SILER CITY – In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the NC Arts Incubator in Siler City has just received a new guest exhibition: the Latinx Visual Resiliency series by Durham artist Antonio Alanís.
The free exhibit is part of various Hispanic Liaison Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, which also include an eight prize raffle and a month-long social media campaign. The exhibit opened on September 11 during Liaison’s COVID-19 health show and will leave the incubator on October 15, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Born in Durango, Mexico, Alanís grew up in Durham. There he worked as the Development and Communications Manager for ISLA NC, a nonprofit Hispanic advocacy organization that seeks to “build community and leadership through Spanish language education and immersion programs. cultural, ”according to its website. Comprised of various acrylic paintings, his exhibition explores the resilience of the Hispanic community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is what he shared with News + Record about his career, his works and his exhibition now exhibited inside the incubator:
To get started, tell us a little more about yourself and your background.
I am an educator by heart. I learned Spanish and English in the United States. I am a first generation artist who uses education and art to better understand who we are as Latino – or Latinx – individuals in the United States. I have been an artist all my life, and this is my very first solo exhibition in which El Vínculo Hispano and NC Arts Incubator invited me to participate.
How and why did you decide to become an artist?
So how did it start? It’s one of those calls that you, or anyone else, feels. The typical art story that everyone has – you know, like managing, creating, and identifying with the media. I have used this ever since to express how I feel, what I am going through, and now, lately, I have been interested in creating works of art that speak to people’s consciousness, especially around creating dialogue or inspiration; or creating conversations about equity issues or mental health issues. I’ve always liked using illustrations to help us better understand what it means to be a Latino or a Latinx, and this is one of those media that lends itself perfectly to that.
What type of artwork do you do and what type of images do you usually use?
My works are very inspired by my cultural background. I mentioned that I’m a first generation immigrant and originally from Mexico, so much of the artwork I produce is heavily influenced by my cultural heritage. Visually, my works are mostly colorful. It’s flat in nature and appearance, and it touches on different topics such as activism, the power to celebrate one’s roots, heritage, and really focuses a lot on our humanity as Hispanic / Latinx individuals. I see a lot of the talk here in this country is really about seeing ourselves as separate or very different from mainstream America, and I just like to focus more on our resemblance as individuals rather than how different we are. .
How do you use art to foster connection and mutual understanding?
I can rely more on the exhibition I created; the exhibit was called Latinx Visual Resiliency Series, and what I love to do in this exhibit is create works of art that reflect people’s ideas about what it means to become and to be resilient … I want to encourage people to use the artwork as a way to not only make sense of what’s going on during the pandemic – which is one of the reasons I started earlier this year – but I also want to encourage others to use works of art to express what they are going through, and encourage others to use it as it has helped me. When the pandemic hit, I really wasn’t sure how to understand it and how much it affected me until I started to notice the importance of staying in touch with members of my community, friends and family. family. I turned to art to create pieces that spoke about that feeling of maintaining connection, and I also want to encourage others to turn to the arts right now when it’s so hard for us to stay connected now that, of course, the pandemic is still persistent and so is social distancing.
Tell us about your exhibition on display in the NC Arts incubator right now.
It’s a new series of paintings that I’ve created, and the idea is not only to rethink, or celebrate, Latinidad and our strengths as people, but people will see a group of over nine paintings where they will be able to look at the symbolism of what it means to be resilient in times of struggle. One of the symbols I use in this exhibit is a cacti, or cacti. We can learn a lot about what it means to simply survive and thrive by examining and examining how cacti survive in very inhospitable environments, such as the desert. It will be an invitation for people to reflect on how we can be more fair to Hispanics, Latinxes, during these times, when they are disproportionately affected. It will also be a conversation starter. It’s one of those things that I really love about art – that people can use it to start conversations that will get them thinking about solutions, or just a collaboration between various groups of people.
This is your first personal exhibition. What does this mean to you and why is it an important milestone for you?
For about three years, in 2018, I started submitting many individual paintings to different exhibitions and been part of larger exhibitions on similar themes. For me as an emerging artist right now looking to be a professional artist after this is one of those signs that people are interested in what I do and are also inspired by the work that I create. Doing a solo show means that I can create more of my work and focus more on what I’m doing, and … that I have the freedom to really focus on a subject. So far, I haven’t found any exhibitions this year that really talk about the themes I wanted to talk about, which are the ones I described. And for me, having this autonomy to run the gallery space during these weeks as well, says a lot about the interest people have in my work.
What is the most significant work of art you have produced?
Oh my God. It is quite difficult to say which was the most important. It’s called “The Hope Butterfly”, which I also started in 2020, and it’s one of the most important because I used art for a purpose … I want art speak. I want artwork to be a springboard for conversation, and this ‘Butterfly of Hope’ that I started was that perfect example that I think has marked an important part of my career where I have started to merge my love for artwork and activism. I’ve always been very concerned with the way society looks at artists – just creating, you know, pretty, beautiful things. I’m not against it, but I wanted to go further and use the artwork to improve the opportunities; I wanted to use it for the well-being (of others). In 2020, I started to think about using classes to allow people to make sense of what was going on, to distract them a bit from the isolation. I was invited to be part of the program through the Diamante Cultural Arts Center. It was one of those times where I noticed that I could use artwork for this purpose and give people hope for what the future will hopefully bring. This is also part of the exhibition. I will say this one is one of the most important of these two years.
Speaking of painting lessons, what’s your Xochipilli painting project?
The Xochipilli painting project is inspired by the ancient Aztec deity of the arts. It actually came from the Hope Butterfly course I gave in 2020, and this project is funded by the Durham Arts Council. I was really interested in going beyond what works of art can do in terms of decoration, and I applied for this grant to give free bilingual acrylic lessons to community members in Durham and the Triangle. It is open to everyone, regardless of age or ethnicity. It will be bilingual – in English and Spanish. It’s a space for us to spend time together, build community and have a great time. It’s a great place to relax and it’s inviting for anyone who wants to use works of art to learn more about the culture or language and make sense of what’s going on these days. It’s every two weeks. It started in August; it will end in December. So far, I have had around 20 to 30 students per class. In fact, (September 18th) I also taught my third class, where it’s an open space for us to use artwork in this nature.
It’s virtual. It is open to everyone, and everyone is welcome to register. I have a lot of posts on social media, where people can just send me a DM, and I’ll be happy to let them in. (You can contact Antonio Alanís at [email protected] or on Facebook at @AntonioAlanisArt.)
If people could only take one message from your exhibit, what would you want it to be?
I want to use these pieces to focus on our strengths as individuals who have accomplished so much in recent months, but I also want to inspire people to see the arts as a way to face, imagine and connect. For me right now the arts have been great in keeping me centered and grounded as well, so I also encourage everyone to really look at what makes them centered and grounded or happy. I’m just a voice that used art. It has worked for me, and I want other people to do the same – to be curious about what allows them to find the stability they may be looking for right now.
So what advice would you give to all the budding artists in Chatham County and beyond?
My advice to everyone – I always say this – is to pursue whatever you want in the arts, even if you don’t feel like your job is the best. There is some judgment in the artistic community, from what I’ve seen. As long as you feel happy doing what you’d love to do – draw, paint – you might not be the Michelangelo you want to be, but if it gives you a fulfilling life, do it. Have fun. It’s all that matters.
Anything else you would like the community to know?
I really want to thank the Durham Art Guild, who made this work possible. I did a mini-residency at the beginning of 2021, and thanks to them, I can exhibit this work. They gave me space … and I produced this work from the start. I really want to express my gratitude to El Vínculo Hispano, Ilana Dubester and then to NC Arts Incubator, Michael Feezor, who invited me to be part of this exhibition.