The title of the exhibition opening Thursday at Centro de Artes is a declaration: Soy de Tejas. While many of the 40 artists in the show are from Texas, others have moved away or found their way to the Lone Star State from somewhere else.
“Those pathways are part of the story,” said curator Rigoberto Luna, describing how one artist in the show was born in New York, grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Houston.
“I definitely wanted to invite those artists to see how they see themselves as Texans,” Luna said. And for those who are from the state and have stayed, artists who live and work elsewhere provide context for how artistic subjects migrate along those various pathways.
Luna travels often as proprietor of the Presa House gallery in San Antonio, which has enabled him to connect with artists across the state and country. Cities and states represented in the exhibition include Brooklyn; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Massachusetts; Michigan; Louisiana; Tucson, Arizona; and other locales.
He also travels frequently in his home state. Texas artists in the show are from Austin, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, New Territory, Pearland and San Antonio.
Local artists include Luna’s spouse Jenelle Esparza, painter Fernando Andrade, sculptor Violette Bule, photographer Melissa Gamez-Herrera, printmaker Juan de Dios Mora, painter Eva Marengo Sanchez and performance artist and sculptor José Villalobos. Luna’s sibling Ruben Luna is represented by a multipart wall sculpture honoring their parents, titled El Baile de Rico y Lola.
While the array of mediums in the show varies widely — from drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, textiles, video and performance — subject matter remains consistently familiar to the complicated Texas landscape. Artworks depict natural barriers such as cactuses and rivers to constructed barriers including chainlink fences, barbed wire and ubiquitous white pickup trucks emblazoned with the logo of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol.
A sculpture by Laredoan Gil Rocha is a rasquache-style agglomeration of pots, pans, a kitchen sink, a chancla, a Virgen de Guadalupe figure and a working transistor radio playing Mexican music. Unfired clay cactus sculptures hand-built by Dallas artist Karla Michell Garcia appear on a plat of sand on the gallery floor and in a group of photographs of the Texas landscape.
Recognition of the importance of Latino and Latina artists to the national dialogue is growing, Luna said.
“Latinx art is American art, right? That’s the big push. And so these are very American stories. We may not always get looked at that way,” but exhibitions such as Soy de Tejas will help cement that narrative, he said.
While the experience of migrants and ethnic minorities includes exclusion and pain, it can also offer joy and celebration, Luna said.
Overall, the show is “a good example of what the experience of being othered in Texas feels like because you’re dealing with all these heavy issues. But you’re finding a way forward because there’s great things about our culture, our ethnicity that we can lean on to get us forward.”
Soy de Tejas: A Statewide Survey of Latinx Art is on view at Centro de Artes through July 2, and free to the public. Events during the exhibition include a performance night featuring Villalobos and Christian Cruz of Dallas on April 13, and an artist talk on June 15. More details are available on the Department of Arts and Culture website.