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Arts & Culture

Daniela Riojas, The Arts United, and exploring our scars

Photo: Courtesy ZaaZaa Productions, License: N/A

Courtesy ZaaZaa Productions

Surrender, self portrait by Daniela Riojas

Photo: , License: N/A

Detail of photograph of Nina Duran by Daniela Riojas


Daniela Riojas still has a year to go to finish her English major at UTSA, but when her nose isn't buried in a book she's likely looking through a camera's viewfinder. Her interest (and proficiency) in photography has led some SA notables to sit for a portrait, including City Councilman Diego Bernal and Nina Duran, editor-in-chief of the bilingual La Prensa San Antonio. Riojas said Bernal encouraged her to pursue another interest, too: an artist cooperative and magazine now in the works entitled The Arts United. The magazine, designed by Will Bermudez, isn't yet in print, but you can find the first issue online at theartsunited.org in PDF form.

"There's a lot of hype for musicians, but I don't see a lot of online presence for visual artists," says Riojas, though the zine features poetry and thoughts on politics as well as artist profiles. The inspiration for the project, which includes the website, plans for artist membership, and art shows, came from Riojas' experience last year with Occupy San Antonio. She didn't camp out at HemisFair Park, but she was one of the local artists who instigated two Occupy art shows in the park. The open-ended (and, ultimately, short-lived) struggle left her thinking artists can change things, but must collaborate around topics.

A one-day group show with performance, big paintings, and video was held in May at 1100 Broadway, the building where Riojas shares a studio with regular Current shooter Josh Huskin and two other photographers; the building has been home to crafters and artists for two decades, such as SA painter Stephen DaLuz. The next show, entitled "Reconstructing and Exploring Femininity and Masculinity," is planned as a one-day pop-up on September 1 at the same location, though Riojas says that The Arts United group would be happy to find a space where they could mount shows long term.

The show, which will include performance, visual art, video, and music, is accepting artist submissions through July 31. Riojas acted only as organizer in the first show, but has decided to include her own work in this endeavor which, she says, "now belongs to all of us." Riojas works in a variety of media, but at present is much excited by photos she has taken of Nina Duran. These photo sessions she has shared with the young mother of two aren't everyday glamour shots, but something much more. Riojas describes them as "like exorcisms, cleansings. We try to find a way to turn suffering into something positive, instead of having all these emotions become cancerous." At Riojas' suggestion, I called Duran, her partner (and subject) in the project that the two women call "Time to let go." •

On scars and the feminine: a conversation with Nina Duran

How did this project start?

I saw a post that said, "Women's bodies are loved in all sizes." There were all these girls, but when I looked at the picture, none of them had stretch marks or scars. That's been my issue: I have stretch marks and scars from surgeries, like no other. Bathing suits — they just don't exist for me. I can't go with a bikini! It's been a very tough journey; it still is. I'm still trying to accept myself. So when I met Daniela, I told her about this journey I've been on for 10 years. You'd think it would get easier, but it never does. So I figured, well, if I can't accept it, at least I can let others know that they are not alone. It sucks. But it has been really healing. Daniela and I did this shoot at this state park that has mostly been burnt down.

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