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Arts & Culture

¡Queers, Presente!: Art show as historical document at Esperanza Peace & Justice Center

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Elizabeth Puente, Mujer en Pedazos, 2006

Group art shows are notoriously fickle in their outcomes. When curated as a collection of themed works, the results may express a single attitude or aesthetic as part of a whole, like divergent branches of a tree (though some limbs might be larger or smaller, or appear weaker or healthier than others). When the pieces are chosen to represent the work of a large number of artists, the viewer's eye tends to scan for trends in content or form that might betray the tastes of the curator. "¡Queers, Presente!," curated (or "queer-ated," as she prefers) by Penelope Boyer, sets out to do something quite different. The exhibition is an historical document, representing 25 years of art exhibitions at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center. The works are by exhibiting artists who participated in one or more of 16 shows at the Esperanza from 1988 to 2011. Many of the exhibitions had a lesbian or queer theme; all were concerned with social justice. Some of the artworks are actual pieces from the historic shows; others are new works by previously exhibited artists.

Given the Esperanza's emphasis on community action, one is struck by how many of the art works seem to be personal rather than overtly political in nature. Portraits abound, many painted in Westside-vernacular style, as if lifted from a street mural. There are also references to spiritual goals, like Hazel Browning's Holy Grail, showing a god's-eye view of a person in meditation.

Some of the works mix ethnic and gender issues. In Elizabeth Puente's Mujer en Pedazos (2006), a corset-shaped form set on a base of rolled barbed wire, comments on violence against women, as does Three Eagles Flying (1990), a photographic triptych by Laura Aguilar depicting the artist nude and tied-up with rope. Her head is masked by the Mexican flag, her waist encircled by the American flag; the harsh image aptly depicts the contention of national loyalties in the border region and the brutalities migrant women suffer from both factions.

In addition to paintings and photography, expected tableaux referencing religious forms are present. David Zamora Casas has offered a large nicho that fulfills political expression in his usual style, this time with a central figure who is both bearded and breasted, a hermaphrodite nod to transgender identity, or perhaps gender ambivalence.

There are also references to domestic life. Pon la mesa (2009) is an installation by Jose Chapa, who works in embossed metal. Silver-leafed chairs surround a table topped with blocks that recall children's toys accompanied by large letters that spell "GROW." It finally dawns on one, of course this is all political. In the LGBTQ worlds, the private has been politicized by those who do not approve. Perhaps the most effective resistance is celebration.•

¡Queers, Presente!

10am-7pm Mon-Fri
Esperanza Peace &
Justice Center
922 San Pedro
(210) 288-0201
On view to August 18

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