My work as an artist is influenced by Gloria Anzaldúa’s work on auto-historia as a tool to understand and deconstruct oppressive paradigms in my physical/spiritual/psychic environment. By processing and making images, I have been able to create change in myself and help decolonize space from within it. This is evident in my Compass series of artworks, which helped me make sense of the Rio Grande Valley as a liminal space, my conflicted feelings, as well as my place in it.
North: Las Garritas is a work about the Northern-most limits of leaving the Rio Grande Valley. There is an unspoken anxiety that many people feel when approaching the checkpoint. For myself, I often wondered what this feeling, as irrational as it seems, was about. There are multiple factors at work in these anxieties, but inherited ideas about citizenship, worthiness, and not appearing “suspicious” played a big part in my own feelings. I can remember being with my family, crossing checkpoints and international bridges, and the idea we had to behave “correctly” and appear American enough to cross over without bringing about undue attention to ourselves. I can remember my parents’ unspoken shame and fear.
Our Lady of the Checkpoint is an image I created as an extension of North: Las Garritas. Looking at this work, I can re-create my anxiety in a safe space and analyze it. What am I doing? I am praying all goes well. Who do I pray to?
Which Virgin, the vendida* Guadalupana? The ineffective* Virgin de Los Lagos? No, I think, I need a special one, a Virgin of the checkpoint. For a minute, I’m at a standstill. And then….I see her shimmering in the heat, blinding me with her reflective blanket, emanating barbed wire rays and a razor wire halo around her head. She is standing in front of the checkpoint shelter, which becomes her capilla and the cameras are the all seeing eyes of not God, but the government. She came straight from one of the detention camps, I think. THIS is the appropriate Virgin for this place.
My work has transitioned from painting to more print work in the past few years. Influenced by Mexican printmakers and 60s Chicano protest posters, I’m intensely attracted to the political print. Printmaking has offered me a way to ease up on perfectionistic tendencies in paint. Creating multiple images and learning from my mistakes has helped me let go. Old prints can become collages or can be painted on whereas paintings were more precious. Prints can be traded, sold, given as gifts. They are truly more accessible. Carving into a wood block or linoleum piece has helped me become a better draftsperson. The act of engaging with a drawing cut by cut, line-by-line becomes an exercise in patience and is meditative. Each cut is a tiny artwork in itself.
One of my favorite things about Anzaldúa’s writings are the glyphos she creates to interpret her ideas. I wanted to share a few drawings inspired by the writing in her new book Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro. Thanks for looking!
*The use of the word vendida to describe Our Lady of Guadalupe refers to the widespread use of her image for commercial purposes and is not meant offensively.
*The use of the word ineffective to describe the Virgen de San Juan de Los Lagos is referencing heruse as a patron border saint of immigrants.
Be sure to check out more of Celeste De Luna’s artwork!
Or stop by La Peña in Austin for her solo exhibition, “One Thousand Cuts.” March 1st-31st. Artist Reception on March 26th.