During the summer of 2019, as I was enrolled in a fine art class at Art Center, we traveled as a class from Pasadena to Venice Beach using public transportation. As we walked from Santa Monica to Venice Beach, an older white woman observed me looking at her toy poodle, and upon noticing my gaze she yelled, “What are you looking at WETBACK!?”. I maintained my composure in the face of such an egregious racial epithet and continued on with the walk. Nobody else in the class heard or saw this encounter. Not wanting to allow this racial epithet to negatively affect me, I decided to create art addressing this experience. I began a new series called Animal Man, the first three of which are named, Animal Man: Wetback, Animal Man: Immigrant, and Animal: Mexican. This new series are wall works made of concrete, oil bars, pastels, spray paint, and other traditional art materials with the respective titles stamped into the concrete using bronze cattle branders. The resulting work is allowing me to take a step back from a very visceral experience and situate this encounter in a larger timeline of racism and how from my experience, historically colonialist attitudes have never faded away but are very much part of current times.
This continuing body of artwork and its use of traditional comic book characters as subjects draws on the perspective of Alan Moore, English writer and author of critically acclaimed comic books like Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Moore is critical of the traditional white superhero in comic books. According to Moore, “comic books and these iconic characters are still very much white supremacist dreams of the master race.” The connection I draw between this new body of work and Moore’s perspective are an awareness of a thread and a connection between the past full of racism and today’s culture. The series Animal Man brought into focus the power of art as a way of addressing personal experiences that speak to problems present in society, such as racism and socio-economic hierarchies, meant to denigrate those at the bottom. And it allowed me to harness all of the material knowledge I have been building up over the past couple of years. The fluid translation of my personal experiences and research into formal material decisions lies at the core of my art practice. Cultivating and building a bridge between these two areas of interest has been a daily practice that has enriched my life.