Delilah Montoya says that Chicana Badgirls: Las Hociconas is simply part of her desire to “demonstrate the history of Chicana artists.” A photographer, Montoya co-curated the show at 516 Arts with Laura E. Perez, a professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. They noted a legacy of several generations of artists that was largely unknown. “What I wanted to do,” Montoya says, “was bring in those women of the first generation and then the subsequent generations.” The result is a show that sees contemporary Chicana art as the latest permutation of a conversation that began with the civil rights and feminist movements.
Las Hociconas translates as “large” or “loudmouthed.” It's fair to say that much of the featured art is exactly that, swelling with how much it has to share. Part of what Montoya calls the “extension of the vocabulary” of how we talk about sex and race is the examination of a group's central icons. For Chicanas, that icon is la Virgen de Guadalupe. Guadalupe is often seen as not only a religious figure, but the ultimate role model for Hispanic women.
The difference between the generations becomes apparent in their interpretation of the Virgin. Montoya describes it as such: For the first generation, she is largely untouched, kept in altar spaces, intact. It was Yolanda Lopez' portrayal of Mary in running shoes, sprinting from her altar, that signaled the arrival of a second generation. Guadalupe was a significant force in the shaping of the identities of this next generation, and they tended to recast Mary from an icon of impossible purity to one of modern strength and attitude. The third generation still holds the Virgin as an important cultural touchstone but seems more concerned with the introduction of new faces. That's why, as part of the Chicana Badgirls show, you'll see depictions of Ugly Betty, Selena and Sandra Cisneros alongside la Virgen of Guadalupe.
Along with wall art and installations, Chicana Badgirls brings in fabric work. “Fabric is a large part of Chicana domesticity,” Montoya says. “[Sewing] was very much a part of how Latinas learned to be women.” As part of this focus, the opening reception will feature the work of fabric artist and clothing designer Elisa Jimenez (Season 4 of “Project Runway”). Models styled by Inspire Salon will catwalk through the gallery wearing Jimenez' creations, each of which will then be hung and sold, with a portion of the proceeds going to support 516 Arts.
When I ask Montoya how she sees Chicana art 15 years from now, she laughs and says, “Cyberspace.” Younger artists, such Tina Hernandez and Rosa Zamora, are using technology and the Internet as a lens through which to view the world and shape their expectations, resulting in work that asks different questions than that of two generations before. Montoya holds that “an artist takes in where they're at—time, place ... influences.” And so, the range of work in Chicana Badgirls is stunning.
“This is a show that had to happen,” Montoya says, and she thanks Suzanne Sbarge, executive director of 516 Arts, for hosting the exhibit. “Not everyone has a voice, and that's what this show wants to do. We can look at ourselves now.”