The long and complicated title of the current exhibition at Bihl Haus Arts, 10,000 Years of Love and Resistance: A Celebration of the Arts and Spiritual Union, can be summed up in one word, according to its main honoree: “Love.”
The exhibition celebrates Tomás Ybarra-Frausto as a hero of the Latinx and LGBTQIA communities for his pioneering scholarly work in Latin American studies and for his 50 years with life partner Dudley Brooks.
Love and resistance as a unified concept is not new to Ybarra-Frausto, who has written and spoken extensively on the topic, including a 2017 keynote speech for a UCLA symposium honoring him as a pioneer in the field of Chicano art history.
“Love in its multiple varieties and variations in different locales is at the heart of all my attachments and enthusiasms,” he said in the speech, titled “Otro Corazón: The Geographies of Love.”
The speech also reads, “There is no greater love than our shared creation of a ‘Comunidad de Sentimiento y Resistencia,’ an intergenerational network of social and cultural activists with the enduring quest to envision a more inclusive, caring, and equitable society.”
That community of resistance is at the heart of the 10,000 Years exhibition, said curator David Zamora Casas, who assembled an intergenerational group of 20 artists, activists, performers, musicians, and personalities to chart the various “Geographies of Love” in the LGBTQIA community, to honor Ybarra-Frausto and Brooks, and to highlight the healing powers of art for people facing challenges of identity.
At the July 21 opening reception, there were “a lot of expressions of love,” Ybarra-Frausto said. Zamora Casas had arranged for music and performance to accompany the paintings, photographs, and installations in the show, including a performance by Rita Urquijo-Ruiz with 11-year-old accordion virtuoso Joaquin Linn.
Ybarra-Frausto has a special affinity for Urquijo-Ruiz, he said, because of research he’s done on 1940s-era performer La Chata Novesca, whose persona Urquijo-Ruiz adopts. The colorful but mismatched outfits worn by both La Chata and Urquijo-Ruiz are an ideal example of rasquachismo, the concept Ybarra-Frausto is noted for defining in the mid-1980s.
“Part of that sensibility of rasquachismo is in putting together things that don’t normally go together,” he explained, citing Urquijo-Ruiz’s striped socks and flowered dress. And there were “a lot of love offerings and a lot of humor in the way David interpreted it,” throughout the exhibition, he said, including plates of bananas.
The bananas are a reference to a joke made by the 80-year-old Brooks, who cracked that he won’t buy green bananas because he might not be around long enough for them to ripen, Ybarra-Frausto said.
Zamora Casas adopted rasquachismo as his animating principle for putting together the exhibition, evident in the multitude of decorations hung rafter to rafter in the historic building. Strings of papel picado and chains of 16-ounce beer cans drew curling lines from artwork to artwork in a cacophony of color and rasquache beauty.
One opening attendee wore a sequined jacket bearing the word Rasquachic, Ybarra-Frausto said, a generational update of the concept. “I thought that was pretty neat,” he said, but “a little different because it’s a different time.”
Zamora Casas also brought in Los Náhuatlatos, a band described by Ybarra-Frausto as “Tejano fusion” that played a mix of boleros, cumbias, polkas, country and western styles, and American standards.
Many people danced, including fathers and daughters, parents with their grandparents, and Ybarra-Frausto himself with some kids in attendance. At an Italian-themed afterparty dinner, with a female mariachi band for entertainment, “this intercultural, intergender, intergenerational fusion of things continued,” he said.
The commingling and fusion in the art and performances were important, but “one of the most impressive things was to see the commingling of the multiple communities that make up our cultural scene in San Antonio,” Ybarra-Frausto said, particularly the mix of LGBTQIA community members, elders from the Primrose at Monticello Park senior apartments surrounding Bihl Haus, academician friends, and many artists.
“There was diversity and common ground at the same time,” he said. Altogether, “David did a really good job in melding and bringing together all these ideas, and all these people,” Ybarra-Frausto said, but both identified a deeper purpose for the show.
The “10,000 Years” of the show’s title refers to human habitation far predating the limited perspective of San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebrations, Zamora Casas noted in the gallery’s news release. He slyly suggests that the many “Geographies of Love” suggested in the LGBTQIA exhibition have been present throughout. However, the exhibition has current import.
“I think the core notion was that in this moment, and in these times, there is a great need for the companionship and encirclement of people in a circle of love, to struggle against what they find impeding whatever they want to be, and whatever world they want to see,” Ybarra-Frausto said.
Ybarra-Frausto credits his gardener mother for helping to shape his inclusive worldview. She would tell him to notice how beautiful the roses, hyacinths, zinnias, and other flowers looked all together and say, “Wouldn’t it be horrible if the garden had only zinnias or any one thing?”
Nature shows us the wonderful interconnections between all things, he said, and that “human culture is the same way.”
Two events are scheduled during the remainder of the 10,000 Years exhibition. On Saturday, Aug. 4, from 2-4 p.m., Ybarra-Frausto and Brooks will moderate a “Geographies of Love” panel discussion featuring photographer Julián Pablo Ledezma; artist-activist Michael Martinez; performer-activist Autumn Summers; Luz Lopez, a transgender woman; and military veteran Tiffany Perez.
A closing reception on Saturday, Sept. 1, from 6-8 p.m. features
readings by Jo Reyes-Boitel, Anel Flores, Joyous Windrider Jiménez, and Summers.
Both events are free and open to the public. Bihl Haus Arts is open Fridays and Saturdays 1-4 p.m. or by appointment.