Mixed heritage, mixed meanings
CHICANA/O ART EXHIBIT: Maya Gonzalez
When: Through March 12, 2004
Where: UCSB MultiCultural Center
Gallery hours: 8 a.m to 5 p.m.
Monday through Friday
by Josef Woodard
January 23-29, 2004
Maya Gonzalez’s loaded imagery, sensuously curvaceous figures and flowing artistic hand makes her ideally suited to the role as the focus of the seventh annual “Chicana/o Art Exhibit,” now on view at the UCSB Multicultural Center. This year’s show was curated by Guisela Latorre.
Gonzalez’s art seems right at home. Freely fusing archetypes from European and Mexican culture, from references to pre-Colombian life and mythology as well as Catholicism and the domain of childhood, Gonzalez is a willful — and graceful — synthesizer. With her art, Gonzalez, from Mexican and German stock, embodies the mixed history and heritage implicit in both the terms “Chicana/o” and “multicultural.” Gonzalez’s work touches on different corners of the Mexican cultural experience. Her richly-rendered, proud female figures seem cut from the cloth of both Mexican folk art and the work of Frida Kahlo. Her detours into bizarre touches of Magic Realism and Mayan iconography add expressive range and, for viewers, interpretive guesswork to the equation.Emblems of Catholic lore are seen in strange settings, posing implicit questions about the line separating religious traditions and worlds of the imagination. In “Madonna and Death Baby,” the beatific Madonna cradles an odd, mutant creature whose beastly seeming nature is counterbalanced with a halo. A mysterious white deer lurks behind a bare-breasted woman worshipping in a pew in “White Deer in Church.”
A large work, “Guadalupe Standing on Blue Rabbit,” finds the venerated Virgin of Guadalupe perched on the back of a child in a bunny costume, implying the ominous weight of religious tradition on young minds. Childhood fantasies and trepidations work their way into some of the imagery, as in “Sucking the Kitty,” with a young woman in fetus position suckling an unduly stuffed cat. Themes of lost innocence hum in the periphery, as in “Lizard Bride.” Its subject, in a flowing white gown, crosses her fingers with one hand while holding a lean green lizard, a lucky omen, in the other. In a separate series on view, Gonzalez moves beyond the realm of painting, into mixed media/assemblage, with fittingly mixed meanings. Her “ink on book pages” pieces impose images over pages of text, creating a polycontextual story-upon-story effect.
Fairytales are fractured and Mayan design motifs are mixed with dark mythic figures and there are also suggestions of a recurring secret interior monologue. Titles are sometimes dramatic and loaded, such as “Blonde Boy with Death Skin and Vibrating Skin — Modern Spanish: the Imperfect.”
If this art resists neat summaries or logical, cultural dot-connecting, its freedom of imagination is refreshing. In a statement on her Web site, Gonzalez claimed that “my images most often begin as haunts within my mind.” We all have our “haunts,” visiting us in the form of ideas imposed by mythology, sexuality, spirituality and confusions over social identity. She’s seeking to work out impulses with culled, blended imagery. Beautiful, tough, questioning and fantastical, Gonzalez’s art is a bold continuation of the open Mexican spirit in art, still a much more vital contributor to the dialogue of the contemporary art world than reputation might suggest.
Photos Courtesy of Maya Gonzalez