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L.A. Artists Rethink Art’s Issues and Purpose in New Podcast

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In a city bustling with creativity, there is no “right path” or checklist to become an artist. Comprising eight episodes, X-TRA’s “Artists and Rights podcast rethinks what it means to be an artist in Los Angeles and explores what art can do. Each session brings in new guest artists to discuss urgent L.A. issues and their artistic practice. Here are some takeaways from the conversation series: 

What Urgency Means is Different for Every Artist

At the start of each session, executive producers Shana Lutker and Mario Ontiveros question guests about what is urgent to them and how those urgencies intersect with their practices and lives. When asked to address the challenges of sustaining their careers, Todd Gray, a retired professor at California State University, Long Beach, and other artists expressed their urgency to teach. As a photographer who explores issues of Black masculinity, diaspora and contemporary/historical examinations of power, Gray finds teaching an important part of his practice. His desire for intellectually stimulating environments drives him to engage with theoretical readings and help students become more aware about whiteness and decolonizing the mind. 

Listen to the podcast below. Watch out for new episodes​ in the coming weeks.

The desire for complexity and visibility was another common theme among artists in the panel. Latipa (née Michelle Dizon), an artist, filmmaker and writer expressed the importance of shifting the discussion of representation to ethics. 

“I think so much of the discussions of ‘marginalized groups’ becoming visible really involves ideas of representation, which can more often than not get caught up in good or bad, accurate or not accurate,” said Latipa in the fifth episode. “My recent work has been really trying to think about the ways in which for example imperialist dynamics continue into the present in forms that seem very well intentioned, such as humans rights discourse, but in fact reproduce a lot of the positions in the field that are from that colonial legacy.” She recently co-authored an artist book, “White Gaze,” which attempts to explore the lasting impact of the white gaze through photography. Through a process of text redaction, Latipa reframes the captions in National Geographic magazines to play with the power dynamics implied between photo and text.

Other artists dedicated some of their work to urgent political issues. 

“Citizenship has increasingly become this technology or tool to dehumanize folks where it’s like ‘oh you’re not recognized by the state therefore you will not be recognized as human’” said Misael Diaz in the third episode. He is an artist, writer, educator and co-founder of cog*nate collective, a binational art collective dedicated to addressing issues with citizenship and migration through various interdisciplinary projects. One of its recent projects, “Regionalia,” is a series of projects presented as an exhibition at Grand Central Art Center, which challenged the reinforcement of national borders and reimagined how we can act together as transnational citizens. One component of the exhibit presented found objects such as jewelry, clothing and home goods from public markets in the California border region between Tijuana and Los Angeles. The objects were presented in a faux commercial style, to show loyalty and faithfulness to groups. A bilingual catalog of the exhibition was later published by Grant Central Art Center and X Artists' Books.

When people are dehumanized and restricted access, they are simultaneously erased, denied recognition, not given protection or rights, and are subjected to violence, Diaz said. Diaz points out that the issues of displacement will continue to become more complicated on small and large scales, from the housing crisis and gentrification to climate refugees and the border crisis. 

“The question of how to begin to undo that at all across scales [sic] across time is something that is definitely an urgency in our work,” Diaz concluded.

Click through to see the work of Cog•nate Collective

The Mobile Institute for Citizenship & ARt (MICA), 2016, at CSUF Grand Central Art Center. MICA is a nomadic platform for research, dialogue and exchange, housed within a retrofitted fiberglass trailer. | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective
The Mobile Institute for Citizenship & ARt (MICA), 2016, at CSUF Grand Central Art Center. MICA is a nomadic platform for research, dialogue and exchange, housed within a retrofitted fiberglass trailer. | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective
Regionalia, 2018. The installation composed of objects sourced from swap meets and street markets in the greater border region between Tijuana, Baja California and Los Angeles, California.  | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective
Regionalia, 2018. The installation is composed of objects sourced from swap meets and street markets in the greater border region between Tijuana, Baja California and Los Angeles, California. | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective
Protest Balloon: Ciudadanx Americanx/American Citizen, 2018. A special edition of mylar “Protest Balloons."  | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective
Protest Balloon: Ciudadanx Americanx/American Citizen, 2018. A special edition of mylar “Protest Balloons." | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective
The “Protest Balloons,” screen-printed with a map of the American continent on one side, and on the other the phrase “American Citizen” in English or “Ciudadanx Americanx” Spanish.   | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective
The “Protest Balloons,” screen-printed with a map of the American continent on one side, and on the other the phrase “American Citizen” in English or “Ciudadanx Americanx” Spanish. | Courtesy of Cog•nate Collective

Critiquing the Institutions We Participate in is Important

In almost every conversation, artists deconstruct society’s institutions. We are living in a moment where voices of those who have been invisible for so long are being centered. However, this moment of visibility has become an opportunity for institutions to exploit artists’ intellectual presence and labor, as well as profit from and control the work being shared. Several artists in the podcast agreed that it is exhausting to participate in this type of environment. Artists should be able to have opportunities to share their experiences, but never be obligated to explain their work to audiences who may not understand cultural references or certain histories. 

Latipa emphasized her experiences with her recent works on postcolonial history of the partition in episode three. “There’s a lot that is not explained [in my work]. There’s density and that frustrates a lot of people. And for me as an artist it’s difficult because I feel that it doesn't necessarily translate into all the forms because people don’t want to take the time to dig through that density.” 

Click through below to see some work from Jaklin Romine, an artist featured in the “Artists and Rights podcast. 

Installation view of “Why Bring Me Flowers When I Am Dead? When You Had The Time To Do It When I Was Alive” by Jaklin Romine | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
Installation view of “Why Bring Me Flowers When I Am Dead? When You Had The Time To Do It When I Was Alive” by Jaklin Romine | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
Installation view of “Why Bring Me Flowers When I Am Dead? When You Had The Time To Do It When I Was Alive” by Jaklin Romine | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
Installation view of “Why Bring Me Flowers When I Am Dead? When You Had The Time To Do It When I Was Alive” by Jaklin Romine | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
“I AM HERE : Lame” by Jaklin Romine, 2017. Digital Print on vinyl, 36” x 64.” | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
“I AM HERE : Lame” by Jaklin Romine, 2017. Digital Print on vinyl, 36” x 64.” | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
“I AM HERE : Freak” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. Digital Print on poly silk, 10’ x 15.’ | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
“I AM HERE : Freak” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. Digital Print on poly silk, 10’ x 15.’ | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine

In the sixth episode, Mario Ybarra Jr., an artist whose work examines Mexican American identity through sculpture, installation, photography and activist interventions critiques artists’ reliance on institutions due to lack of access to resources. Artists’ reliance on pools of money that is distributed by institutions actually discourages community building, he said.

Ybarra stated that the art community should “start attuning ourselves with all the different types of capital that we can navigate in so that if our money is low, our navigational capital is high, social capital is high and communal capital is high.” Latipa further explained that artists who have the same beliefs and work towards common goals should work collaboratively to form alliances instead of competing against each other.

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Jaklin Romine, a multimedia artist who has an interest in 3D sculptural objects, also addressed exclusion of the disabled from some institutions, galleries and other artist-run spaces. 

“I couldn’t ignore the fact that it wasn’t just me who was being excluded, it was every disabled body that exists in Los Angeles. Right now, the disabled community is like 20-30% of the national population,” Romine said in episode eight. 

Click through below to see images of Jaklin Romine's “Access Denied” project.

Jaklin Romine sitting in her wheelchair in front of a closed door with stairs leading up to it. Still from video performance at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
Jaklin Romine sitting in her wheelchair in front of a closed door with stairs leading up to it. Still from video performance of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine.
Jaklin Romine sitting in her wheelchair in front stairway and a glass door. Still from video performance at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
Jaklin Romine sitting in her wheelchair in front of a closed door with stairs leading up to it. Still from video performance of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine.
Still from video performance at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
Jaklin Romine sitting in her wheelchair in front of a closed door with stairs leading up to it. Still from outdoor installation performance of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2020. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine.
Jaklin Romine sitting in her wheelchair in front of a closed door. Still  from video performance at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine
Jaklin Romine sitting in her wheelchair in front of a closed door with stairs leading up to it. Still from video performance of “Access Denied” by Jaklin Romine, 2015. | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine.

She highlighted her ongoing project, “Access Denied,” where she photographs herself in front of an obstacle in the built environment that is physically excluding her from being able to participate. She went on to say that although many of these art spaces boast their “alternative mindset,” they completely forget about the disabled body and expect gratitude when they finally change their spaces to accommodate hers. 

Sustaining Your Creativity is Essential

In order to produce our best work, we must keep our mind healthy and our creative juices flowing. Amy Sanchez Arteaga, who is a cog*nate collective co-founder, emphasized the need for self-care and safe spaces in the third episode. This realization came to her when a discussion about Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” turned into a conversation about the ways marginalized artists internalize the oppressor. She suggested participating in spaces of public grief or loss in order to start one’s own process of decolonization. By looking back at ways in which we have been indoctrinated into certain ways of thinking, we are able to look at history and present-day issues through a new lens. 

In the first episode, Nao Bustamante, whose art involves performance art, video installation, visual art, filmmaking and writing, suggested having non-commodified moments of peace with your artwork.

Click through below to see more photos of Nao Bustamante's work.

Video still from “Silver & Gold” by Nao Bustamante, 2013 | Courtesy of Nao Bustamante
Video still from “Silver & Gold” by Nao Bustamante, 2013 | Courtesy of Nao Bustamante
Video still from “Test Shoot” by Nao Bustamante, 2014 | Courtesy of Nao Bustamante
Video still from “Test Shoot” by Nao Bustamante, 2014 | Courtesy of Nao Bustamante
Video still from “Soldadera” by Nao Bustamante, 2015 | Courtesy of Nao Bustamante
Video still from “Soldadera” by Nao Bustamante, 2015 | Courtesy of Nao Bustamante
Nao Bustamante performs “Given Over to Want” at the New Idols Performance Festival, Riga, Latvia, 2019. | Lauris Aizupietis
Nao Bustamante performs “Given Over to Want” at the New Idols Performance Festival, Riga, Latvia, 2019. | Lauris Aizupietis

 “Everything is so projected and relying on a future tense of what this is going to look like or who’s going to look at it, so it’s like the economy of gazes. Those moments are more and more scarce, especially for young artists like me.” She continues to explain in how we tend to get caught up with the desire for validation from institutions and peers and assign the value of our work to currency. However, Bustamante reminded listeners that taking joy in making art for yourself is important.

An artist’s relationship with temporality is also emphasized in the podcast, because building productive dialogue requires space and time. There is value in slowing down in order to produce reflective, thoughtful work. Looking back at history and assessing our work, as opposed to focusing on responding immediately to crisis or political situations can be more productive in imagining the best way to move forward.  

These are a few of many important points made in “Artists and Rights.” These issues aren't just unique to the L.A.-based artists in the podcast. They are continued conversations that are currently affecting many aspects of life in Los Angeles and will continue to evolve with our reality.

Top Image: Installation view of “Why Bring Me Flowers When I Am Dead? When You Had The Time To Do It When I Was Alive” by Jaklin Romine | Courtesy of Jaklin Romine

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