Damariz Damken is a student, activist, and artist from McAllen, Texas, chosen for the Neta Resistance Art call for proposals. She is the oldest daughter of a first generation Mexican immigrant family, who grew up with the support and encouragement to use her voice unapologetically and carry her heritage with pride. Damken’s work is no doubt a testament to that as it portrays strong figures, the imagery of nature and the landscape of the frontera. The Valley artist describes her inspiration, art, and the process of working with others to develop her image and vision of resistance.
Damken has a passion for social justice. She feels that as a young woman it is necessary to use her voice to raise awareness and call for change within her community. She describes art as always being a part of her life and that exploring different mediums has allowed her to “channel, explore and interpret frustrations, passions and desires in multiple forms.” Her work incorporates elements of surrealistic mysticism and cultural symbolism that add allegorical references to her paintings. She ultimately wants her work to “tell stories that reflect the strength and fire within us.”
According to the artist, the initial proposal was developed with the intention of creating a mural. The inspiration for this came from a desire to create something in large scale that would make a strong visually and physically engaging statement and that is openly accessible to the public. She saw it as a way to empower, raise awareness, and incite activism within the community. She adds, “When I think of the power of murals, of course, I think of the Mexican muralist movement and its influence in showcasing mestizx subjects and history worldwide.” By incorporating muralist techniques in her work, Damken emits a message that engages with the public on a cultural, political, and emotional level.
Although the work is digital, the artist alluded the physicality of walls as a fundamental precursor to her work. “If there were no walls, the concept of muralism wouldn’t exist,” she said. “Of the Rio Grande Valley wasn’t divided by a wall/subjected to border militarization then this piece, maybe, would not come to existence.” Therefore, in the initial proposal as in her final piece, Damken focuses on portraying “a re-signification of the border wall amidst a land that was once deemed sacred by its native inhabitants and is presently seen as a ‘promised land’ of sorts for those who cross the border seeking refuge and a better future, but are met instead with hostility and even death.”
The growing severity of the refugee crisis ongoing across the world through the recent years has culminated right on the doorsteps of the Rio Grande Valley. Mass family separation and child detention have recently come to public attention during the Trump administration, though they are by no means new components to the system of violent atrocities committed by the United States government to people of color and indigenous bodies. Her intent was to create a piece that not only speaks of the present issues ongoing in the Rio Grande Valley but also serves as a reminder of the ancestry, cultural heritage, and history of migration this territory has inherited through generations from Aztlan to the RGV.
Damken juxtaposes heavy themes of struggle and death with the use of bright colors and depictions of nature and youth to represent resilience and strength amidst adversity. She portrays women, mothers, as the embodiment of these symbols. The artist’s homage to womanhood in the borderlands stems from the admiration for her own mother, “a Mexican immigrant, who has struggled and persevered through our journey living in the United States to ensure a better future for her family— much like every immigrant and refugee mother is willing to do for her own child. My upbringing in the Rio Grande Valley is a testament to the plight, courage and sacrifice that can only be credited to the vitality and strength that women like my own mother carry on their backs and in their wombs.”
When asked about collaborating with Neta and Las Imaginistas on the project, Damken says it was a first-time experience that allowed her to engage in a dialogue with other artists and activists. She mentions how the creative process can often be highly isolating and introspective and that for her it is an intimate time in which she is at her most vulnerable. “However, in allowing myself to open this personal space to conversation with others for the first time, I felt encouraged and reassured,” the artist said.
Damariz portrays a vision of the borderlands that resonates with the strength, beauty, and power that emerges from struggle and hardship to remind others that they, too, have strength and power within them. The image iterates that resistance comes in many forms, not just externalized actions that lead protests and mobilize activism but resistance is also internal. She wants to speak to others emotions, fears, and vulnerabilities and help the public realize that we do not have to overcome these hardships alone.
“We have sisters, mothers, family, allies that we can depend on for inspiration, empowerment, guidance, and comfort.“
Editor’s note: Neta commissioned artists to create art to “visualize the resistance” against the discriminatory and oppressive policies from the Trump administration. Damariz Damken is one of the artists we are honored to have worked with.