Soy de Tejas: A Statewide Survey of Latinx Art
Closing date: July 2
Venue: Centro de Artes
Address: 101 S. Santa Rosa Ave., San Antonio
In 1985, South Texas musician Steve Jordan sang “Soy de Tejas,” a love letter he wrote to the state and to his Chicano heritage that went on to become a Tejano classic. Almost 40 years later, the song is being given a second life, serving as the title for Soy de Tejas: A Statewide Survey of Latinx Art—an ambitious exhibit at San Antonio’s Centro de Artes that aims to capture the same pride and celebratory spirit of Jordan’s iconic tune.
Featuring the work of 40 Latinx artists, the exhibit, on display through July 2, is meant to showcase the wide range of Latinx experiences across Texas. (The exhibition’s name translates to “I’m from Texas.”) When you take your first steps into the bright, modern space nestled in San Antonio’s historic Market Square, one of the first works you meet is Mi Apa, a larger-than-life painting of artist Arely Morales’ father. With a slight twinkle in his eye, a cooler and his lunch in hand, the portrait is a loving one, catching him just as he walks out the door.
Deeper in, there are saddles tricked out like lowriders, family portraits, and works that feature prayer candles, lotería cards, and the Virgen de Guadalupe.
Curator Rigoberto Luna wanted to tap into a visual lexicon of Latinx culture that felt familiar, but also challenged visitors. He selected an array of artists that are representative of their local scenes, newcomers, Texans who were born here, others who were raised here, all coming together to form a tapestry of Latinx life in Texas. With this approach, it was important to Luna that each piece be accompanied by a placard stating where the artist was from and where they’re based now.
“I wanted people to think about our pathways,” he says. “People have come here in different ways, but even if you leave, you can’t erase the time you’ve spent in Texas.”
Displaying the exhibit in the south-central city of San Antonio was a no-brainer, says Luna. “There aren’t a lot of spaces like [the Centro de Artes] across the state that are specific to the Latino experience,” he says. Luna, who also works as the founder, director, and curator of San Antonio’s Presa House Gallery, has made it his mission to challenge the status quo of the art world and support homegrown talent. Presa House Gallery’s new exhibit, Aquí y Allá, opening this weekend and running through April 15, features pieces by women artists and is curated by Dallas-based Nuestra Artist Collective.
Luna has spent the last 10 years cultivating relationships with artists across the state, familiarizing himself with each distinctive art region as he and his partner and Presa House co-founder, Janelle Esparza, set off to art hubs in cities like Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Houston, Dallas, and El Paso to take in gallery openings and visit artists in studio. In the back of his mind, Luna was keeping track of each artist he met, eventually compiling a list of more than 200 who were considered for Soy de Tejas. The sheer scope of the exhibit—over 100 multimedia installations, paintings, sculptures, and even live performance pieces sprawled out over two floors—is something to behold. But more than that, their placement tells a story.
Making your way through the exhibit, you encounter different themes: the entrance is focused on family and the types of labor parents perform in order to pave the way for future generations. One standout piece, Untitled (Basket Performance) by Christian Cruz, is a performance art piece in which the artist stacks and balances empty white laundry baskets on her head while she’s turned away from onlookers—a testament to the repetitive and often underappreciated labor of the working class. Visitors can witness the piece on special performance nights during the exhibit’s run.
Other corners of the exhibit focus on themes of displacement, alienation, faith, and food. “All of that combined, with all of these artists together, it’s so many different juxtapositions,” Luna says. “I’m trying to give a glimpse of what it means to be Latinx in Texas.”
A 2019 study of 18 major U.S. museums found that 85 percent of works in their collections belonged to white artists. With exhibits like Soy de Tejas, Luna provides Latinos with an experience that’s often rare in his line of work: seeing themselves reflected. “I’m hoping that the viewers coming from all over can find a piece they relate to,” he says.