“I make explicitly political art work and I consider my non-explicit artwork to be implicitly political”
Tracy Huerta’s body of work ranges from sculpture to community and social justice projects, all of it striking and poignant. In each piece, they grapple with political issues such as the border crisis and queerphobia through the lens of identity, representation, and self-presentation.
Huerta is one of 17 artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at Dorchester Art Project, Face Value: Art, Makeup & Identity, which places makeup in the framework of cultural, political, sexual, and gender identities. We spoke ahead of time about their art, influences, and upcoming projects.
Describe your work in three words.
Still, sharp, intimate.
Has the current political climate shaped your work?
The personal is political and the political is personal, especially for someone living in my identities. What is happening in the world lives in my artwork and is impressed into it; it alters me and it alters the work. Of course, the relationship to politics is not just me being bound by the world. I also enact resistance, resilience, and change within my spheres of influence. For me, the relationship between myself and the political universe feels omnipresent because I was born a racialized being and even before I developed skin in the womb I lived under the expectation that I would grow as a racialized being. I am not at all interested in the idea of detaching my work from politics. Instead I am investing in using art as a means to engage and express myself politically and emotionally. I make explicitly political art work and I consider my non-explicit artwork to be implicitly political. I’m of the mind that there is no apolitical art, no apolitical life.
How does your work grapple with the intersection of different identities as a queer nonbinary Latinx person of color?
When creating my artwork, sometimes a tension emerges in the choice between honoring my whole self vs parts of myself. There are so many multitudes and complexities packed into holding so many intersecting identities. It can feel difficult to convey them all at once. In these most recent works one or two identities are clear. Overarching through all three, there is a theme of the visible and the invisible.
Artistically, in two of the pieces I’ve blocked out part of a message presented from the world, pushing it into the background, while pulling my statements about immigration and gender forward. I’m making visible my interpretations of the world and revealing double consciousness with makeup. In the sculptural piece, a body with its multitudes is presented to be seen as touchable or untouchable, either visible or invisible in the lens of desire. It is, among other things, an exploration of how gender, race, and sexual orientation intersect with desirability politics in a cisexist, white supremacist, and queerphobic world.
You’ve spoken recently about activism, in the sense that you aim to show “a link between our capacity for activism alongside our capacity for creating ourselves through makeup.” What issues are currently important to you?
All anti-oppressive and liberating issues are important to me, but I concern myself mostly with black and brown liberation, queer and trans liberation, anticapitalist redistribution of resources, and global warming. The Black Lives Matter movement’s work around police violence and the movement to abolish ICE are two topics which are deeply pressing. In regards to the LGBTQIA community, it’s vital to put an end to the murder of black trans women and amplify their voices.
What are you currently working on?
A lot of the living that happens outside of making art and looking for the next art project to throw myself into. I’m in a good open place in my head for welcoming whatever’s next. While I’m in between projects I do a few small things until I come across a big idea or medium that I can’t get out of my head. Until then, I’m a bit of a magpie, collecting bits of concepts, images, and stories, talking to my amazingly creative and intelligent friends, watching films, reading articles, and taking it all in.
Which artists influence you?
Since I was small, Frida Kahlo has been an enormous influence. The first time I saw one of her pieces in person at the High Museum I cried. When I look into her works, it feels like a mirror or a memory. The way she expresses power, agony, and virility in such a stark, knowing, and relentless way is captivating. When I look into her self-portraits, no matter how pained or sorrowful, I don’t see fear in the eyes; instead it’s a weighty immovable sense of enduring that approaches the eternal. She also was one of the few artists I knew of who looked like me, which meant a lot to me growing up.
Along the vein of portraiture, Kehinde Wiley’s work is astonishing, exciting, and gives me a rush of energy. His paintings are breathtaking on all accounts: the brilliance of the color palette, the familiar yet iconic gesture of figures, and how he paints them realer than real. In his work I see the ideal is real, I feel that awe, it’s thrilling. I also deeply admire feminist artists like Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, and Tracy Emin, their focus, bravery, brilliance, and versatility. I don’t think of their work as “confessional” but daring statements about realities of the human condition.
Are you watching, reading, or listening to anything cool right now you’d recommend checking out?
I just started watching the second season of Pose with my QWOC besties. I recommend it to everyone and anyone, but particularly to queer and/or trans POC looking to see themselves on screen. I adored the graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. It’s suitable for both adults and younger people too; it’s an incredibly sweet and whimsical fairy tale about a prince who goes by Sebastian and Lady Crystallia. Also The Favourite was a phenomenal and intense story about love, power, and longing, with a boatload of queerness.
What should we look out for in the future? Any upcoming projects, exhibitions, or social media accounts you want to shoutout?
I just finished my first audio interview participating as a guest on the Materialist podcast, a project put together by my friends Sam Moberg and Mark Tang. I will be posting about it soon via Instagram when the episode drops. For updates on current projects and lots of self-portraits my Instagram is @inkaanki. For my portfolio and visual art exclusively my website is tracyhuerta.carbonmade.com. I do visual art, poetry, and social justice-oriented projects. This year, I’ll likely be around a couple more art shows, reading at open mics, marching at protests, helping paint banners, and being involved in some LGBTQIA community-focused work.
FACE VALUE: ART, MAKEUP & IDENTITY. AT DORCHESTER ART PROJECT, 1486 DORCHESTER AVE., BOSTON. 8.3–8.31.
Emily Bass is an independent curator and journalist whose work focuses on identity and presentation through the lenses of queerness and pop culture. Her writing has appeared in Art New England, Boston Hassle, Dig Boston, and WBUR’s The ARTery, and in 2019, she curated Face Value: Art, Makeup & Identity at Dorchester Art Project.