The Museum of Latin American Art invited artist Linda Vallejo to share her journey creating art that represents Latinx faces and experiences Friday on Zoom.
The MOLAA Zoom Project, according to Solimar Salas, vice president of Museum Content and Programming, is a series that features artists like Vallejo discussing a series of specific artwork to explore the ideas, inspiration and research behind the pieces.
Vallejo discussed her work with Gabriela Urtiaga, chief curator of MOLAA, including the “Make ‘Em All Mexican” series, a collection of 200 pieces found in antique malls and repurposed them into people of color. The idea behind it first began as a question in 2006 after spending years studying Latinx and Chicano art, as well as cultures from all over the world.
“If I were to make repurposed work, or appropriation…from my cultural point of view, I wonder what it would look like?” Vallejo said.
That question was answered when she spotted the children’s book series “Dick and Jane” and noticed how the illustrations of the children were all blonde-haired and blue-eyed.
The realization to paint these characters brown spurred future pieces in the “Make ‘Em All Mexican” series, where she took Greek gods and painted the skin brown or reimagined celebrities as people of color.
Vallejo received her master’s in printmaking at Long Beach State in 1978. She was born in Boyle Heights and said that she had a love for ancient cultures and traditional cultures.
“I found that the Mexicano community was my ancient culture, it was my traditional culture,” Vallejo said.
“The Brown Dot Project”came after the “Make ‘Em All Mexican” series, continuing with the idea of using the color brown and creating works of art that were reflective of the Latinx community. The idea, mixed with Vallejo’s desire to try her hand at minimalistic painting and incorporate data on the Latinx population, resulted in pictographs, a way of showing numbers or words by a symbol, made out of brown dots on gridded paper.
The project includes pictographs that reflect the Latinx population in Los Angeles, or the high rates of Latinx high school graduates.
“This is contrary to urban myths that we’re failing high school, that we’re uneducated workers, that we’re not essential, that we don’t have potential,” Vallejo said. “Yes we do. And our next potential is to go to college and to graduate from college and then once again, graduate from graduate school in higher degrees or to become salesmen or entrepreneurs, to work in the tech industry.”
Vallejo said that the projects she continues to do build upon themes and ideas from previous work, and that for the past 11 years, “brown ideas,” referring to her work that revolves around identity and representation, have not stopped.
“I have people crying and I have people telling heartfelt stories of the past,” Vallejo said. “I have people telling me very hard stories of race, hatred and prejudice. I have people telling stories about their youth and their upbringing, it just doesn’t seem to end. As an artist, you can’t force anything to end and you never should. If it’s coming, let it flow.”