Hispanic artists in the downtown Phoenix community explore their own identity and cultural background through their art. Some artists have said that Phoenix is heading in the right direction to be more inclusive of Hispanic artists while others have said the community still has room to improve for not only LantinX artists, but also for Black and Native American communities as well.
Annie Lopez is a local artist who has been a part of the Phoenix art community since 1992 and has experienced first-hand the change that Phoenix has been through to become a more accepting and inclusive environment for the Hispanic community.
In 1982, she joined Movimiento Artístico del Rio Salado, a group that was founded to promote visual and performing arts by contemporary Arizonan, Mexican-American and Chicano artists. It was through having mentors and speaking with other artists that she learned what she needed to know to be successful
“I learned the hard way that being a person with brown skin or with my last name of Lopez, people would use that to judge me,” Lopez said. “‘Have you tried the Mexican museum?’ They would tell me,” when she presented her work to curators in the 80s and 90s.
Lopez explored her own identity and family history through her art. Her medium of choice is cyanotypes, which is a photographic process that produces a cyan-blue print.
Lopez takes pictures of her family and uses old photographs and family documents to learn more about her past and educate others about her family’s history in Arizona.
When she isn’t shooting photos, she is making dresses out of the paper used to make tamales, a traditional Hispanic dish, and then prints cyanotypes onto the paper.
“Because they are a dress and they hold that form, they are me. I can say whatever I want to in that dress. I feel now that I am saying these things out loud through the artwork…I can say what I mean now without worrying they aren’t going to show my work because I am being an activist,” Lopez said.
One of her pieces, “Relative Alien” is a halter dress made of cyanotypes that has her grandparent’s alien registration card, or green card, from when they came to the United States in 1919, printed on the bottom of the dress. The top of the dress has language from Arizona’s SB1070 law printed on it.
Lopez said the Phoenix community has become accepting of women of color and her artwork is now shown across the country.
Lopez’s cyanotype dresses are currently being featured in the “Paper Routes-Women to Watch 2020” exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in New York and through different galleries in Arizona.
Leonor Aispuro, 35, is another artist within the Phoenix community who draws inspiration from her Hispanic culture and creates ethereal dresses that are inspired by nature and her ancestors. Her pieces are dyed with natural dyeing techniques and include traditional Mexican embroidery.
One of her collections is inspired by “Cine de Oro,” the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema in the 1930’s and 1940’s. “I grew up watching those films as a kid with my grandparents and my aunt. It was all very glamorous and beautiful,” she said.
Aispuro traveled to Puebla, a city south of Mexico City, to shoot her designs for this collection. Aispuro said her friends, as well as herself, often make art that has a political aspect to it and use their voice to talk about issues that are important to them. She has worked with dance choreographers within the community to create pieces about issues of immigration and to tell the stories of people of color.
She became a part of the Phoenix art scene when she was in high school and became heavily involved within the community when she began to attend the fashion design school at Phoenix College after high school.
She said that the community is very tight-knit and that she has always felt welcomed by her circle within the community, even after she returned from New York City, where she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Within her community she said she has seen more awareness and understanding in the few years to include artists of color, but she did say “there is not enough representation as there could be.”
Aispuro did not only talk about Phoenix’s need for representation of the Hispanic community, but she also said there needs to be more representation for other races and cultures as well.
“There are a lot of hispanic artists within the community, but there is not as much representation for them as there should be. I also do not believe that Native Americans of Arizona get as much representation as they should,” Aispuro said.
She says that art has been a way for her tap into her creative side and escape from the 9-5 daily routine. Working on her designs allows her to connect to nature and her ancestors to better understand her place in the world. She said she hopes to encourage a younger generation to trace where they come from and share with others to create a more inclusive environment within the community.
Sam Frésquez, 23, is another artist who is a part of the greater Phoenix art community. She has been a part of the art community for around 5 years now and is also an Arizona native from Mesa. Her artwork has been featured across the community including at Phoenix’s CityScape and several museums across the valley.
Some of Frésquez’s projects include a documentary where she searches for a 911 operator who answered a 911 call, called “The First First Responder.” She also has a video project called “Spicy Latin Shakes Ass” where she explores the word “spicy” in relation to sexuality.
Frésquez said her art is a way for her to process her own cultural context and where she is in life.
“I think, and I hope that’s shifting,” Frésquez said in regard to Phoenix’s inclusion of different cultures. “I have been really grateful to people who do pull me up that are in positions of power.”
Frésquez also mentioned that it is difficult for other communities other than the Hispanic community to be included in the Phoenix art community.
“I think that for a lot of other communities it is a lot harder to be part of the art community. There are so few black people here and it’s a lot more complicated for Black people in Phoenix than it is for the LatinX community because there is such a big group of us here,” Frésquez said.