Decolonizing the Artist: Indigenous Mexican identity in the Art of Suzy González and Sage Alucero

Suzy González (She/They) and Sage Alucero (They/He) are two contemporary Chicano/a/x artists who are part of an expanding group of Mexican-Americans who identify strongly with their Indigenous Mexican ancestry. Through choice of art medium, imagery, and historical location these artists create works that explore their indigenous connections in an effort to heal the generational scarring of colonization. A large part of the decolonization of their artwork and themselves as artists is the radical act of uncovering the past and internalizing the indigenous understandings that they have found. González does this through her choice of culturally significant media which she calls “Mestizx Media” and her practice of dietary non-violence, while Alucero does this through their location of queer and non-binary identity within indigenous histories and imagery.

Read more of the essay by Curator Nicole Rudolph-Vallerga

“… in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as ‘the younger brothers of Creation.’ We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn—we must look to our teachers among the other species for guidance. Their wisdom is apparent in the way that they live. They teach us by example. They’ve been on the earth far longer than we have been, and have had time to figure things out.”

― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

For González and Alucero, research and the gathering of knowledge is integral to their artistic expression. They are informed by authors such as Robin Wall Kimmerer, who is a member of the Potawatomi nation and writes on indigenous understandings of nature supported by her PhD in botany, and Gloria Anzaldúa who writes on her experiences as a queer Mestiza woman working through Borderland politics. The poetic influences of these authors can be seen within their work as well as a deep look into Mesoamerican history. They honor their artistic ancestors through the continued Chicano/a/x practice of mural painting, and examine the materials and imagery that they use closely to express their nepantla existence. But most importantly they take their lessons from nature. In both artists you can find a strong theme of being a part of nature in the most literal sense. For example in Alucero’s Teonanacatl you can see mushrooms emerge from the main figure’s fingertips emphasizing the physical and spiritual relationship between the human body and the mycelial body. In González’s work she uses dyed hojas de maiz (corn husks) as the skin of her subjects referring to the Mesoamerican belief that humans were created from maíz. This visual cue ties the figures not only to a people and history, but to the importance of the relationship we have with our food and our environment.

When Mexico was first colonized by the Spanish in 1519, one of the many major acts of colonial violence was to destroy the vast libraries of complex and comprehensive historic codexes created by the Mesoamerican people. Cutting a culture off from its history and traditions is detrimental to the survival of the people; assimilation becomes the only way for them to survive. Today, the act of locating oneself within an indigenous history has become a radical act, internalizing and expressing that history even more so. One such radical expression to reflect and reclaim a lost indigenous identity has been through the arts.

“Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

A complexity emerges within the modern Mexican-American identity as to be Mexican often means that you are biracial; part European and part Indigenous or Indio. As González says, “we are the colonized and the colonizer in one body, and art can be a method of healing and coming to terms with this.” Both artists work to reconcile this mixture and decolonize their own bodies through their artwork. Alucero, a queer non-binary trans masculine person, has been finding understanding of their identity through their relationship to nature and their ancestry. Of this they say, “The gender binary has been imposed through colonial violence and my existence is something outside of that entirely.” 

“Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives. Bridges span liminal spaces between worlds, spaces I call nepantla, a Nahuatl word meaning tierra entre medio.

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Instead of giving into a pressure to embrace one way of thinking over another, these two artists embrace nepantla, an in-betweenness that much of western culture rejects. Here they can embrace the wholeness of their identity by demonstrating within their art the way in which this mixed identity can exist within a modern space. Indigenous bodies and ideas are brought into the present through their choice of imagery, medium, and presentation. González’s figures are all presented in a very modern style of painting, expressed in bright blocks of color, however their message is ancient, a plea to return to being stewards of the earth and to find your place within the cycle of nature, not outside of it. Alucero expresses similar connections and ideals in their lush oil paintings of ancient figures and places, however contemporary imagery such as the top surgery scars in Romero / Rabbit are present within their work connecting their trans masculine identity to the past, further validating their contemporary existence. 

A great function of art is to act as an intermediary to help communicate ideas so complex that words alone cannot convey the intricacies. The decolonization of anything is difficult as colonial ideas are insidious and permeate our very existence. We express them in what we wear, what we eat, how we view ourselves and others, and so many little ways that it feels like sorting grains of sand when we finally do take notice. Alucero and González come on the heels of earlier Chicano/a/x artists who expressed this mixed identity and the cultural collision of finding and translating their indigenous existence within a modern world. With each generation the message becomes clearer, and reaffirms the existence of contemporary indigeneity, and that Indigenous people do not only exist in the past and neither does their way of life.

“This land was Mexican once,
was Indian always
and is.
And will be again.”

― Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

 

Nicole Rudolph-Vallerga is the 2022-23 Guest Curatorial Intern with Museo Eduardo Carrillo and a multimedia artist 

Citations:

Anzaldúa, Gloria. 1987. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco, Spinsters/Aunt Lute.

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. 2016. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Tantor Media, Inc.

Sage Alucero

Cover of Sage Alucero story on Google Arts & Culture, showing detail of painting of person's face next to side view of a brown rabbit.

Artist Statement
Sage Alucero (they/he) is a multimedia visual and performance artist. Through oil painting, traditional and digital drawing, sculpture, poetry and performance he creates works with themes of interconnection with nature, gender expansiveness and more. It is the beautiful details of this green expansive world that Alucero is inspired by; roots and fractal shapes are prevalent in their work as a visual reminder that all of humanity is connected to our Earth and worlds beyond our current comprehension. 

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Through color and light their paintings reveal energy that is unseen by the naked eye, but perceived through our energetic auras. Decolonizing notions of gender identity is a central theme in their work. Just as there are infinite manifestations of life in nature, there are infinite ways of being in relation to femininity, masculinity, androgyny and/or personal expression. Alucero’s work often conveys the unification of such dualities and emphasizes how unity amplifies their power. Creating work that is loudly transgender and non-binary can be enough to urge their viewers to rethink the rigid roles which we as a community on Earth need to dismantle with agency and creativity. 

Ancestry connects Alucero to their purpose in this lifetime. Supported by the processes of emotional alchemy, kinship with the land, herbalism, and Mesoamerican studies, Alucero seeks to bridge the gap created from lack of  access to cultural traditions and ancestral lineage. It is with ancestry as a seed, that he works to tend to the wonder of life, as it is a garden asking to be nourished. In the cosmic cycles of life & death; sunrise & sunset; birth & rebirth; Alucero speaks through visual art as nourishment, creates realms to explore, composes referential metaphors, and casts spells of protection and empowered love. 

  
https://www.instagram.com/alucero777/

Suzy González

Cover of Sage Alucero story on Google Arts & Culture, showing detail of multimedia piece using painted cornhusks

Artist Statement
Suzy González (she/they) is an artist, writer, self-publisher, curator, and organizer based in Yanaguana, aka San Antonio, TX. Her enthusiasm  towards decolonizing consumption and art creation is intertwined with remembering the lessons that the earth has to teach us.

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She works with natural plant materials like corn husks in conjunction with manipulated art supplies to consider identity, mixedness, and resistance. The corn husks represent the skin of the figures, recalling Mesoamerican beliefs that our very beings are created from maíz. This material use works to dismantle folk and fine art hierarchies. She calls  these “mestizx media” works, reclaiming the “mestizo” colonial caste label. She defines mestizx media as when materials originate from the region(s) of the artist’s ancestors. Accepting mixedness is also about embracing queerness and the fluid nature of identities that reject constructed binaries. Her public artwork has included themes of celebrating contemporary artists and activists, histories of the land, native plants and animals, and concepts of love and solidarity. Her work serves to work through her own intersections and to strive for intercultural conversations in her communities. This, she hopes, will open doors to compassion and healing in this world of destruction.

  
https://suzygonzalez.com   |   https://www.instagram.com/soozgonzalez


In Memoriam: Betsy Andersen, Museo Eduardo Carrillo  Executive Director 

Photo of Betsy Miller Andersen, an older white woman with long gray hair in a purple top and green scarf, long silver and red earrings,

This exhibit is dedicated to the memory of Betsy Andersen who spent her life supporting and promoting the arts. This was the last exhibit that she worked on and her encouragement and mentorship was invaluable to the development and success of this show.

Decolonizing the Artist: Indigenous Mexican identity in the Art of Suzy González and Sage Alucero is supported by the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County through the 2023 Create Grant. Photos Courtesy of the Artists

Writing and Curation by Nicole Rudolph-Vallerga, 2022-23 Guest Curatorial Intern for Museo Eduardo Carrillo | https://nicolerudolphart.wixsite.com/home

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