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Q&A: Celia Alvarez Muñoz

by Tina Aguilar 19 Aug 2010 11:18 AM

The artist talks about “A Toda Madre y Padre!: Manchas y Marcas,” her new exhibition at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas.


Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.

Venturing out into the art landscape brings welcome surprises and conversations. For this week, I spoke with Celia Alvarez Muñoz about her exhibition, “A Toda Madre y Padre!: Manchas y Marcas” at the Latino Cultural Center and the new book Celia Alvarez Muñoz, by Dr. Roberto Tejada, which situates her work and place in art history. Alvarez Muñoz is the current artist honored in the annual Maestros Tejanos series, which recognizes the talent of Texas Latino artists and whose imprints continue to foster new talent. In addition to this exhibit, her work Orientaciones, part of the City of Dallas Public Art Collection, holds a strong heartbeat and is nestled within the architecture, a building designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta.

Tina Aguilar: Immediately, I recognize the quince, so for me, quinceañeras comes to mind. Can you talk a little bit about this particular image?

Celia Alvarez Muñoz: This was a celebration for a press in Austin, Coronado Studio, that celebrated its 15th anniversary. And so when I was invited to participate, I said, “What would I want to do?” You know, there’s so much and it’s so rich, but you want to nail it into one word that could say a bunch. So I thought about it and, the more I thought about it, the more I really was inclined to celebrate the body of work that the studio has done. So I chose to do a body with indelible markings, because I think Coronado Studio has made a mark in Austin and in the nation, really, and so that’s my use of the tattoo. I wanted to do a tiara, and I started collecting images of tiaras, but soon it was a little too derivative, and it just became more interesting thinking about the body. So, the word quince, and the vine does look like a tiara. I went to the real obvious and classic tattoo imagery.

T.A.: So why one word?

C.A.M.: Quince, you say it all. Quince is 15.

T.A.: Language is a very big part of your work.

C.A.M.: Very much, yes, yes. The fact that there is language is something that is pretty much a constant in the work. And of course, it’s in Spanish and “15” is too big for a tat and this one had more punch to it. Quince is nicely balanced, short and sweet, and too the point.

T.A.: And you even have the designs on the top of the letters. These areas also mirror the scroll.

C.A.M.: Yeah, I just wanted to be a little more complex than just the dark ink against the skin. It makes it more like an unfolding. These layers that, you know, that tats are about. You want to say it all, you know, once you start working, you kind of go greedy and then you peel back and peel back because you want to include a bunch of stuff. Then you pull back and pull back and the work becomes what it wants to be.


C.A.M.: I had been thinking about expanding on the notion of tattoos, and it’s a nice wide topic. And so when I was invited to the Latino Cultural Center for this exhibition, I thought about the location of the center, and I’m always putting a lasso around several things – the fact that I think the Latino Cultural Center is making its mark here in the community, just like its neighbor Deep Ellum. In Deep Ellum, when it’s booming, it has lots of tattoo shops, and so that connection was one that I chose, too. That print was perfect for this wall. But when I thought about the show, I wanted to go back to my very first love, which was drawing. I had never done a drawing show, so this is my first. And when was this going to be done? In May, and May is Mother’s Day month, and so I kind of looped another – threw another hook in that direction – and went to the expression “A Toda Madre!” which means “Far Out!” in Spanish and it’s used more on this side of the border. In Mexico, it’s “Está Padre!” when it’s the male gender, so it’s “Far Out” in both countries. And since this is the Latino Cultural Center, Manchas y Marcas goes back to the tats, because they are marks and stains. But I think that the work, especially the murals, too, and the narrative takes you to the notion of questioning. I’m at the point in my life when you’re examining: what stays or what do you shed, what you want to shed, what you want to keep. And some of those marks, when are they stains or, if it’s a stain, when does it develop into a mark? So that dance took place. Tats are marks, and they are stains, especially as you progress in life.

T.A.: What about memory?

C.A.M.: Not so much memory, but taking into consideration your time, present, in relation to maybe what you project further on. Yep, I think you can’t have the present without the past. That’s what the narrative piece is about; the fact that the use of the word “mother” is there. Again, you know, and it’s my father, the Abüelo, the male connection, and back to the title of the exhibition. Being that it was close to Mother’s Day, again, another hook to the word “mother” and the expansion of the word, which is a very loaded word. You can go from “mother” to “mutha.”

T.A. Tell me about how you work and about going back to drawing.

C.A.M.: I like to totally submerge myself, and I build up momentum and isolate myself. I give myself that luxury, and with this project I did. It’s a lot of research going back and forth between things. Music is another part. Sometimes I pick a certain piece or album, and I react to that. And if it’s conducive to the work, I might play the same CD over and over because it speaks to me. I’ll listen to it trance-like and then get very familiar with it. I think about how they chose the first song, the second, how it is in the middle, and all the way to the end, basically reading it. A fascinating one is Dengue Fever, as I was working on Quince, with a Cambodian singer, and it has a lot of 60s influences. For the rest of the drawings, I loved figure drawing and the human body is so complex. I don’t consider myself a colorist. I am a value person, sepia and monochromatic. I believe less is more, and that’s why line is gorgeous to me.

Mama (left) and Mamacita

T.A.: In the show, there are also images of a mother and child and another female figure, perhaps pregnant, perhaps not, very voluptuous. How does the body work into this show?

C.A.M.: I’m running with the word “mother,” and so I am giving you several meanings to “mother.” How about starting with Mamacita over here, which is obviously not a pregnant girl – she’s young, she’s beautiful and there are no blacks. I didn’t use blacks; it’s all shades of grey, because it’s young, because it’s there, and the word, the title of that is Mamacita, which is a complimentary, floral expression … Then I give you Mami, which is Spanish for mother. Perhaps, like you say, it is elusive. I went more abstract to abstraction in that one, and the emphasis … is on the hand because I think things change dramatically for women once they step into pregnancy. It’s in their hands now, so that’s the emphasis there on the hands. And then you have Mama, which can be mother, but it also means to suckle. And the arms, the title of that piece is Madres, plural, and what I thought, actually, these were the first in the series. It is a Shiva … these go through a passage of innocence, life, compassion, and that’s supposed to be death, as far as closure to things, and then a resurgence, the fact that there is innocence, that there’s evil, the good, the evil. But then there’s areas where there’s transformation.

Meanwhile, during the production, my dad died, and so I wanted to celebrate him, being that the exhibition was going to be running May, June, July and August. There’s Father’s Day that comes in, so I said, “Let’s go ahead and bring him in.” I have included him in several, but in this one, this one was very special. It’s an existing work, and the fact that we really smoked the peace pipe when I invited him to participate. It’s very meaningful … the train that he re-created (right) is also part of the exhibition. I had never shown the train. It had always been the photomurals. These two murals were done for an exhibition about borders for the San Diego Museum of Art. I’m from Texas and I was invited to California, so I wanted to connect the two and elucidate the migratory veins, you know, that matter and weave in with history.

T.A.: Can you talk about the book project? This is the second signing you’ve had at the center. Why the book? This is a project that you have been working on for a while.

C.A.M.: It was just printed last August. My writer [Roberto Tejada] has been assigned to our city’s Southern Methodist University institution, and he will be starting a new position. … This is a UCLA project. It is a series of books on different artists, and I am the third one in the series. … It’s not a catalogue type of book. He really historicized it. He performed as a writer, and he placed the work within this grander map and he placed the history, my history, with that of Texas and Mexico and the United States. Then he contextualized the work, too, within the art world and he made some real good connections … because I was influenced by all these different movements and they have fed my process, and I think Roberto was very good at being able to grasp that and give it its credit.