Claudia Olivos:
figurative and abstract surrealist

Washington DC artist Claudia OlivosWashington D.C. Mayo 2003

A painter ponders on issues regarding Latino/American identity I am moved to think about the ongoing debates about representation and identity in Latin American Art; I am moved to attempt theoretical artspeak regarding the marginalizing and appropriation of Latino images. It is my belief that there is a need for the redefinition of certain aspects and psychic contents in Latin American art, especially as these spring forth as a trend within current American culture . First however, I am led to question my own motives: am I simply attempting to defend and define my work? Yes, one cannot come to an understanding of self, but through an understanding of one's art, and vice versa. Personally I do not feel that I represent Chile, nor the USA......does a leaf represent a tree? a seashell the Ocean? I am at once a complex and simple result of the melding of these two influences within me, and obviously of much more. I create not independent of one or the other....but in relation to both, as I am the linking point where a new sort of nexus becomes manifest both artistically and psychically.

Art by Claudia OlivosIn my painting 'Retorno A La Semilla' (Return to the Seed 72" x 84"), I have for the first time, carved out of my own unconscious a motif of indigenous nature to represent what is pure and real in our society, versus the effects of an unbalanced way of life that has resulted in crass capitalism and consumerism. I believe the terrors we have witnessed throughout the world have a link to our repression and neglect of these ancient ways that we have obliterated from our collective conscious. Fully cognizant of the danger of taming reality and romanticizing the experience of indigenous people (a significant portion of the population of this world that remains oppressed and marginalized), indigenous motifs are nonetheless a starting point for me, one of many Latin Americans with a double link to the past through European ancestry. For us artists who have been uprooted, or that belong to a first generation of uprooted parents, there are questions that we cannot elude regarding assimilation and appropriation each time we create. Every piece that we conceive is confronted with questions (or whispers) in our heads regarding the intent, the purpose of each stroke and its ramifications; we wonder if we are being honest, if we are being true to our experience. We search to understand that if the effort says something about us, what does it say, first of all, to us, and secondly, about our essence? There are questions regarding how much have we accepted from the culture of hegemony, how much of the root of our 'Latino experience' is still present, and ultimately, are we utilizing signifiers for a purpose that is our own? Obviously the risk one runs, without scrutiny, is that one is pleasing the many galleries that clamor for our work to simply bring in the exotic elements (now more politicized than ever, with the new statistics, as politicos salivate over the Latino vote).

My own work is rooted, not only in my Latin American upbringing, but in the collection of Russian fairy tales my grandmother kept in her house in Santiago, Chile. As a teenager, it was a logical shift when I became interested in Kafka's stories and Lynch's movies, which in college led me to discover the Surrealists. In the last six years I discovered Magic Realism, and found that I had an affinity with the fact found within Magic Realism, that ancient beliefs and spirits can coexist with modern ones. I take issue with those that would claim that in my use of certain symbols or ideas, I reassert dominance of the Western world over the 'other'---Isn't it still colonialism when a Euro-American aesthetic will continue to attempt to perpetrate the legacy of exclusion--limiting and indeed guiding me towards specific signifiers that are or are not 'acceptable'?

In 'Retorno A La Semilla' I have used indigenismo in an attempt to carve-in a memorable impact on the viewer. That is, to explore what I perceive to be the impact our dominant culture exerts on the 'Third World,' as we continue to Colonize and marginalize. This impact continues to make homogenous trends of thought and society wherever false diplomacy and war take us. So many in our world seem to have a problem with cultural dissension, having an endemic lack of knowledge of self. This leads to trite, deceptive empowerment based on values that are nothing but a nostalgic idyll and a romanticized story of indigenous people; a story that is merely a shadow of the truth.

Claudia Olivas
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