Of primary importance is my view of art as a serious and responsible vehicle for exploring issues of Chicana ideology. In my own evolving ideology I question my identity as a Chicana in occupied America, and articulate the experience of a minority woman. I work to understand the depth of my spiritual, political, emotional and cultural icons, realizing that in exploring the topography of my conceptual homeland, Aztlan, I am searching for the configuration of my own vision.
My approach to art makes use of documentary methods. With each project I study the discourse by examining the issues. The projects I have produced are Inca Street, a photo journal of Denver's West Side; La Gente, a slide presentation of the Mexican Nebraskan; Crickets in My Mind, an artist book in collaboration with Garcia Camarillo, a Chicano poet; Saints and Sinners, a photo installation exploring the nature of the Hermandad (a penitential brotherhood); Codex Delilah, Six Deer: A Journey From Mechica to Chicana, From the West: Shooting the Tourist, and Corazon Sagrado/Sacred Heart.
El Corazon Sagrado/Sacred Heart is a collection of collotypes that portrays Albuquerque's Chicano community. The images explore the manifestation of the Sacred Heart as a cultural icon. This symbol is a spiritual icon that is embedded in the religious fabric of my culture. Basing my research on my own Mestizo perspective, I have concluded that this Baroque religious symbol expressed shared cultural religious patterns that connote a syncretic relationship between European Catholicism and Aztec philosophy.
When the Aztec Indians, for example, fashioned the bleeding heart on the Franciscans' coat of arms, they included their own stylized circular glyphs. For the Indians these glyphs represented the blood flowing from the sacrificial victims. Consequently, this representation could no longer exclusively be considered the heart of Christ in the sense previously intended by the European monks. Likewise, because of the new Christian definitions, the glyphed bleeding heart was not simply the sacrificial heart the Indians were being taught to forget. The Baroque Sacred Heart in the Americas is an icon that resulted from an encounter. It is not purely Indian in content and never completely European in its form. Rather it is a hybrid of two diverse cultures that clashed and bonded at a particular historic moment and created the foundation for religious syncretism.
My approach to the Sacred Heart was to involve the community in a contemporary manifestation of the heart as a cultural icon. As a photographic printmaker, I photographed members of the Chicano community with an 8x10 view camera. The portraits were shot in a constructed space and reproduced as collotypes. The constructed space was the result of a collaboration with Chicano youth (aerosol artists) who spray-painted images on the studio walls. These murals were used as backdrops for the portraits.
The installation Saints and Sinners is an investigation of Chicano spiritualism. This investigation is part of a study to define a personal and collective identity. Spiritualism, a binding force of the Chicano homeland, is crucial to maintaining the mental boundaries of Aztlan. The study deals with iconography used by the Hermandad for the transmutation of sin to absolution. The exhibit expresses the universal themes of life, death and salvation.
from Saints and Sinners installation
Cibachrome, 16x20", 1992
© Delilah Montoya
The glass jar series, a component of Saints and Sinners, refers to the alchemist's method of transmutation. The alchemist places a material together with a catalyst in order to change it into a superior material. The jar symbolizes the corporeal and the materials placed inside the soul. Like a being, each jar is unique and possesses the potential for transformation. The exterior environment in which the jars float represents the land as altar space. Just as the cathedral provided a spiritual uplift for the Western Man, the land is the uplift for the Indigenous American. The exterior landscapes echo the interior ambiance of the jar.
Within the framework of a feminist vision, The Codex Delilah, Six Deer: A Journey From Mechica to Chicana, approaches the Spanish/Indian encounter from a mestizaje perspective. As a Chicana, I am conscious of how the historical contributions of women have been undermined or completely ignored. This project attempts to correct that injustice by rethinking the traditional interpretation of the European/Native Encounter. The narrative of this artist book is viewed from the perspective of Six Deer, a fictional Mayatec young girl from the Tutuepec region near present day Mexico City. From her home to the nuclear weapons factories in New Mexico, the codex details Six Deer's journey of enlightenment.
As she journeys "pal norte," towards Aztlan (the spiritual home of her ancestors) Six Deer also travels forward in time meeting well-known women of the Chicano folklore tradition. Each of these characters informs her of the long and negative historical processes that were initiated by the European encounter. For example, she meets La Llorona, a manifestation of Cortez's mistress, Malinche, who describes the effect of the conquest on her people. As Six Deer travels through time and space she learns and simultaneously reveals to us our historical identity and how for our people, survival has meant learning to live within a multicultural heritage and ambiance.
From the West: Shooting the Tourist, my most recent body of work, attempts to redirect documentary photography from the "objective" vision of modernity by documenting its search for the "West" through tourist attractions. The notion is to return the documentary gaze. "Shooting the Tourist," commissioned by the Mexican Museum for the traveling exhibition From the West, consists of seven artist books constructed into accordion-fold postcards and one photomural. The mural depicts a tourist line waiting to ride on Thunder Mountain at Frontier Land in Disneyland. The postcard series documents various tourist activities such as staging, going native, collecting and looking.
Recently, I assembled an installation in a bathroom in a room at the Hotel Santa Fe in New Mexico. The intent was to tie the Chicano myth of Llorona/The Weeping Woman with the contemporary news story of young women that deny their pregnancy. Like the story of Llorona, these women are ostracized for killing their offspring. The room is converted into Llorona's room complete with her trappings like water and a grape vine with exposed roots to resemble wire-like hair. A Cherub floats around the room. A shower curtain is screen-printed with young faces of women all lined up and expressing shock. Tossed onto the bathroom floor are green high-heels and for reading entertainment are the tabloids about the heinous newborn killings. Gratified on the wall is the installation's title, For a Good Time Call 1-900-Llorona. I believe everyone pays on this issue.
At the present, my conceptions are rendered through printing processes creating either photographic lithographs, serigraphs, collotypes, or photographic prints. My formal interest is to incorporate computer and graphic skills with photo processes that together form a photographic printing technique. This composite skill is the result of experimentation with printmaking, computer technology, and photography. This process allows me to inject my own conceptual expression to the photo image.
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All text and images © Delilah Montoya.