Nansi Guevara described herself artistically as a “graphic designer, an illustrator, and a textile/rasquache based public artist.” Born in Laredo, Guevara moved to Brownsville after earning a bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Design from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master’s in Education from Harvard University. She runs her own freelance design and education practice, Corazón Contento, based out of Brownsville, Texas.
A New York Times article on border art by Siddhartha Mitter on Sunday, March 27 may well explain how artists like Nansi Guevara approach complex social subjects. Mitter writes about border towns’ particular spirit: “Because sociology can go only so far in accounting for a place, it has fallen to artists to explore and convey…the borderness of it all…”
Guevara, who grew up in the border town of Laredo, explained that her artwork and social practice “is especially place-based.” She is now focusing on arts-based popular education and design to begin and continue to unveil the excellence, talent, and strength of American border communities.
I spoke recently to Guevara about her exhibit with Project MASA at the Centro Cultural Aztlan in San Antonio and her interest in aliens and space travel. She observed that a billionaire company had brought the Space X project to Boca Chica Beach, located 30 miles outside of Brownsville, Texas. The consequences have been disastrous for nearly all the long-time residents of that beach community.
Guevara explained: “As I visit the once undisturbed beach, I notice the changes. Rows of monotone houses, silver rockets, brown workers welding, white men in binoculars, a border patrol checkpoint, and a billionaire’s vision of the future. New employees are finding comfort in the cheap prices of houses and land, furthering their own american [sic] dream and nuclear family ideals”
Guevara’s MASA installation pieces include an altar where she created a replica of the standing Virgen altar next to Boca Chica beach and the Space X launch site. “The centerpiece above” she added, “represents the changing aesthetics of SpaceX colonization. It is a mirror into what I have witnessed in the changing landscape throughout these past three years. On the left and right are photo collages showing our relationship to the beach but also the surveillance of the beach both by Space X and Border Patrol.”
The Virgen altar, Guevara noted, “is the only piece still standing that gives me hope that this beach and its wildlife will stay protected.”
II. Guillermina Zabala
Born in Argentina, Guillermina Zabala attended a fine arts high school near Buenos Aires where she
excelled in printmaking. Wishing to grow artistically, she migrated to the United States in the early 1990s enrolling at Columbia College in Los Angeles where she studied film. Following her graduation from Columbia College, she worked in the film industry in Los Angeles.
Zabala moved to San Antonio in 2005 to accept the position of Media Arts Director at the art education program, SAY Si. As a media instructor in the SAY Si middle school and high school program, Zabala teaches photography and filmmaking ranging from 16 mm film format to digital video and multimedia.
Zabala is active in the San Antonio arts community. Several years ago she was invited as the Guest Artist at the McNay Art Museum. She returned that year for a Solo Exhibition at the McNay Octagon Gallery with her one-channel video “I, Me, Light.” She explained that her exhibit highlighted forty San Antonio individuals and asked them to define who they are in one word.
Zabala explained that in her creative works, she seeks to bring out the “friction and subtle balance between beauty and discomfort.” She defines beauty as “the perfect composition and aesthetics” and “discomfort” as her reaction to the lack of justice in society. She sums up her art as her “way of detecting beauty and experimenting with it.” She added that her art is also “my therapy and my way of refusing to accept those injustices as unavoidable and necessary.”
Zabala’s art examines the intersection between individuals and their social-political-cultural environments. Her prints in the MASA exhibit, which she calls the “Lukutuwe Series,” are inspired by the culture and ideology of the Mapuche Indians, the largest indigenous population of the regions of Chile and Argentina. The Mapuches weave their own fabrics, utilizing colorful thread and geometrical figures. Zabala noted that her “prints are inspired by the shapes, colors, and aesthetics of Mapuches’ textiles.” Her three prints in red, green, and blue featured in the Project MASA exhibit “explore the shapes and patterns of the textiles made by the Mapuches, especially the fajas (belts) made by the women.”
Recently, Guillermina’s feature documentary Juanito’s Lab was selected to be the opening film at the 42nd CineFestival in San Antonio.
III. Catherine Cisneros
Catherine Cisneros has devoted the past 40 years to dance, percussion music, and visual arts. Cisneros’s unique costumes, assemblages, and lighting designs have been a featured part of the San Antonio Fiesta Flambeau Parades for 33 years. As the Artistic Director of Urban-15, Cisneros has taken her company to several international festivals in Mexico and to three presidential inaugurations over the past twenty years.
Cisneros studied at the University of Texas at Austin Art Department completing her degree in 1975. She co-founded URBAN-15 in 1974. She returned to her art studies in 1978 enrolling in the University of Houston Sculpture Department. Following her graduation in 1979, she performed professionally with several modern dance groups.
Although Cisneros is well known nationally in the Latino dance community, she also utilizes her training as a visual artist and sculptor to create sculpture works. In the MASA exhibit, Cisneros created a sculpture, “Martian Merengue,” incorporating multiple years of performance costumes worn by URBAN-15’s dancers and drummers in the Fiesta Flambeau Parades. In particular, the sculpture includes a bright fabric star worn for President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Parade in 2009.
As a visual artist, Cisneros enjoys designing and making things. Additionally, she dances and creates choreography on a regular basis. Finally, she loves music and plays percussion.
Cisneros sees her work in Urban-15 as transforming the San Antonio community through a philosophy of inclusion that breaks prejudicial barriers of size, age, gender, class, religion, ethnicity, and race. The group targets economic and social disparity revolutionizing access to music, movement, and media.
The Centro Cultural Aztlan exhibit, Project MASA, includes many talented San Antonio artists and should be well-received by the entire South Texas community.
*Special thanks to Luis Valderas and Malena Gonzalez-Cid.