Tagged Contemporary Hispanic Art

Contemporary Hispanic market art La Conquistadora with Dine Spider Woman and Puebloan Corn Maiden by ©Cristina Acosta

Reshaping the Divine – Contemporary Hispanic Retablos Exploring the Sacred Feminine

This exhibit: Summer 2009.The artist statement describes the personal context of my art and about the intent behind these pieces.

Reshaping the Divine: Contemporary Hispanic Retablos Exploring the Sacred Feminine

Cristina Ortiz Acosta – Artist Statement 2009 – Exhibit at El Museo Cultural, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Over the past twenty years, my series of Madonna retablos came to me in ebbs and flows via a series of powerful dreams. The dreams started during my pregnancy with my daughter. For the entire pregnancy I dreamt of being a woman on a journey north across dusty plains and through arroyos as I mostly walked behind an oxcart. The dreams ended in a room lit by a wooden candelabra filled with tallow candles and the birth of my daughter, Isabella Pilar in 1993.

I called these dreams my Maria Dreams because in the dreams, I/she was named Maria. Seeking the meaning of those dreams over the years brought me down a path I could never have imagined and deepened my understanding of my cultural heritage. Searching for the meaning of my Maria Dreams eventually lead me back to New Mexico, the land of my Ortiz ancestors.

My paternal grandmother, Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta, born in 1904, was the daughter of J. Nestor Ortiz and Maria Elena Salazar, descendants of the original Spanish settlers founding the cities and villages throughout New Mexico. Researching my family genealogy (my grandmother spoke vaguely about her ancestors), I discovered that my direct ancestors had participated in the initial 16th and 17th century migrations of the Spanish, traveling North from Mexico City into the region that is now the State of New Mexico. I read books about the era and became fascinated by the types of experiences my female ancestors must have had while living on the New Mexican frontier for generations. With this research nurturing my experience of my personal history, my calling to paint Madonna’s began to take shape.

Born in Los Angeles to an Anglo mother and Hispanic father, early on I was aware of cultural concepts because of the differences between the two sides of my family. Despite their differences, Catholicism was the central theme for my parents. Celebrating their devotion resulted in religious images from the Americas and Europe scattered throughout our home and those of our relatives. Images of Mary the Mother of God as the Guadalupe, Conquistadora and many other versions were always present. Along with those images were displayed American Indian items from the Ortiz ranch.

The artifacts from the Ortiz family ranch consumed my imagination from as far back as I can remember. Handmade Indian blankets and pots, and even a gold menorah (referred to as a “candelabra” by my grandmother) made by Ortiz ancestors generations past (some of the men were renowned filigree gold smiths). Those as well as the chili ristras hanging in my grandmother’s kitchen hinted at another world far from the Southern California beach scene of my childhood home. For reasons I can’t sufficiently articulate, the mix of these images and experiences coalesced into my calling to visually explore and create new images of the Madonna as an expression of the feminine divine.

Each of the retablos I paint results in a new vision of the sacred. For example, painting La Conquistadora opened the door to re-balancing the dominant patriarchal and European view of the divine with the North American native and feminine. In La Conquistadora I layer symbols of the Dine Spider woman and the Puebloan Corn Maiden, seeking to blend the indigenous ancient female images and concepts harmoniously with the Catholic image of Mary. The result is a Madonna that hints of ancient goddesses many thousands of years old at the same time she conveys the current blend of cultures in the Southwest.

I create my work in the traditions of the Spanish/Mexican retablo to reinforce my expression of reverence and convey the intimate experience of sacredness. I find antique, reclaimed timbers for the substrate. I mix gold, silver and copper metals into my oil paintings to both embellish the image and in homage to the gifts my ancestors created for me with their existence. The vintage gold glazed ceramic tiles come from a tile company that operated near my childhood home in Southern California during the 1950’s and 60’s. When I finish a retablo, I write a blessing on the backside of the retablo to convey love to all who view the images.

My Maria Dreams from over a decade ago continue to influence this series of work. May you find your own meanings and blessings within these images.

Contemporary Hispanic art Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta by ©Cristina Acosta

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta Altar Retablo by Cristina Acosta

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta are the co-founders of the United Farm Workers UFW. I grew up during the era of the Lettuce and Grape boycotts that Chavez and Huerta organized. The bravery of these two people to work for justice is an inspiration.  I show them standing side by side as equals, balancing the world between them. Red veins travel like roots of a plant around the grapes and lettuce and into the space surrounding our spinning planet.  The UFW United Farmworkers symbol is behind them (the symbol was drawn by Chavez’s brother). They are backed by a halo/sun embellished with drawings of floral vines etched out of the metal leaf. Their rallying cry of Si Se Puede (yes you can) floats above them.

Unfortunately, Cesar Chavez has passed on. We are lucky that Dolores Huerta is alive and continues her humanitarian political activities. To learn more about Dolores Huerta www.doloreshuerta.org

Title: Si Se Puede, Yes You Can

Medium:   Oil; 22kt gold, sterling silver and copper metal leaf; wax; antique 24kt. Gold glazed tile mosaic; semi-precious stones on vintage Ponderosa Pine wood panel reclaimed from a 1904 wood mill and formed by an artisan wood worker into a single panel.

Dimensions: 18″ wide x 24″ tall

Contemporary Hispanic art Guadalupe by Cristina Acosta

The Guadalupe with the Three Sisters – Corn, Squash and Beans by Cristina Acosta

Walking through the aisles of a natural foods store I’m lulled into thinking that buying the latest salty snack with the word “organic” plastered all over the plastic sack will save the planet. Yes, it’s better than eating a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) conventional product that’s similar, but there’s a lot more to saving the planet than falling prey to some marketer’s labeling of an ultra-processed packaged edible as “organic food.”

So what does this topic have to do with the creative life? More than you might think at first glance. Creativity and our willingness to embrace positive change are integral to changing the course of planetary environmental degradation. I got started thinking about this while drawing the chili pepper plant growing in my house. Though it’s officially spring in Bend, Oregon, it is in the 20’s and snowing today. Growing in the sunshine of our upstairs window, this perennial plant is an abundance of bright green leaves teamed with a few dozen slender, brilliantly red & green, small chili peppers.

I let the chilies ripen red and dry on the vine, then I crumble them over salted, roasted peanuts for an afternoon snack. Sometimes I put them in a salsa or red chili sauce. The unique thing about this chili plant is that it is native to New Mexico, the home of my paternal grandmother’s ancestors. I like eating a food that enriched the lives of my ancestors for generations. You can buy seeds for this and other native plants at Native Seeds/SEARCH. Native Seeds/SEARCH is a non-profit that is striving to preserve the genetic diversity of our country’s South West heirloom and indigenous food and utility crops. No matter how “organic” our food is, if we continue to lose biodiversity, our food supply can be easily jeopardized by diseases or other unforeseen problems.

Native Seeds/SEARCH describes themselves thus: “The Native Seeds/Search Seedbank houses, for future generations, the seeds of crops and wild plants traditionally used as food, fiber and dyes by prehistoric and more recent cultures inhabiting the arid southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. . . approximately 2,000 different accessions of traditional crops grown by Apache, Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Gila River Pima, Guarijio, Havasupai, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, Mojave, Mountain Pima, Navajo, Paiute, Puebloan, Tarahumara, Tohono O’odham and Yaqui farmers. Over one-half of the collections are comprised of the three sisters — corn, bean, and squash. An additional 48 species of crops and wild crop relatives wait in frozen storage, including amaranth, tepary bean, chile, cotton, devil’s claw, gourds, melon, sunflowers, tobacco, teosinte, watermelon and wild beans.”

The “Three Sisters” of corn, beans and squash are the crops that the American Indians considered necessary to support a settlement. Honoring these indigenous crops and that American Indian heritage along with the Spanish heritage of the American Southwest, I painted a Santos style retablo of my Madonna, Guadalupe with the Three Sisters: Corn, Squash & Beans.This retablo is part of my Hispanic Culture Sacred images series.

If you live anywhere in the American Southwest, or if like me, you have a sunny window, I encourage you to look through thewww.nativeseeds.org website. They sell heirloom seeds, baking mixes, spices, art, goat milk soap, even Christmas ornaments by Hopi artist Gerald Dawavendewa and others. Another thing they do that is so generous both individually and to our planet is their Native American Outreach program where they give a certain amount of seeds to American Indians for their gardens, along with Adopt A Crop program to keep those seeds viable. They also have a Cultural Memory Bank Project that pairs the knowledge of the geneticist with the folklorist to conserve not only the plant, but how that plant was nurtured and utilized. Art and Science together for the good of our planet. Now that’s creativity!

Running Mediation - The Feminine Divine Hispanic Meditation altar by ©Cristina Acosta

The Madonna in Meditation – Retablo Altar by Cristina Acosta

The Madonna sits in serenity as her soul gallops freely through time and space. Her winged-heart nurtures life. In her serene stillness she holds the spinning circles of life within her. She is the mother of us all: Eve, La Conquistadora,  La Guadalupe, Bodhisattva, Kuan Yin, Mary, La Senora, The Mother of God.. . .

I painted this meditation altar in the traditions of my New Mexican ancestors. Painted as an ex-voto retablo, it celebrates the blessings of meditation.

Title: Running Meditation

Size: 42″ x 60″

Year: 2008, 2010

Medium: Oil, 22kt. gold, sterling silver and copper metal leaf with antique 24kt gold glazed ceramic mosaic on wood panel. Wood panel is artisan made from reclaimed Ponderosa Pine planks taken from the 1904 circa mill buildings that were razed for redevelopment.