Photographs by Robbie Rodgers

Friday’s opening reception at the Guadalupe Cultural Art Center invited San Antonio to meet the six finalists of 2016’s Artist Lab and their work. The program gives its participants not only space and exposure to community, but is geared towards developing the artists through networking, business training, professional critique, and creative education. Selected for Artist Lab’s third year, sponsored by the Surdna Foundation, were Lisette Chavez, Raul Gonzalez, Sarah Fox, Jose Villalobos, Andrei Renteria, and Kristel Orta-Puente. The six exhibits below will be on display at the Chavez Project Space through February 3, 2017.

Kristel Orta-Puente: Chola

Puente’s ever-expanding palette of mediums explores issues of civil rights, gender, and cultural appropriation. Her project, Chola, simulates a fashion-label centered around its namesake, for which she crafted and curated clothing, jewelry, photography, and produced even a runway video in collaboration with Ryan Humphries. The logo emulates that of eminent Chanel brand; it was chosen, Puente says, for the qualities of Coco Chanel, whom she sees as a strong woman figure. She envisions the Casa de Chola label representing the qualities of strength, self-sufficiency, and scrappiness of Chola culture, which she reflects in the pieces.

Raul Gonzalez: Work These Days

The two series of work that comprise Work These Days appeared earlier this year at Centro de Artes’ SATX/MX show, a gallery that highlighted cultural exchange between San Antonio and Mexico, and explore themes of the working class and Mexican-American labor in Texas. WhataMachines is a growing collection of prints that combine hand-painted construction machines with the shape of Texas and motifs of the Whataburger brand. For Pieces of the City, Gonzalez collected concrete fragments from actual construction sites and painted scenes of construction and daily labor over them. One of his favorites on display was dropped, broken, and glued back together, he admitted. But even that accident adds an extra dimension to the art, mirroring the fate of all construction.

Jose Villalobos: De La Misma Piel

Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Villalobos had a difficult time coming out in his early twenties. De La Mismo Piel relates the struggles of being an openly gay man within the machismo and orthodoxy of border culture through a series of belts. Upon each, a homophobic epithet is embossed into the leather. The belts not only embody “traditional ‘masculine’ objects and idols glorified by most Mexican and Hispanic men,” but there is also an appreciable parallel between belts and slurs as instruments of punishment.

Lisette Chavez: Cafeteria Catholic

“A Cafeteria Catholic is an individual who selects which faith or moral teachings best suit their lifestyle at a given time,” Chavez’ introduction reads. Cafeteria Catholic is a series of vignettes obscured by bridal veils. As a child, Chavez’ conservative, Catholic mother hid her artwork behind bath towels because they ‘scared’ her. The white veils are symbolic of purity and hide her “shameful thoughts,” depicted in the vignettes as struggles between good and evil.

Sarah Fox: Lick and Nuzzle

Lick and Nuzzle is an imposing sculpture of wax, rocks, hair, and animal teeth that “palpates and questions a woman’s desire to have a child,” and to a further extent, embodies a failed pregnancy. The hybridization of the fawn represents the genetic mutations and lost potential of the unviable child. Many of the rocks used for “fawn spots” bear an uncanny, perhaps unintentional, resemblance to teratoma – linking an even more unsettling image with implications of failed reproduction.

Andrei Renteria: En La Boca Del Diablo

Renteria’s entry is a room-spanning diorama that captures themes of colonialism, exploitation, and the socio-economic realities of the US-Mexico border. En La Boca Del Diablo is “inspired by the mountain ranges on each side of the Rio Grande,” and feels more like a martian landscape. Among the crushed pottery and rock structures littering the ground are animal teeth, pages torn from a devotional prayer book, and metal, volleyball-like objects that resemble the segmented plates from a Roman lorica – a possible allusion to imperialism.

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