Category Archives: Research

Celebrating Women Herstory Month: “Hija de la Chingada” by Cindy Crystal Gonzalez

“Hija de la Chingada Y Que”

            “Estas carnes indias que despreciamos nosotros los Mexicanos asi como despreciamos condenamos a nuestra madre, Malinalli. Nos condenamos a nosotros mismos. Esta raza vencida, enemigo cuerpo”. Gloria Anzaldúa

“Traidora, Traitor….” These were the words I heard from my tias when La Malinche would come up in conversation. I never understood why the mere mention of La Malinche provoked such anxiety. Anzaldúa tells us that La Malinche became La Chingada -the fucked one. Her name evokes mixed emotions to Chicanas, Mexicanas, and Pochas. She was Hernan Cortes’s interpreter and sexual object; su primer conquista. She is blamed for the destruction of the great Aztec People. In her complexity, she represents both innocence and guilt. La Chingada is our greatest Mexican contradiction, our most deep-(seed)ed confusion. For some, she deserved all that she endured under Cortes’s dominion because she was the whore that sold her people out, La Traidora. She provoked su conquista, She got what she deserved.

For others, she belongs on a pedestal of honor. They challenge the conventional beliefs around La Malinche and re-imagine her as a young innocent Indian wombyn who was sold into slavery and birthed our distinct Raza, La Madre del Mestizaje. Children of Mexico will either uplift her as a Mother or degrade her as La Chingada. This is the binary that Anzaldua both traces out and also teaches us to transcend. Her writing is incredibly relevant to me and to the children of Mexico because it is a chronicle, a retelling, and a transforming of our story and our identity. I am quite literally La Hija de la Chingada (daughter of the fucked one) historically, and presently this is my identity.

My mother stands 5 feet tall, canela skinned, with wavy opaque hair. Abuelita always called her prietita. She embodies the features of an India. Machismo and white supremacy team up in the Mexican experience against wombyn that bare indigenous features forcing them to become subservient and if one rebels, there is a price to pay. At an early age Ama worked in a bar as a dancer. In the thirsty eyes of the depraved men around her, she was sorted neatly into the whore category, deserving of any and all desecrations of her dignity. Without her knowing she was falling into the whore side of the long established virgin/whore dichotomy that has been constructed for Mexican wombyn.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, Happy New Year!” My mom gave me a rambunctious hug and a big Brandy smooch and so began the year 1997. I was smiling in the smile-now-cry-later Pachuca Xingona tradition that raised me. For as long as I can recall, this is how my New Year’s Eve celebrations felt. Deep down there has always been a void in my person that my mom could not fill. It was the absence of a caring, protective ever-present Apa. This emptiness has hollowed my identity.

The year was 1997. I was 14 years old. It was the year I became determined to find my father, to give the Gonzalez along side my name meaning and to become whole. In truth, this is a journey all the children of colonial violence are on, one way or another. When I questioned my mother about my father, she would respond, “El no quiere nada que ver contingo”. At some point my mom finally reached out to Alvaro Gonzalez and demanded child support. He responded with a request for a DNA test. I was offended but I extended my arm with blind courage and pride. Some weeks later he showed up at my mother’s doorstep asking to take me out for lunch. I remember my mom being hesitant but she let me go with him and tio Victor. I had barely started to sip on my Jarrito as his apology began. “Perdoname Mija pero te tengo que decir que, Yo no soy tu Padre.” I was quiet. Everything was muted. I stared at him, “Pues quien es mi padre si yo tengo tu apellido?” It wasn’t long before the moment of truth. My mother nervously said, “Cindy… l was abducted and held hostage en un hotel in Mexico City for a long weekend. I was raped by a man. He is your father.” Tears raced down my cheeks as anger began to enter my heart. I felt betrayed, incomplete; it became painfully true to me that I was, una “Hija de la Chingada”- literally and metaphorically.

My mother is my people’s mother; she is La Malinche y La Chingada. Her truth resembled La Chingada’s experience with machismo and white supremacy. She was raped, belittled, and kept in captivity for the pleasures of a man who looked at her and said to himself India puta. As a result, she started to despise the indian in her. Ama hated herself entirely from the shame that was attached to her rape. She was bottling up a shame and hate in her heart that would spear head a shift in her sexuality. She transformed from an undocumented- indigenous looking wombyn that fell neatly into the virgin/whore dichotomy into a femme-lesbian who hated men for the next twenty years of her life and transcended the binary.

Anzaldúa, enlightens us of the classifications that wombyn who are descendants from Mexico fall into according to our culture. “For a woman of my culture there used to be only three directions she could turn: Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, and or to the home as a mother”. While those are three options they amount to two directions, nuns and moms on the good side and whores on the bad side. My mother transcended into a third identity, one which challenges the limits for an undocumented Mexican wombyn’s sexuality by taking the power to define her sexuality outside of the norms. La Chingada, La Malinche is a metaphor for reclaiming our indian side as a practice of autonomy in a world of cultural domination. Many wombyn of color have similar stories, we continue to be affected by the cultural aspect of our identity, sexuality, and wombynhood. La Malinche is our ancestral mother therefore, firmly and resolutely I chose to embody La Hija de la Chingada as a practice of liberation from the shackles of machismo and white supremacy for myself and the forthcoming mothers and Hijas de la Chingada. For our Mother’s legacy is immortal!

 

Visiting St. Charles Parochial School in San Carlos Apache Rez with Sister Ruth

On November 13, 2016 I had the honor to walk thru the doors of the Saint Charles Parochial School which is located in San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. First of all, I want to thank artist Paul Daniel for allowing to be a part of your journey; this place changed my life forever.

I must admit that this photo gallery is precious to me, it is a great deal to be sharing with you. It took me a month to dwell on whether I wanted to keep this marvelous experience to myself or share it with the world as I had promised. But there are moments like this that do need to be shared, to give others a new perspective on the importance of Life, helping others and allowing strangers to inspire and teach you new ways. Openly absorbing the beauty around us.

Much Love & Respect,

Monica Smiles Tobon

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History of Saint Charles Parochial School in the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona

St. Charles School, located on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation was opened in September 1965. The first generation Catholics who attended St. John’s Indian Boarding School requested that a Catholic school be built on the reservation so that their children and subsequent generations would have the opportunity to learn about the Catholic faith without leaving the reservation and losing their Apache culture.

San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona
Front of St. Charles Parochial School
Sister Ruth inside warehouse with donations for the Apache Community
Inside Look at St. Charles Parochial School’s kitchen
Inside View of Classroom at St. Charles Parochial School
San Carlos Apache Reservation
St. Charles Parochial Church
May the Lord Give you Peace and All that is Good

Coming Soon! Exclusive Sitdown with Photographer Wendy Random Chavez.

Los Angeles is such a beautiful canvas in which you can make any dream come true, any ambition, it is so diverse and rich in cultures that so many realities and stories are untold underneath the historical Downtown skyline but we are so lucky to have photographers who are willing to walk the streets and shoot the nostalgic reality of our cities. To bring to the comfort of our desktops, books and newsstands the world we live in. Therefore, I  am so excited for the exclusive sit down I have been working on for months with this talented and humble friend. She is a young Los Angeles Based Lens Queen that is on the rise; Ms. Wendy Random Chavez who is born and raised in the SGV, El Monte California.

Her work can be described as a poetic encounter with the true essence of the streets and genuine interest in the people she shoots. There is a story waiting to be told in every shot, in every event she’s been present at and I am looking forward on sharing  all those stories with you  soon.  We will be exploring her life, her works and projects she has been involved in as well as briefing in further detail some of her iconic pictures with legendary and extraordinary people.

This is going to be a show down so stay tuned as we go down the journey of a little girl who loved to take photos with a 35mm disposable cameras to a young woman shooting professionally nationwide as well as Mexico and other countries.

Here is a little sneak peek of some of Wendy Random Chavez ‘s works!

Much Love & Respect

Monica Smiles Tobon

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MS. UNIQUE SAN DIEGO BOUND!

San Diego I love you! Ms. Unique One is making her presence now in the San Diego Graffiti Art Movement and I am thankful for the opportunity to explore her mind and share her story with the World for the first time; it has been a long journey for this sit down to finally happen, therefore it is very special for the both of us so enjoy!

On January 11, 2013 while working with the Silver Battle San Diego, I had the privilege to meet a lot of new faces; this was my first time reaching out to San Diego’s Graffiti Community and all so welcoming with great talented Graffheads on that side of town. I got the pleasure to meet this sweet and I must say extremely shy Graffiti Artist, all her friends kept on insisting she was a great artist so I asked her and she confirmed. Afterwards, I came back and offered her a wall to paint at the Silver Battle San Diego but unfortunately we ran out of time. I knew at that moment I wanted to know more about her work and to find out she has mad skills and techniques which really made me understand one thing about Ms. Unique, she is not shy; just a very humble person and we all know there is nothing greater than a person who is talented and humble about it.

Ms. Unique is Filipino decent, her parents and siblings moved to Philadelphia in 1979. They migrated to South Florida and that is where she was born but her family moved very short after to National City, California; Ms. Unique was only 9 months old. A couple of months after she graduated High School, they moved to Paradise Hills, San Diego lived there about a year and finally moved to Chula Vista, California and lives there till this present date. She is the youngest sibling so we can all imagine that her upbringings might have been strict and traditional as the only daughter in their household. Life for her was structured as she recalls her childhood, she did not have an abundance of material things, but was definitely spoiled by love; she never wanted to disappoint her parents. Her father was strict and had a really bad temper ” Typical Filipino Dad” Ms. Unique. At least growing up like this had kept her out of trouble.

MS. Unique was obsessed with letters and fonts since she was a little girl, especially since there weren’t any pre-made items with her name on them, she constantly had to make her own. “I thought my name was the coolest thing ever; especially after I found out it was in the dictionary. I have always been the Artsy/Crafty type, if I recall since I was in preschool. Ms. Unique.

The Beginning of Graffiti

Her first exposure and influence in Graffiti actually came from home; her brothers were Graffheads during the early 1990’s.

“First recollection of Graffiti was when I was in the 6th grade. My brothers and his friends had just heard about the latest Sake piece in Spring Valley, over by the Spring Valley Swap meet. There had to be at least 8 guys and myself all packed up in a small old Honda civic Hatchback, so this had to be around 1990-1991 but I didn’t really get into Graffiti and started really appreciating it more till late 1994-1995, when I started to see a lot of party fliers around my brothers rooms and being around more guys my age that were trying to be taggers, gangs and whatnot.” Ms. Unique

It was exciting for her so young being exposed to this culture, especially during those teenage years when one is trying to figure out its own character and personality. As I kept learning more about her influences for Graffiti has evolved from an early age; I find out that she had only been painting for a short amount of time. But it must have been hard to get involved with Graffiti because she had only brothers who at times would try to talk her out if because they thought she might not take criticism too well and especially in a male dominated sport.

“I did get teased a lot of for various reasons, so in a way it made me too intimidated to really get into it like I wanted to, people’s opinions were very detrimental to me back then.”

I think it can be difficult at times for female artists to come out and be strong and confident about their skills since it is for the most part male dominant and it can take up to years to build that strength and confidence to not care and to pursue and evolve as a female Graffiti  Artist. For Ms. Unique One, she was not pursing Graffiti as a venue for fame or recognition or  because it is a culture that is very popular or trendy at this present time. She has been around this Graff Culture from an early age but many doubts, opinions and not really fully understanding what dreams she wanted to follow. Something had to happen to Ms. Unique to finally break free from holding back from this love and passion for Graffiti Art.

“After my Dad died, my fears about everything started to go away; I started slowly coming out of my shell. 2011 was a huge year for me; being taken advantage of for my niceness, having my heart-broken by all these dudes….that’s what toughen me up. It got to the point where I was like, FUCK ALL THIS SHIT!…none of these people are worth holding myself back from living out my dreams. So yeah, I wouldn’t say that Graffiti toughened me up, it was more me realizing my worth after ending a 7 year relationship and my Dad passing away. “ Ms. Unique.

During this time of self discovery and finding Graffiti as self-expression like majority of Graffiti Artists use this medium for; she really did not know what direction to follow as far as expanding her knowledge and techniques with painting on walls. But a few of her friends were actively involved in the Hip Hop Community in San Diego and began to take her to Hip Hop and Graffiti show. Ms. Unique met Demo at the Armory and invited her to the Barrio Logan Art Show and this is where she finally embraced the Graffiti Culture; still with the respect and appreciation as a Graffiti Lover.

She began to surround herself with other artists and learn more about styles and history of Graffiti Artists in San Diego. She had also began to listen to iHeart New York Station and learned about the Legendary 5 Pointz New York, which is considered the Mecca For Graffiti there. For decades hundreds of artists from around the world had made their way to the 5 Pointz and be a part of history. And Ms. Unique had the honors to actually paint there before it sadly closed down. I would say perfect timing to plan that trip and just make the dream come true to walk thru this legendary sprawling grounds to document and admire the presence of many artists and many different generations in one place. I could just imagine the excitement for Ms. Unique to take in all those styles and colors all at once.

Graffiti Now

Once she came back home; she really began to network and become more involved in the Graffiti Community. Ms. Unique has been a part of various Hip Hop and Art Shows and it has finally become part of her life; not as an observer but now being part of it. Being humble about learning new techniques and growing not only as a Graffiti Artist but also expanding her passion for Art in other mediums.

“I am obsessed with letters, the only plan is to learn more painting techniques, practice different styles and just enjoy it for as long as my body allows to me to. I am always going to be more of a FAN more than anything. I want to meet a bunch of cool artists and maybe get the chance to paint with 123 Klan and Apex. Also, be able to paint in as many cities as I can. Eventually make it out to the Philippines to get up over there too!” Ms. Unique.

Ms. Unique will be painting at the “Paint Louis” Event in St. Louis, MO. August 26-31, 2014. and then she will also be at “Nasty Approved 2 Show in San Diego, California on September 27, 2014. I will post the flyer soon for you all to get the complete information to show your support if you will be in San Diego that weekend!

The most recent project Ms. Unique was a part of was with Wild Style Technicians, which was painted in honor of Mr. Padre-Tony Gwynn” Mural at Undisputed Gym in Downtown San Diego, California.

CHECK OUT SOME OF THE ART SHOWS AND EVENTS SHE HAS BEEN A PART OF FOR THESE PAST FEW YEARS….I’M SURE THERE WILL BE MANY MORE YEARS TO COME. WE NEED MORE WOMEN TAKING THEIR PLACE AS GREAT ARTISTS AND PROFESSIONALS IN THE GRAFFITI COMMUNITY AND FOR THE SAKE OF HISTORY IN URBAN ARTS. I LOOK FORWARD ON SEEING MS. UNIQUE GROW MORE AND BE A PART OF THIS AMAZING MOVEMENT WHICH IS REWRITING THE HISTORY OF ARTS IN OUR TIMES.

 

Much Love & Respect to Ms. Unique!

Monica Smiles Tobon

 

 

 

Special Shout-Outs

Shout outs to my Daddy for passing on his creativity & talents to me (RIP), to my mother for being extra supportive & actually attending my Art shows & Style-A-Thons!! My brothers for introducing me to Graffiti and hip hop at a young age. To Dizm and Meres from 5 Pointz, Queens, NY for giving me the opportunity to paint my very first wall; if it wasn’t for you two I would probably still be wishing I had the courage to try! TagOne of graffaholiks.com for hooking me up with all kinda of info for that very special trip to NY in 2011! My mentors/Master Jedis; Izze-WST, Sake-IBM-WST and Zone-WST-TFL for every lesson & opportunity to learn about this lovely & amazing thing called “GRAFFITI”!!

My Boyz at Writerz Blok. My bros Keemowerks & E,Vil for introducing me to San Diego’s art scene! ASK25, Zacto & Heck for welcoming me into my very first crew and my ASK family!! Python-BADinc & Tatu-XMEN for recruiting me and the entire XMEN Crew! My girls- Rie, Milky, Flea & Heather! My Fwanktastic and My Kitty for going on graffiti hunting adventures in other cities! “Visual SD, Thumbprint Gallery & La Bodega”

And of course, Smiles, for supporting women in the Graff scene and for sharing my story! I share my journey in hopes to inspire those that have always been too afraid to share their creativity! And to everyone and anyone that continues to show their love and support; it means the world to me!! (Hopefully I haven’t missed anyone… You know I luhhhh you! Ha ha)

                                                                                                        ~ MS. UNIQUE~

 


Pesky Oner

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On this day, I get the privilege to dig into the mind of a dear friend, an entrepreneur and Los Angeles based Graffiti artist  Pesky Oner, well-known for her usage of colorful vivid characters; letters and dragons. But not only does she elaborate her skills on walls; she does some amazing body painting as well. For the first time ever she will sit down and talk about her lifestyle as well as fond memories of the Belmont Tunnel and where it all started. Enjoy every bit of it because let me assure you that it was a challenge to have her open up and speak about herself as an artist and her involvement in this Graffiti Art Movement; she is a very humble person and I admire that about her the most.

Early Years

Pesky Oner was born in Monterey, California at Fort Ord Army Base to mother from Costa Rica and father from Mexican-Filipino origin. At only months of age her parents moved to Echo Park, California where Pesky spent half of her life living there until the age of 16 when she moved to Cypress Park and eventually Highland Park which is where she still resides at the time.  Her childhood was influenced by both artistic parents as she reminisces on her mother painting and her father playing music. I must say that it is always inspiring to learn that the best traits and influences are learned by artistic parents as role models.  Pesky’s mother was the one that taught her the usage of colors and acrylics before she even entered kindergarten; she always advised Pesky to never copy anybody else’s styles. Therefore she took it upon herself to always stay original with her styles and characters. For Pesky, one of her early memories as her interest for art evolved at an early age. “I remember being young and in school I would always draw during breakfast and lunch breaks, I would always have a little crowd around me, watching me, asking me what I was drawing. I would always say the same thing: I don’t know, I’m just doing it. And then after being done some random person asking for it; while everyone else would be sad and mentioned that they also wanted it. It was nice!” (Pesky).

The Beginning of Graffiti

599139_216103445194871_238297616_nHer first interest for Graffiti began after she met Aone an ex-boyfriend of her sister, whom Pesky still sees as a brother till this day. So this was around the age of 12! Her sister would have to take Pesky along as she was younger more like a third wheel, so Aone would bring a friend to distract her while her sister was trying to kick it with her friends. Hahaha. “Those were the DTW’s and I always remember them “catching a grill” or “hanging a grill” and catching spots, I loved it! But it was more of a fantasy for me to do something like that; I was young and dumb so as I got older my sister was the one that had a strong influence on me because she had “real Graff Writer friends” from FCT that would always be doing pieces for her at the Belmont Tunnel along with BBQ’s and good times”(Pesky).

This was the beginning of Pesky’s real exposure to the Graff scene and as many remember, the Belmont Tunnel was the place to be when it came to bombing yards, many fond memories for a lot of Graffiti writers from previous generations as well as to becoming a historical landmark for new Graffiti generations to learn about. “I remember going to a “battle”, I can’t remember who it was against whom but that battle, that moment was it for me, right there! After that, I was going to Melrose and admiring Graff buying can control, hanging out with my generation of Graff writers at Virgil, Belmont and Franklin. Buying piece books and claiming to be a writer because I had some means streaks and my BF at the time would hit me up; whoever that may have been ha ha ha . But at this time yes, my art was Graff but just in books or would catch spots on the RTD’s”. (Pesky)

 

Shortly after she began getting up around her neighborhood and that was as far as she went during the first stages. She used to go to the Belmont Tunnel and hit up because she knew she could get away with it there. Pesky would search for scraps and hit up her name and would start doing small characters outlines on bridges, sidewalks and anywhere where she felt she would not get busted for. The Belmont Tunnel was at times a scary place especially for a female writer, she used to go paint and take her sister along and would have to be quick and get out of there before the sun would go down. Pesky mentioned that there were times that if some of the fellas were there; they would wait for her to finish up so she could get out of there safe. Such homeys that would do that for her would be Fearo, Pryer and Phib from UTI among many others that looked out for her.

I think I was about 21 years old when I finally said to myself that I needed to really start getting up!! So I talked my EX into going to the infamous “River” with me and I busted a dragon, it was really whack but not bad for my first real character piece, after that it was nonstop whether it was Belmont, Venice, an invite’ mostly Keo and Visions. Then I started to work at Crewest Gallery and meet all kinds of peepz and connects. Man One would take me to “hired walls” and show me techniques and I would help him do fill ins. I learned a lot from him and a lot of other peepz and legends I was getting to meet.” Pesky.

Pesky 2007

Body Art Painting Phase

I call this my “body painting phase” this started when the Belmont Tunnel was literally taken from us. Body painting had always been something “guys” did on some random female as something sexual to brag about as a “flik” and show off their hoochies; it was never something I really wanted to get into but the only reason I did was because I had met some ladies that were in the process of making a Graff magazine called “Piecez” a little group of cool chicks, it was Rosa, Chelly, Jessica Rabbit and Daniella. (Pesky) They had offered her a spot and article in their magazine but they wanted to know if she also did body painting; she was offered to do a section of body painting for the magazine. Once this picture was posted on MySpace, Pesky had both males and females making requests for her to paint them. Even friends and family wanted to partake in this new experience.  Pesky saw this as an opportunity to make money since she had previous experience in working on Halloween events and painting faces and what not. Body art painting became a profession for her while it lasted.

“Body painting was the thing to do, it started to grow and it really began to blow up, as Huskey Radio had shows on the regular and had me as a guest painter almost every week; it was fun while it lasted. But in my opinion it just blew out of proportion with the whole Graff scene, EVERYBODY who was anybody was doing it. Then it wasn’t fun anymore because it lost its class. So I said to myself either I make a career out of this or I abandon ship before it sinks. I think it sunk when I decided to paint a very muscular man at a graffiti event.  I think me and Ezo were disqualified because we never got judged or considered for a prize; I honestly think because he was a man. I don’t know I could be wrong but he never made it to the stage for judging. So after all that, I kind of just said I’m done, this is a man’s world anyways. Guys don’t want to see that but the females didn’t mind at all and that is what I was aiming for; I think I made my point!. It’s not just a man’s world. So anyways, I don’t really do it anymore but if I do is for a favor for a friend or getting paid at an event, that’s the only way I really go there anymore. -Pesky.

2007 to Present

So you might be wondering what Pesky Oner has been up today, well today is the year of 2013. She had countless art shows, live wall painting, live body painting and many opportunities to express her love for the arts in all mediums and venues.  She is well-known and loved by the Graffiti scene not only for her talent but her humbleness to the Graffiti sport.  “I am trying to get back into painting again; I had to settle down for a bit doing the family thing raising my 13-year-old, 6-year-old and 2-year-old. During home time I had begun doing more canvases with acrylics. Now I want to start using some different mediums like oils which I have never used before but willing to try. And maybe gets some more hands on air brushing and pin stripping. My plan is to go back to school and maybe have a nice career by the time I hit 40. So that’s my story. I just want to say thank you to God my kids, my family and Gordo, Fridge all my friends and acquaintances who have been supportive through this journey. Those of you that have had my back and still do! It’s because of you that I am ME! Because of all of you I will succeed, ha-ha thanks for the love and support! Pesky Oner.

We can all agree that we are all happy to see her getting back in the Graff scene, as she is gradually preparing herself for art shows and events; we are all eager to see what else she brings to light!. Thanks Pesky for letting me dig into your mind for a bit and share some special events of your life as an artist with us all.

Stay posted with me as I will keep you all updated with any of her on going projects coming soon to a city near you!

You can also follow her on her Fan Page on Facebook. Pesky Oner

https://www.facebook.com/peskyhttps://www.facebook.com/pesky.oner.7?fref=ts.oner.7?fref=ts

Monica Smiles Tobon

 

SKA Crew; An Exclusive Sit Down with Legendary Los Angeles Graffiti Family

“We are one love, one brotherhood, family, a powerhouse, a dynasty…SKA MOBB!!  We came together from all walks of life. We stay together sharing one passion …the love of art and Graff. Expressing it in all our individual ways making up a team that is unstoppable!! It’s an honor to be from a crew that’s been holding it down since the 80’s and still going strong past the millennium. A family of strong righteous people who take our unity very serious ..no bullshit ya get me !! Everybody has earned their place and worked hard at what they do best; aint no fronts or band wagoners here hahaha…With that being said its been a great ride the adventures are endless and I wouldn’t have it any other way !!! Till my candle burns out I’ll be STILL KICKING ASS for life”. -Jez

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SKA Crew is one of the most notorious Graffiti Art Crews that have come out of Los Angeles, just a brief review on how the Graffiti scene has bloomed to what it is today. Since the late 1970’s, the East Coast had already established themselves as the pioneers of the graffiti scene, much of its styles were influences to the West Coast graffiti movement during the early 1980’s. Numerous crews for the most part in the Los Angeles metropolitan area began to form.  Graffiti crews were establishing with a purpose to show their loyalty for their new-found families, or to use this tool as an escape from social classification. To “get up” was to leave their mark all over the city to let other graffiti writers, society, cops and government officials know that they are leaving behind their own identity and take over the streets. Envision all these young crazy individuals risking their lives and taking matters into their own hands to take over L.A. I can’t even imagine if at any time it crossed the mind of any of them that one day they will become legends, well established artists or even yet celebrities; they just did it for the love of “getting up”. And as one can see, this Graff art form is gradually becoming more acceptable in the art market value and mainstream pop culture; it is becoming a stronger movement than ever. Graffiti is everywhere and it appears to be influencing other art genres and everybody wants a piece of the action, we now see artists becoming “graffiti “or “aerosol” artists overnight.  Their art might be breathtaking but some of these new era Graff artists are lacking the foundation and the respectfully acknowledgement towards those that had risked their lives and set the path for many generations to come. Fortunately, some crews have never stopped evolving and getting up, it looks as though it might be challenging to keep a balance of street credibility and becoming successful for the sake of creating careers out of their skills.  The SKA Crew has been successful in dominating both aspects, and after 25 years strong this legendary crew is STILL KICKING ASS!

skaThe Birth of SKA

So how did it all start? A little bit of background history before SKA, in 1985, Pryer One was from a crew named ATL, Against the Law which was established in late 1985 at Santa Monica and Gower. He was strongly active pushing his name as well as his involvement in gangs and shortly after he committed a crime that cost him his freedom and was placed in Camp Menden Hall, Lake Hughes, CA. Upon his release he went back to his crew and from his perspective on what loyalty is and where the heart for a crew should be, according to Pryer, these new crew members that came along while he was locked up were not structured to the standards of a strong solid family. He then decided to let go of the crew and go on his own way still getting up Pryer One all thru the cities of Southern California.  Then in 1988, Pryer decided to start his own graffiti crew but still having in mind the love and fond memories he had for ATL, Against the Law. He did not want all the hard work he had put in to be just thrown away, as a memoir for ATL, he named his new crew SKA, Still Kicking Ass. Note that most crews that were around at the time had fun, cool or creative names. He went against all odds of society and other crews, letting everybody know that he was still up, still strong and Still kicking ass. Along with his partner in crime Toxic, they decided to take over the streets and get up and create chaos everywhere they went. Shortly after Dras came along and he remembers that in the beginning when both Pryer and Toxic said they were forming this new family and asked him if he wanted in, Dras thought they were just messing around but he was down. He referred himself as “the third wheel of these two crazy guys that were always getting into some deep shit”. (Dras)

The Early Years 1988-1990

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The areas that were being mobbed the most during the first years of SKA were definitely Downtown LA, SGV and East Los Angeles.  The year was 1990, when the crew had strong street credibility for their hard work on the streets and desmadres (thug life). This is around the time brothers Derse and Needizm joined the mob and pushed the crew even harder in the SGV while Pryer and Phib expanded the crew on the other side of town. “The Crew just kept growing and growing; to be honest in the first year of the crew forming it was more of a criminal mob, young knuckle heads that as a sport “racked” a lot. I remember we used to take the 70 El Monte bus line because it ran all day and night, which gave us access to the city at any time. We use to go from Downtown L.A. to Venice just racking and getting up all the way, those were the good old’ times. It was a requirement to put in work by racking as hard as getting up to be down with the SKA crew. Back then there were no internet sites or the technology that we have now; to see who was getting up and where all we had to was to mob it, took the busses and walked thru the cities to see who was up the most and where.” (Dras)

One thing that is so special about the beginning and to this very present history of the crew is that a lot of its members have been down with SKA from almost the very beginning and still represent it to this day. I spent a day asking Pryer about the members and how long they have been in the crew and surprisingly they have been down for over 20 year for majority of them! You know who you are. “The year was 1988 and I was a freshman at Rosemead High School, it was towards the end of the school year and summer was right around the corner. At this point I had been writing and drawing Graffiti for a few years already and I was in a crew call TGK (The Graffiti Kings) This crew was run by Need and Derse from La Puente. The way I remember was like this; Need and Derse were good friends with Pryer. At this time, Pryer, Dras and Toxic were starting up a new crew called SKA Still Kicking Ass. I don’t know what kinds of arrangements were made between Pryer, Need and Derse but everyone from TGK stopped writing TGK and got into SKA crew and it took off from there. That summer was great, a lot of racking and mobbing and running the streets, meet a lot of cool ass people and seen a lot of shit. It’s been 25, damn time flies! I am very proud to be a part of this Graff crew that has evolved into this great family that’s loved and admired by so many”- Big Vert One-Shoulda Known Already

1990-To Present

lIn 1990 the Dope Mob hip hop group was formed and it had its run till 1997. As Dras, Wicked Chaos and other members that have now passed away would go in deep and performed at underground hip hop gigs, low-rider car shows and house parties. “These were good times, but a lot of the setbacks we had during this time for the Dope Mob were plain and simple: we were fucking around too much, between getting busted, doing drugs and making babies it set us all in a different outcome of desmadres after desmadres”. (Dras)

From 1990 and even onto this present moment the history of the notorious reputation of heavy hitters the SKA members granted them the expansion of the crew to Sand Diego when Pryer moved down there for a couple of years and now Flaks has taken over and holding down the SKA Mob. Its expansion was not only nationwide but also in other parts of the world such as Japan and Taiwan and it still has not stopped just quite yet.

By the year 2000, many began to expand their skills leaning towards successful careers within the arts, entertainment and other businesses to promote their clothing lines and any other type of hustle that you can think of; this crew is doing it all. You can follow and support many of the entrepreneurs such as Roten’s Vendetta Republic Clothing Line, Adik’s RobnSteel Brand that is not only a clothing line but a lifestyle within itself; Tribal Clothing in San Diego and several other brands that are expanding. Other crew members have found their calling as pioneers in the tattooing business such as Big Gus who now shows in the popular T.V reality series “Tattoo Nightmares”, Flaks Nittis Tattoo Parlor, Kalm Oner, Kesoe, Stigma as well as talented Fowl, and the list can go on and on. The crew has not stopped there yet, as Skribe’s Kush Life drops the sickest video productions and partaking in the huge entertainment business along with rappers like Snoop Dog and other celebrities that are down with the Kush Life style. Music is also a big part of the making of this legendary family, as I mentioned earlier the Dope Mob was one of the first attempts of involving music. To this present moment some of the members have also taken a part in the music industry, Dras is still reppin’ SKA Dope Mob, JRoz, Snoop, Longevity and we cannot forget Dalas, Taboo from Black Eye Peas. It is mind-blowing to write down everything these guys and gals can do but most importantly their contribution on the Graffiti world has been earned and must be recognized.

The First SKA Art Show

On July 14, 2012 Roten and Neer put together what would be a memorable event for the crew; the SKA MOB “SKAndalous” art show at the GCS Gallery in Santa Ana, California.  SKAsters line up was Aloy, Big Gus (Worse), Doner, Dowt, Dox, Duer, Eyons, Fate, Foam, Jez, Jroz, Kalm, Kesoe, Kause, Love, Loyer, Need, Neer, Omex, Phib, Pistol, 45, Pryer, Roosk, Roten, Rtick, Spyro, Thanx and Vert. It was very well structured and thematically to the crew’s name, each member that participated had the opportunity to expressive their skills and love for the crew in whatever form of medium they favored, whether it was sculpture, canvas, 3D art pieces such as the Duer piece on wood which was my favorite piece of the night, truck toys and even music performances at the event. Thanx One shared with the public his unique style of live body art as well.  The venue was in great company of familiar faces, extremely proud to see them all come together as a family because that is what they really are. So after all these years what finally made them decide to throw this show? “I decided to put together a gallery show because I felt it was time to let people know we got a very diverse group of people. We got Graffiti Artists, Tattoo Artists, DJ’s, MC’s, etc. We are not just graffiti anymore, but everyone still has a graffiti background.  It also brought the crew together under one roof and that’s really hard to do, since we all don’t have the same work/life schedule.  So overall it was a good thing.  I hope we can get together as a crew and start doing more things like this and share with the community. SKA to me, is more than just a group of friends, it’s a family. Built to last” (Roten)

So I know what you are all thinking by now, what does it really take to be a part of this Spray Kan Army? “Well first of all, you have to get scouted by one of the main writers from the crew, an established and respectable SKA member, but before that even happens, we first make sure that this individual is humble and has got potential, they don’t have to be already an established writer or have mad skills, as long as they got a good head on their shoulder and got the willingness to learn new things without any ego trips and has the drive and passion for the game; that’s a right candidate. We see somebody with potential, we hang out with them, follow them around for a while to see if they are trustworthy, not shady or steal from their own family or people. We got to be able to be in our own homes or gatherings and be able to turn our backs without our wallets being stolen or our family or friends disrespected; they have to know how to act right because that is our name behind them and our name means a lot to us. We never let anybody know that we are planning to put them down with the crew. And it’s not about how much time or years of checking them out to see if they are right for the crew or not, it’s not just about if the person has good pieces and gets up, we are going to be stuck with this person so he or she got to be righteous. This person can have some mad skills but can be shady; that is worthless to us. In the past we have made mistakes of letting people like that in the crew and they didn’t have heart for what we stand for; or they just want to have the name”. (Pryer & Aloy)

As I said in the beginning, SKA crew has been extraordinarily influential as far as doing wall productions that vary from music videos, decking the walls of rock stars, along side of the freeways or riverbeds throughout the nation and it is always exciting to check what new projects they get into every time. When I asked if there are any projects that we should look forward to, Pryer said that he had never sat down and put in paper the history of what was created 25 years ago but along with the help of the crew, Dras and himself want to create a documentary of the entire history of the crew and include all the members opinions, facts and stories, so look forward to it coming alive. I asked him if he had anything else to add about the crew or himself as leader of SKA and he said, “Not really, SKA speaks for itself and I am proud of my family” I personally admire how he has let the SKA members grow and become successful entrepreneurs, musicians and anything they want to be. For those of us that know Pryer, we can all agree that he is a great leader with a good heart and if he sees anybody hungry or cold, he will give up his food and he will take off his jacket and give it to whoever needs it. But don’t fuck with him or his family. He stands loyal for what is righteous for the crew and gives support in whatever goals or projects the crew members get into, whether it has to do with the name of the SKA or individually. You will always see him and the crew as a family supporting one another. 25 years have gone by and they are all still as united as ever and we are all looking forward many more years filled with more amazing art and projects from the SKA CREW. And to conclude this exclusive sit down, what does SKA stand for? It stands for FAMILY, HONOR, LOYALTY & PRIDE.

SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO ENVY, JEZ, JROZ & LOVE! WRITE OR DIE LADIES FROM THE SKA MOB.

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 Monica Smiles Tobon

A big thanks to Pryer One for sharing the historical information on the foundation of Still Kicking Ass Crew!

          

        

Frida Kahlo: Mexican Modernist

“Frida Kahlo: A Mexican Modernist, Dreaming beyond the paintbrush”

I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration-Frida Kahlo”.

 One of my most favorite artists as well as the one of the branches of the Modern Art movement will have the opportunity to present itself together beyond the dreams of humanity and beyond the paintbrush of this amazing artist. The Surrealism movement is fascinating because it attempts to figure out what dreams are and express the inner mind’s perspective of life without the frame that one has when awake, without the limitations of this “frame” Surrealists express this and Frida Kahlo is one of those artists that can inspire and enlighten anyone’s heart with beauty and sadness all at once. It is always a privilege to write about her and rediscover new things about her as my perspective sees her thru a different lens that exposes her talent and creativity; thru another light every time.

My approach to both of these topics; the Surrealism and as well as depicting the process of expression and interpretation of Frida Kahlo will be broken down in different categories to analyze and understand each category in detail without loosing the passion and creativity from both aspects. The thesis statement for this research will be fulfill by the end of this research by allowing the viewer to understand why Surrealism was important to the evolvement of the Modern Art movement, this era was concerned on the outer mind experience and this was enhanced by the use of drugs, sexuality and other forms of pleasure. This transformation is psychological and extremely physical as well. There had to be a sort of pain to discover and explore their inner minds and spirits and the question is why? What was taking place during this time that made them want to explore beyond the paintbrush, beyond the films and beyond their duty of being part of a society. And Frida Kahlo fits perfectly in this frame of transformation as well, how she was exposed to the world and the experiences that she had to endure also took her to want to discover beyond this reality. She expressed in many times and forms that she painted what she felt. She painted whatever went thru her mind as well as mentioning that she painted herself because she was often alone and that is all that she saw. Therefore, she had to endure in many stages the reality of her pain and life and wanting to understand what was going on beyond the surface, beyond the paintbrush and beyond the pain.

Both Frida and Surrealism’s intent is successful because it teaches the viewer about what they were trying to express as well as giving one the notion and initiative of self discovery. It leaves the viewer with a bitter taste of reality, of how disturbing life can be within their surroundings but as the painting is done or after the film or performance is over; it inserts a relief, an optimistic hope and thought that one still has the ability to dream and explore while resting from the harsh or tiring awakening reality. That there are no limitations, oppression, exploitation, abuse or physical pain in their dreams; there are no limitations, anything is possible in the Surreal World.

To begin this surreal journey, one must begin with the movement that allow it to evolve and it is the Modern movement that led many to go beyond the traditional standards of what art should be represented as. Now, one must present her in the light of both modern movements, not only the Western Modernism was taking effect during those times but there was a great impact for the Mexican Modernism as well.

To begin with, the main reasons as to why people were beginning to transition from traditional painting norms and regulations, was because of the new transformation of their cities. The new urban industrialization and evolvement of new technologies as well as a separation between classes of people such as the rich and the poor created a tension and disconnection between its people. All of these elements as well as the burst of the depression all became the motive for these new modernist artists to express themselves they way they did.

For Western Modernist; there was a desperate need to find an identity, to make itself a new beginning, their interest began to change into what art and beauty was therefore they turned into the interest of nature, the natural lights and shades and colors that it brings into the canvas. It was no longer needed to use a line to define a shape or color but to feel the tones of color, to feel a glazed, foggy grays and purples or feel the sun rays feel up an entire train station with its lights along with the steam coming out of those trains, making it a majestic experience, it did not matter if it did not depict the subject matter in its ideal perception, but the atmosphere is what matter to the artists, the realism, the truth to depict how life really is in an everyday life. As opposed as to the idealistic approach to life and beauty presented before. I brought in an overview of the Modernism roots to set the foundation of the research on Frida and especially it is important to provide the reaction to modernism in Mexico itself during this times.

According to Brettell, the widespread movement had a profound, and prolonged effect on the world of art. “Its global reach was insured by the chaos that resulted from the global depression and increasing warmongering of the 1930s.”(Brettell, pg.47) And some of the countries that were strongly influenced by the Western Modernist theory were also being practice in Mexico.

Therefore one must ask, what were the causes in Mexico to also take into theory the modernist movement? And who were the artists that lead the revolution of these new styles? And who were the artists that kept on evolving and growing into other styles as well. There was not only a presence of Mexican Modernism in Mexico itself, but its presence was also observed in Los Angeles California, the amazing works by Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco were just a few of the leading Mexican Modernists in the United States at the time. At the time of beginning of the Mexican Modernism along the same time the Western Modernism movement was on the rise was around the mid 1800’s. But although this movement was becoming global as referred by Brettell, Mexico kept their own belief to find its own identity thru their ancestry arts and history.  One of the forerunners for the modernists were Dr. Atl who is at times referred to as the St. John the Baptist of Mexican art.

“Dr. Atl knew that the practice of the arts of Mexico in his times were counterfeit, and he was early inspired to believe that production of the genuine article depended not upon fresh importations of arts and artists from Europe, but on the deferred rediscovery of the contemporary native scene.”(Helm, page 2)

I believe that the burst of events during the Mexican Revolution and the fall of the dictator Porfirio Diaz, the Mexican people had to find itself, a new fresh identity that will be empowering to them and it was found thru the revolutionary scenes and native rediscovery, not only was the Mexican Revolution going to take its place in history but there was also the birth of an artistic revolution, one of the main causes of this outburst was due to the resistance of the Porfirian legacy, his ideology of the culture he wanted for Mexico to undertake was the practices of Europe and the Unites States, they considered indigenous people to be obstacles of this new adoption of culture and in 1920, artists and painters resisted against the Porfirian legacy and it became known as the period of the Mexican Renaissance.

“Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Frida Kahlo painted while the first social revolution in the Americas, the Mexican Revolution was unfolding. They engaged with the Revolution’s radical goals-land reforms for peasants, labour conquests for workers, the emancipation of indigenous people, and the struggle for greater independence from the United States.” (White, page 12).  Understanding this is essential to the research because it allows one to view the direction in which this new art revolution was leading to. After the foundation and remarkable growth of the Mexican Muralist Movement, the next evolution came into action with the birth of the Mexicanismo (Mexicanism). The minister of Public Education, Jose Vascolcelos was what made the renaissance possible for Mexico.  According to White, he called all intellectuals to sign a pact of alliance with the revolution. “Cultural nationalism was to be harnessed to the task of making better citizens. (White, page 18). This is where he commissioned Rivera and Siqueiros to paint the walls  of important buildings and one of them was the National Preparatory School in Mexico City in 1921. It was an important movement in which the Mexican artists were emerging into their surroundings such comparison to the growth of the Realism objective in the Western art world. Within the Mexicanismo various artists embraces this perspective and among them as Helm stated that “of the two most distinguished women painters in Mexico, Maria Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo, the former is the more deliberated and objectively devoted to mexicanismo Frida Kahlo was a city girl and Marian Izquierdo grew up in the provinces”. (Helm, page 143).

Finally, to introduce Frida Kahlo’s presence is the midst of all these movements taking place from the break of the Mexican Revolution to the outbreak of new movements emerging not only in Europe or the United States but also having an impact in her life as well. Mexico during the 1920’s was a world filled with philosophy, intellect and filled with an explosion of art and poetry and all of these strong energies were in part going to be a strong influence and passion on Frida as well.

Frida Kahlo’s life has a strong impact as to how her future was going to be from her early childhood. She was born in July 6, 1907 as Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon, she was the third daughter of Guillermo and Matilde Kahlo in Coyoacan, Mexico, her and her sister Christina were mainly raised by their older sisters because their mother Matilde was often sick. It appears that from an early age she was already experiencing the effects of pain and illnesses from her mother.

In 1910, when the Mexican Revolution broke out, there were many events in which created the uprising of guerillas armies and it is noted in history that some of these guerilleros would be fed and healed in her house. It is written in her diary in which she remembers some of the events that took place during that time.

“I remember that I was 4 years old and when the tragic 10 days took place. I witness with my own eyes Zapata’s peasants’ battle against the Carrancistas. My situation was really clear. My mother opened the windows on Allende Street. She gave access to the Zapatistas, seeing to it that the wounded and hungry jumped from the windows of my house into my living room, She cured them and gave them thick tortillas, the only food that could be obtained at the time in Coyoacan in those days.” (Frida Kahlo).

Frida Kahlo changed her year of birth to the same year as of the Revolution because she wanted to be born when this event happened as well. She wanted to be a part of this birth in her country. . She lived most of her life in the Blue house in Coyoacan; house that belonged to her parents but soon had become her own destiny in which she would spend the rest of her life until her very last days. As she grew older, she suffered many illnesses; at the age of 6 she suffered from polio, which caused for one of her legs to appear thinner than the other leg.

It was typical for young ladies like Frida Kahlo to often get taught on how to paint or use photography or learn any skills from their family members, I this case her father was the artist of the family and taught her many valuable things that she would later use in her career. But she was not the only woman that had been taught by her father, Artemisia Gentileschi, Marietta Robusti, (Tintoretto’s daughter) and Angelica Kaufman.   But as she went into her teenage years, a drastic accident, which involved a trolley car that plowed into ta flimsy wooden bus and it transformed Frida’s life. (Helm, page 47)  this horrific accident occurred in September 17, 1925 right after the anniversary celebration for the Mexican Independence from Spain.  Although after this tragedy, painting for Frida was the main remedy of her battle for life. As it is stated my Helm, “it was also very much a part of self-creation: in her art, as in her life, a theatrical self-representation was a means to control her world.” (Helm, page 75) She turned her paint into canvas self portraits and it was almost as theatrical as stated by Helm, it was a form of dramatization of her pain that became the central point of her image, specially portrayed in her art. But as the time went by and as she was able to do things on her own she still kept paining but did not return to her studies. “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”  She also stated, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter” (Frida Kahlo).

She did go meet Diego Rivera for guidance as to making profit from her paintings to help her family’s income and he assured he would go to her home in Coyoacan if she kept painting and left behind her best works. After he visited her at the Blue House, they automatically became comrades and influenced each other and gave each other pain and love and unconditional support from there on.  Although, they were both their own individuals in regards to their art world, the love was unconditional from the beginning all the way until their very last days. It was an agonizing and sorrowful relationship, both Diego and Frida’s and most of the paint was reflected in her works of art. One of the images that best describes the agony and pain of her love life is found in “Las Dos Fridas” The Two Fridas, 1939, Oil on canvas, 67″ x 67″, Collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. Which are two full length self portraits in it, and according to Frida, one of the them is the Frida that Diego had loved in it she hold a miniature portrait of Diego, as her bloodline of veins moves over to the other Frida, side in which the other Frida holds a pair of scissors and her heart is exposed to show it being damaged and broken by the pain she is enduring with the divorce with Diego. This is one of the works that has many elements of the Surrealist style and although she claimed to not being aware of the movement that began in Europe, it was strongly suggested to her that she was part of that style as well.

Which bring to the next topic of one of my favorite movements; the Surrealism movement style; which originates in Paris, France but took over the styles in Madrid Spain because they were bored with Cubism. There were many sectors in which the surrealism kept on reshaping itself, from German Surrealism, French and Spanish Surrealism and it also influenced and created the Mexican Surrealism as well; the interest rise more on the pathological psychology and poetry as well as freedom of self discovery and expression derived from illusions, thoughts and dreams.  Some of the artists from Mexico that was of the first to begin this style were Moreno Villa, Carlos Orozco Romero, and Guillermo Meza, but the first connection of Mexican and European Surrealism was made by Moreno Villa mainly because he had graduated from 3 universities in Europe, therefore he had to had come back home with some influences. Frida on the other hand excluded herself from the Mexican Surrealist School of painting. She always wanted to claim herself and independently exponent of the school. (Helm page 166)

“Really I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself,” Frida once wrote. “Since my subjects have always been my sensations, my states of mind and the profound reactions that life has been producing in me, I have frequently objectified all this in figures of myself, which were the most sincere and real thing that I could do in order to express what I felt inside and outside of myself.”  (Frida Kahlo)

But there is fact many attributes of her poetic and sadistic style of painting that are similar to those of the Surrealist painters at the time, as noted on the works of Brettell, Surrealism took pale in 1924 where Andre Brento (1896-1966) issued the first Surrealist Manifesto, and it was not for the visual artists but mainly for writers. “He called a poetic unconscious, of the mental world outside the control of reason and social organization”. (Brettell page 44).

The Surrealism lead to the unconscious, h, dreams, nightmares and drugs elements that were all part of a unconscious need for recovery from the everyday life of pain, sorrow and mishaps and this directly implies the life and works of Frida Kahlo because she used her paintings as form of releasing the inner thoughts of her unconscious to provide a sort of hope and self identity through her paintings and this was not done for others, but for her own personal healing and growth. She was strongly influenced by the social freedom that Trotsky and Rivera portrayed in their own beliefs.

This is one of the strong elements that did eventually tied Frida Kahlo with the Surrealism Movement.  Her agonizing pain portrayed the unconscious, not only was her art work a cry for help or to be heard of her pain that was not only physical but also emotional in regards to Diego’s love. Her love letters, her diaries, her paintings all reflected her need for life, her passion for all things around her and her endless love to paint to express her self.

In conclusion, the Surrealism movement is fascinating because it attempts to figure out what dreams are and express the inner mind’s perspective of life without the frame that one has when awake, without the limitations of this “frame” Surrealists express this and Frida Kahlo is one of those artists that can inspire and enlighten anyone’s heart with beauty and sadness all at once. It is always a privilege to write about her and rediscover new things about her as my perspective sees her thru a different lens that exposes her talent and creativity; thru another light every time.

“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”- Frida Kahlo.

Bibliography:

  1. Brettell, R. Richard,” Modern Art 1851–1929, Capitalism and Representation”

Oxford University Press, New York. 1999.

  1. Hayden, Herresa, “Frida, A biography of Frida Kahlo”  Perennial Library, Harper & Row, Publishers. New York. 1983.
  2. Helm, MacKinley. “Modern Mexican Painters”. Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York. Harper & Row Publishers, Incorporated. 1941.
  3. Kahlo, Frida,” Quotations of the Authors” http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Frida_Kahlo/1994-2010.
  4. Kettenmann, Andrea, :Frida Kahlo 1907-1954, Pain And Passion” Taschen. 2002.
  5. Tibol, Raquel. “Frida by Frida” Selection of letters and texts forwarded and notes. Published by Editorial RM, S.A. de C.V., Mexico. 2003.
  6. White, Anthony, “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernists” The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. National Gallery of Australia. 2001.


Mami Wata & Sonji Mariposa “An eternal balance”

Ancient Africa had many water spirits before colonization; among the beliefs and traditions honoring Mami Wata; the African water spirit also known as the African mermaid she has been depicted in many art forms and this research will focus on paintings. To embrace these old traditions with contemporary art work I will compare Mami Wata’s culture with Sonji a Los Angeles based artist; an amazing individual who as well as Mami Wata’s followers has been inspired by Mami Wata’s beauty and spiritual strength.

To give a brief introduction of Mami Wata one must first understand that this is new contemporary concept of art work as well as religious. Societies have created their own belief system therefore Mami Wata is very well known in the West African region, it has become an icon and it is amazing to know that within the religious followers and devotees of Mami Wata; West Africans have created a material culture based on exotic objects and photographs. But she was not always popular in Africa nor the origins of Mami Wata rise from Africa but there is enough evidence to prove that her origins in the very first encounters of Africans and Europeans in the fifteenth century. Her first representations were supposedly from Europeans sailors that had claimed to have seen a water figure or mermaid. (Drewal, J. Henry) From the 19th century and there after she became a popular icon during the trades between Africa, Europe and the East. Her iconic photograph might have gained popularity due to her beauty and sex appeal. One of the images that I will be presenting are evidence on how influential she was and still is, although not all of her images were depicted by an African artists it depicts the African culture of the West; for instance one of the first images that was depicting her was made by a German artist by the name of Schleisinger, ca. 1926, to the African culture it did not matter where it came from because they would still place them within their shrines and altar they have created to honor and worship Mami Wata. One of the images that I will be presenting for this research is name Mami Wata, circa 1987 Zoumana Sane Pigment on glass 40.6 x 30.5 This beautiful image shows Mami Wata in full bloom of sexual appeal holding a snake with both hands as another snake is reaching towards her chest, black thick hair flowing down her back and the assertiveness in her eyes and facial expression shows her in control of both creatures as well as memorizing the viewer with her beauty. The color and patterns are rich and bold representing Africa’s colorful patterns. When I first seen this image I feel in love with her right away; she is irresistible.

But interesting, to learn about the religious and spiritual aspects on following Mami Wata her popularity is not only found in Africa but she is also well known in South America and Europe. This West African culture is enriched with self awareness and originality to represent her. “Devotees of an African water spirit Mami Wata, take exotic objects, interpret them according to indigenous precepts, invest them with new meanings, and then represent them in inventive ways to serve their own aesthetic, devotional and social needs. (Drewall, J. Henry page 308) to fully understand this concept one can relate this with any form of interpretation of not only a culture but also an art perspective of any artist that becomes inspired by a specific culture or art forms and interpret it in their own way. It is acceptable when it refers to Mami Wata, other cultures specially if it is a religious concept can get a bit skeptical in a person of another culture wants to depict their culture or religious objects with art as I had mentioned previously for West Africans this is not the issue; they have focused more on the interpretation.

As this research developed it was interesting to see how an artist that has no knowledge of Mami Wata also became part of this enriched material culture. The contemporary artist that I chose for the comparison of old and new representations of material art is Sonji, a dear close friend that is based from Los Angeles California. To introduce Sonji one has to visualize living among indigenous grounds and by saying this I mean living in a culture enriched with colorful organic art, patterns that connect our blood veins with the drum beat and dance steps of Aztec dancers; feeling each and every sound of sea shells tied to their feet vibrating into the Earth, but yet, being awakened by the sounds of traffic from the streets and freeways of Los Angeles, graffiti walls, and the smell of smog. All of these elements can be found in her art as well as within her soul and perspective towards life. She loves vegetation as well teaching people how to use the Earth, how to respect her as well as learning how to keep a balance within ourselves as one is used to live a daily routine life struggling to find an inner connection with our ancestry. This is a concept that is hard for us to grasp and figure out but through art one can see the world through another eye and one can be influenced by it.

When I introduced Sonji to Mami Wata and the African culture and folk art depicting her, she became immediately interested in the culture and art practices that Mami Wata’s followers have established. It is more interesting to know that Sonji had never heard about Mami Wata and yet her art represents some of the patterns used in her art. As for an introduction of Mami Wata I explained to her how I came across her since I also was a new fan of Mami Wata,  I explained to her that I had spoke with my professor about who Sonji was as an individual an artist and that as a result Professor Klemm introduced Mami Wata to me. This blew Sonji’s mind away because we both had realized that her art did resemble Mami Wata without even knowing her; from that point on this research became a personal experience for knowledge of a complete new culture as well as art form for the both of us. Before this discovery, Sonji and I already had in mind which art piece we would use for this research and it is name “Concrete Indigenous” made in 2006. Acrylic and ink media. This beautiful art piece has a composition that has been divided by the middle of the canvas and which can be flip from top to bottom and still depict the same subject matter. The piece consist of a landscape, mountains, valleys as well as a lake with the sun bright, when one flips the canvas it turns into a nocturnal image, it is the dark skies, the moon and the city landscapes of Los Angeles. What connects this both elements of night and day is a large snake that linked them both by holding on to the moon and the sun with her head and tail. The colors are rich and the patterns of dots and indigenous designs do elaborate the concept of “Concrete Indigenous”.  It was a perfect match to Mami Wata’s art work and culture, even though they were both so different by region they both represented a culture enriched by both art appeal and material representation on self identity.

The research and data was obtained through going to galleries, reading books and searching for images on Mami Wata online; Sonji was fascinated by her beauty and for what she represented. As the research evolved so did Sonji, on one of the last meetings that we had before presenting this topic to the class, she admitted to enjoy learning about Mami Wata, she was inspired by her so much that Sonji depicted Mami Wata in a series of canvas; I was amazed to see how Mami Wata had influenced Sonji so much but one thing that Sonji just could not understand were the feeling as to why she was so inspired by her even though she was not African nor practiced any religious beliefs that many devotees have done throughout the decades. And it brought questions to this issue; how can one become connected to a spirit or ancestral culture that has nothing to do with coming from a Hispanic or indigenous background? How can a connection be so genuine? Even I began to have the same sentiments towards Mami Wata, I wanted her to become part of my world as well, was it because she was a strong image and rich culture that was led by a woman for once? Or was it a desire to be like her or be strong and be approved of our achievements and good deeds by her? All of the above I presume, but it all finally made sense in one f the materials that I was using for the research; it finally brought answers to both of us and coincidently they were the answers that we wanted to hear.

On one of the passages that really brought a true connection between Mami Wata and Sonji was the following, just to insure you that this was read and discovered by Sonji herself during one of the meetings that we had during this research;

“Through a process of inversion, artists use alien styles and images to reinforce indigenous ideas. Mami Wata is particularity concerned with alien things because their water spirit is perceived to be “foreign”. They do not use alien objects to understand the ideas of the other, but rather to examine and construct themselves and their own society. As persons who are often troubled by the questions of self identity.”(Drewall, J. Henry)

Sonji was indentifying with a being that was foreign to her and at the same time she was able to form her own perspective as to who Mami Wata was for as well as what she meant for Sonji’s spirituality and eternal balance with materialism and spirituality. Both can be balanced though Mami Wata; there is no need for sabotage of self identity or indigenous background as well as there is no remorse or feeling of betrayal to seek some sort of guidance from another spirit or being that is not part of our ancestry.

It was a privilege to be a part of new profound discovery of self identity and inspiration for Sonji’s life not only as an artist but also as an individual because she always presented herself to be strongly connected to her culture and roots and that was interpreted in her art. As for Mami Wata, she also holds a special place in my home and heart, it is inevitable to resist on converting to Mami Wata, and I could truly understand why the African culture has chosen to turn her into an icon that can be loved by everyone. And although at first it might seem suspicious to create a culture and religion based on materialism and beauty but that is a contemporary concept that has been faced even during the evolvement of pop culture; linking consumer products as things that we worship and adored as well as people that turn into our icons as we wish we were just like them or have a piece or replica of them in our home space, it is all acceptable in the end.

In conclusion, summarizing all of these new findings and self identity discoveries one can trace it back to Ancient Africa, having many water spirits before colonization; among the beliefs and traditions honoring Mami Wata; the African water spirit also known as the African mermaid she has been depicted in many art forms and this research will focus on paintings. To embrace these old traditions with contemporary art work I will compare Mami Wata’s culture with Sonji a Los Angeles based artist; an amazing individual who as well as Mami Wata’s followers has been inspired by Mami Wata’s beauty and spiritual strength.