Queer art in the Rio Grande Valley

“Growing up I never knew I was queer until people told me so. Throughout the years I began to appropriate, incorporate, and explore aesthetics that would often draw attention from my peers. Watching them watching me felt like a jolt of lightning down my spine, a high with which I later became fascinated. I began to develop a language through the way I carried myself that spoke to others alike, but also much like a snake’s adaptation to its environment, led to the development of colors to warn those around them.  Queerness and otherness became my suit of armor. Using radical softness to combat society empowered me to create a body of work that included unconventional male bodies as a fundamental part of its value system.”                

Artist Statement, Ricardo Partida

The fear and anxiety of differentiation are often invoked when the word “Queer” is used as a slur. Unfortunately, this was the sentiment and vernacular throughout most of the 20th century. Name-calling, teasing, and bullying were often the ways many in the LGBTQ community were negatively introduced to the notions of gender and sexuality. The fear of otherness is a large obstacle to overcome and partly the reason for the historical erasure, aspiration for heteronormative assimilation or queer tactics practiced by some until the 1980’s when this drastically changed in the United States due to the AID’s epidemic and the governments failed response.

Artist Ricardo Partida

Silence became synonymous with death and invisibility was no longer an option for many. The appropriation of the word “queer” as an act of resistance defined an anti-assimilationist cultural and political movement that did not seek inclusion but demanded that the notion of “normal” be challenged. The term queer became “about relation to power and proprietary in its inversion of them.”[1] The performance of queerness began manifesting itself through radical art that rejected normalcy and commanded representation via visibility politics. Since then, the LGBTQ community has grown and queer art has grown and developed alongside in an artistic stance, in theory and in the array of aims.

One significant contribution to the field is the work of Rio Grande Valley native, self-identifying lesbiana and feminist theorist, Gloria Anzaldua. In her writing Anzaldua describes the border as an open wound between two worlds, referring not only to her geography and culture but, also to her sexual orientation and gender identity. Anzaldua pushes for expanding beyond the binary by acknowledging juxtaposing identities that intersect and conflict. Her words struck back at homonormative practices that were becoming mainstream among the gay and feminist movements that regurgitated oppressions based on racism, classism, misogyny, and transphobia. Anzaldua’s words drew a light to the experiences of queer people of the borderlands and queer minorities in general. Her legacy begs the question: What about the experiences of other queer artists in the Valley?  What are the contributions of LGBTQ artist in the Rio Grande Valley since her death or even before?

Recently Neta published a series of articles by Gabriel Sanchez that explored LGBTQ history in the RGV. Such a descriptive recounting of the vibrant Drag scene and examples of the DIY magazines and flyers created by grassroots LGBTQ groups is a testament to our communities resiliency through creativity.

In order to continue documenting the past and current contributions to queer art from the RGV a panel titled Ponte Trucha, Más Sabor: A Plática on Queer Art en el Valle will take place at the Aqui Estamos 2017 Conference. The presentation will recognize the work and experiences of LGBTQ identifying artist living and practicing in the RGV including Esther Martinez, lead vocalist for local punk rock favorites Fantastico!, performance artist Xinfandel (Micheal Villareal), artist Ric Partida, documentary photographer Veronica Gabriela Cardenas and poet Cesar de Leon.

The panelist will discuss art, queerness and the inersectionality of both in the context of the Rio Grande Valley and la frontera as moderated by Josue Rawmirez. Ultimately the hope is that the panel and platica are significant for the public in that they become more aware of queer art and artists from the region so they can support them and can feel pride in being represented in the art scene of the RGV and the larger conversation of queer art.

Visit Aqui Estamos for more information.

[1] Getsy, David J.  Queer Intolerability and Its Attachments.