkeley, his work pays homage to his Mexican roots and his heroes, titans of art like Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.

His largest painting features a young man wearing an A’s cap and what looks to be a baseball uniform. Flanked by farm workers, high stalks of corn and revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Che Guevara, his cowboy boots stretch, evoking the surrealism of Frida Kahlo.

Muñoz-Guzmán is the first in his family to be born in the US, the first to graduate high school, go to college and work outside of manual labor.

“I’m the first to have a voice, to do art,” Muñoz-Guzmán says.

Mexican history—the history of colonization and revolution—he says, can be very traumatic. Yet his art is empowering.

“All I want to do is heal and make beautiful images,” he says. “Sometimes you’ve got to build your own path and build your own destiny.”

Vanessa Wallace-Gonzales also equates art with healing. In her second show at MACLA, the Santa Barbara-based artist began experimenting with clay sculpture and cyanotype-coated fabrics.

“Recently, I’ve been working with these ceramics and gold pieces, trying to harness and visualize what healing [and reclamation] might look like for me,” she says.

Wallace-Gonzales is an Afro-Latinx queer artist who creates striking images out of delicate elements. The frail bodies of dried flowers and preserved butterflies, the kiss of the sun on cyanotype chemicals—things that speak of life’s fleeting vibrancy. 

Rayos Magos created textile art for the exhibit, stitching images of himself as a young boy and blown-up photos of his farmworker grandparents into agricultural fabrics like burlap. Coupled with a nearby record player and vinyl collection from his grandmother, these images conjure the comforts of a grandparents’ living room circa 1983, while evoking the struggle to find belonging in a new country.

Elsewhere in the exhibit, Kristina Micotti’s playful animal characters (made in the style of Mexican tin art called hojalatas) adjoin with Jen White-Johnson’s colorful, celebratory portraits of living Afro-Latinx artists. Micotti “likes to create anything that makes her laugh.” White-Johnson’s portraits, meanwhile, place Afro-Latinx artists against colorful backgrounds where, haloed by sun, they appear saintly and revered. 

Facing the gallery exit, multimedia artist Pilar Agüero-Esparza’s installation takes inspiration from her parents’ shoe shop in LA and the weaving technique used to make huaraches, traditional Mexican sandals. Using leather and a natural skin-tone palette, her woven painted canvas meditates on the threads that bind people together even as colorism tries to separate them.

“Colorism is alive and well,” Agüero-Esparza says, “but it’s complex. It’s that conversation, trying to see the ways that language as well as art and ideas of color evoke a lot of other things.” 

Pertenecer: To Belong

Now Showing, Free

MACLA, San Jose

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