Art as Joy, Art as Resistance: Interview with Artist Patrick Gabaldon

Born and raised in the border city of El Paso Texas, Artist Patrick Gabaldon creates pieces of work that highlight the beauty of the Chihuahuan desert. Gabaldon began painting in 2012, and with both sides of his family being Mexican-American he grew up in a home rich with tradition and culture. With each new piece, he looks for inspiration everywhere and constantly seeks to bring joy through color. Through vivid images of the borderland, he invokes this joy and pride of culture and uses his medium as a means of resistance.

The following is our email conversation about his work, inspiration, and thoughts on the role of art as resistance.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?
If you look through my past works and current work you will see that my voice has changed a bit but always comes back to color. The world can be so dark…I use my work to help combat the darkness in my life and in the lives of others.

There have been a few pieces where there are definite messages. Certain pieces represent and are a response to the world around me here in the border. After experiencing the constant bigoted hate speech from the President I felt compelled to create. His administration still continues to paint our diverse community and all communities of color with this broad hateful brush. All the trash coming out of his mouth (and still….) made it clear to me that we must all stand against this misinformed bigotry.  

“Señora Libertad.”

The night of the election I felt compelled to create and put pen to paper. Over the next few days, I worked constantly on a new piece that represents immigrant pride, cultural pride, and personal pride. The piece also represents the strength and bravery it takes for many Americans and individuals to simply be who they are. I was trying to communicate that sometimes being yourself is a protest. The piece is titled Senora Libertad and depicts a Folklorico dancer draped in a gown inspired by the Statue of Liberty and the pride flag. Her lamp in hand and crown depict a proud Lady Liberty welcoming all no matter the color of their skin or the country they are fleeing. She remains one of my favorite pieces.

Recently I created a sister piece to Senora Libertad. It doesn’t have a title yet but represents the anger and shame I feel surrounding the message of hate promoted by the current President. This piece is of a Pinata swinging above a pitchfork. To me the message is clear. Constantly the immigrant and Hispanic community are being scapegoated. The pitchfork represents the vitriol and hate aimed at the border community and immigrant. The piece also speaks to cultural appropriation of Mexican-American tradition. Popular culture loves tacos, sombreros, and pinatas but shuns the people who created and celebrate these things. And what is inside the pinata? Love, family, and goodies. The Immigrant is all of these things! Often families save so long to celebrate life’s milestones with pinatas. We are like these pinatas. We bring so much to the table and can create so much goodness.

What do the borderlands mean and represent to you?

The border represents everything. It is a physical manifestation of life’s great contradictions. The spirit of the border and its people flow back and forth every day in a way that can only be described as a slow dance. Each side has quirks and habits of the other, making the borderland some strange amalgamation of the two places. It is something one can only experience on the border. The border is rough and unforgiving. It is also filled with life and acceptance. It is a place like no other and I proudly call it my home. These contradictions are amazing and complex. Maybe that’s the word I’m really searching for… complexity.

“I am most inspired by the toughness and resiliency of the border and its people.

What role do you see artists having in society?

Artists and their work have an immense role. They help show the community that there is value in creative expression and free thinking. Their work is a mirror that helps us see our own complexities and contradictions. I also believe that as funding for the arts and afterschool programs get cut, artists will have more responsibility to make their work more accessible to affected communities.

What role do you see art playing in activism and political work?

Art has always had a role in political and social activism and will continue to be a cornerstone of activism around the globe. Often times we can’t find the words to describe how we feel. Sometimes our intentions and frustrations are best communicated through art.

You don’t have to look far to notice great art in activism. This year’s Women’s March was a great example of activism and art moving a message forward together. Whole articles were written focusing solely on the artwork created for the March and all of the globe artists are challenging cultural norms and the status quo through expressive artwork.

What does it mean to you to be a Latino artist in Texas?

It means so many things.

It means that I have an extra responsibility to represent our community in everything I do.

It means that my work will always speak to my cultural upbringing and heritage.

It means that I am one of many. There are so many talented Latino artists here in the state that often get overlooked or devalued because of their latino-ness or because they create on walls instead of in galleries. I am lucky because I call the border my home and because the city of El Paso does so much to support and grow local art.

Being a Latino artist in Texas is no different than being a Latino teacher or a Latino Judge or a Latino politician in Texas. It means that we represent so much more than the profession we choose and the job we do. I believe that this is the case for all people of color. Latinos are no exception. It also means that we have a duty to reach back and help others in our communities through art. Whether it’s donating time or art, Latino artists owe a debt to the forgotten and overlooked talents in Latino and Chicano art. Latino artists should take ownership and pride in our heritage and support one another.

          

What role do you see your art playing in light of the current political administration, both in Texas and nationally?

 I know that I can’t be the only Texan frustrated and disappointed in State and National politics. I only wish that my art can bring joy in those times of frustration and embolden others to take pride in their culture and heritage. Maybe my colorful pieces can inspire other Latino voices in Texas to be bold and proud in the face of adversity.

What is your dream project?

I’d love to have a mural here in El Paso or in my second home of San Antonio. I’ve often thought it would be amazing to have my own studio gallery space where I can work and share my love of color with others. The largest piece I’ve ever done was only 5 ft by 10 ft and I’d love to try something much much bigger.

Find more of Patrick Gabaldon’s work:

Facebook or Instagram

Stay tuned for more Artists profiles & interviews in this Summer of Resistance. If you are an artist & would like to create Resistance Art against SB4, Visit the Basta Texas web page and use the resistance art feature to submit your own creative acts of protest.

Sound Portrait of Daniela Rojas

Jolt is making a podcast to highlight the incredible activism in our community.  Listen to this preview, featuring our amazing Organizer Daniela Rojas as she talks about what inspires her to resist.

This is just the beginning! If you like what you heard, stay tuned for much more to come from the Jolt Podcast later this summer.

 

Music: The Big Ten and Home, Home At Last by Blue Dot Sessions

Calling On All Artists in the Fight Against SB4

Last Tuesday, 25 artists came together at Cheer Up Charlie’s Bar to brainstorm how to resist SB4 through creativity and artistic expression. The Artist Happy Hour event was part of Basta Texas, a joint campaign between Jolt and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network that seeks to fight against the racist SB4 law before it goes into effect on September 1, 2017. Through Basta Texas, we’ve been resisting hate through community organizing, educating people about their rights, and engaging with politics.

Alto Arizona Poster by Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena

But we need art and culture to breathe life into this movement. After all, resistance isn’t just about policy: in order to create real change, we need to move people emotionally. “Resistance art is a creative force that tells a powerful story of struggle, triumph and inspiration,” said filmmaker Chelsea Hernández, one of the event’s hosts. “It’s a unique and accessible way to send a message to the masses, highlighting the effects of social injustice or political turmoil. Today, resistance art can do even more than what it has done in the past. This type of art can cross the aisle of the political divide, sharing stories with communities that may not be aware of the individual struggles in this country.”

Indeed, artistic expression generated huge momentum for Alto Arizona, the campaign that brought an end to Arizona’s SB1070 “Show-Me-Your-Papers” law. The success of Alto Arizona— along with the countless other historical examples of art galvanizing resistance– inspired us to create community and power through protest art with the Artist Happy Hour.

“When I take photos I am very aware of the kind of images that I am creating. It’s the photos of people coming together, holding hands and sharing that I want to capture. That’s what I want to do with my medium: to say ‘this is important. This isn’t a joke. This affects my family.'” -Leandra Blei, Photographer

To kick off the event, we heard from Jolt Director Cristina Tzintzún and the event’s four hosts — musician Gina Chavez, visual artist Claudia Aparicio-Gamundi, filmmaker Chelsea Hernandez and photographer Leandra Blei — on why we need creativity to fight back against racism and hate.

Chelsea Hernández, Gina Chávez and Claudia Aparicio Gamundi address the crowd

The artists then broke up by medium to brainstorm ways to uplift stories of resistance around SB4. When the entire group reconvened, incredible ideas emerged, from a collaborative exhibit showcasing images of protest to a mobile storytelling unit that chronicles the everyday fight against the racist law.

“Resistance means not giving up. It means standing up: not only for you but also for those around you that might not be able to.” – Claudio Aparicio Gamundi, Visual Artist

Leandra Blei leads the group of visual artists in a brainstorming session

The Artist Happy Hour created incredible momentum thanks to the innovation of the artists who came; stay tuned for the projects that will emerge. But this was just the beginning.

Now, we need you to join us in the fight against SB4 by speaking out through your art. Visit the Basta Texas webpage and use the resistance art feature to submit your own creative acts of protest.

Together, we can give voice and power to this movement.

 

100 Days of Resistance and Counting

In response to President Trump’s first 100 days in office, three media groups — Fusion, Firelight Media and Field of Vision — partnered to kick off a series of resistance films. The project, “Our 100 Days,” release short films on a weekly basis depicting some of the many struggles faced by marginalized communities.

Each installment documents the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency from the perspective of communities most at risk by his policies —immigrants, Muslim Americans, transgender men and women. In providing alternative perspectives through film, “Our 100 Days” is a valuable resource for broadening the scope of public discussion, especially as media outlets have become saturated with nationalist rhetoric and generalizations.

As new discriminatory legislation continues to be passed, “Our 100 Days” is keeping pace by releasing timely content. So far, films have touched on Trump’s anti-union and anti-Muslim political agenda, with filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo depicting workers’ strikes in New York just days before inauguration, as well as Sofia Khan and Nausheen Dadabhoy documenting the Council on American Islamic Relation in the wake of the Muslim Travel Ban.

From the Field of Vision Website:

“Our 100 Days aims to tell stories from the perspective of vulnerable communities and explore threats to U.S. democracy in this current, polarized political climate.”

On June 1, Austin filmmakers Chelsea Hernandez and Iliana Sosa joined “Our 100 Days”, releasing: “An Uncertain Future.” The short documentary follows two Latinas preparing for motherhood as the anti-immigrant campaign promises of Donald Trump become painfully manifest. Both mothers — Ruth Guzman and Cristina Tzintzún — are fearful that their families will be torn apart by the Trump administration’s escalation of raids, detentions, and deportations.

“We’ll all be in danger of being deported at any moment.” – Ruth Guzman

Following the online release of “An Uncertain Future,” Latinx Spaces and Jolt hosted a public screening of the film, along with live music by Austin musician Carrie Rodriguez and an impressive panel discussion on the Trump Administration’s impact on the Latino community. The panel, made up of “badass mujeres,” included: Cristina Tzintzún, founder and Executive Director of Jolt; Ruth Guzman, member of Immigrants United; Martha Cotera, longtime civil rights activist; and Lori Gallegos, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Texas State University.

Carrie Rodriguez performing at Atmosphere Coworking

Covering many issues facing Latino communities, the speakers primarily focused on the circumstances that enable hateful legislation such as SB4, the systematic disenfranchisement of Latinos across the state, and the different ways that individuals can band together and create power.

Panelists (Left to Right): Nancy Flores, Lori Gallegos, Ruth Guzman, Cristina Tzintzún, Marta Coteras

Lori Gallegos, panelist and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Texas State University, highlighted the problematic “criminalization” of Latinos while speaking on the political rhetoric surrounding immigration:

“There is a general ideology that moral rights are grounded in a very specific legal and political membership in a particular national community…That conception of moral claims already excludes undocumented immigrants… [The United States] is really tied to this conception and that’s a real problem.”

By “criminalizing” Latinos, politicians have found a way to normalize hateful legislation like SB4 under the premise of “safety.” This is accomplished by the use of terms such as “illegal,” which immediately exclude undocumented people from membership in a “national community” by creating a rift between “legal” and “illegal” in which the “legal” receive protection from the “dangerous” outsiders. An ironic result, as Texas was once part of Mexico and is still home to indigenous peoples—a historical reality that legislators who continue to support SB4 seem to have forgotten.

In response to the discussion on criminalization, Cristina Tzintzún added:

“We are a country that very much believes in the rule of law, except we don’t understand how those laws are created…and they’re created out of fiction sometimes.”

The screening and panel came just days before ICE director Thomas Homan made the government’s extreme anti-immigrant sentiment

ICE Director Thomas Homan

very clear in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security. Homan defended the targeting of nonviolent and previously low-priority undocumented immigrants, insisting: “We shouldn’t wait for them to become a criminal.” This is unfortunately a perfect example of the criminalization of Latinos, as Homan’s statement implies that undocumented immigrants — including DREAMers — are just waiting to commit crimes.

Despite these efforts to subordinate the Latino community, people across the state of Texas are mobilizing to build power in threatened populations. Most recently, Jolt, in partnership with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and Univision 62, organized a community

Salvador Sarmiento, NDLON Campaign Director, speaks at Town Hall.

town hall in Austin on Saturday, June 17, to inform the public of their rights under SB4. As a part of #BastaTexas — a summer long campaign to end SB4 — the town hall is one step of many to spread awareness of this dangerous legislation that encourages racial profiling and threatens to tear apart countless families. Jolt plans to continue the fight against SB4 through September 2, the day after SB4 is slated to go into effect. Our #SummerOfResistance will culminate in a state-wide strike on September 1st, followed by a day of non-compliance on September 2, which will include music and festivities on the lawn of the Capitol.

Community members attend Town Hall against SB4

The first 100 days of the Trump Administration were just the beginning of our resistance. Sign up here to join the movement.

 

 

The Latino Comedy Project is…Gentrif*cked

The Latino Comedy Project (LCP), a local comedy troupe, earned praise after their 20th anniversary reunion performance this past fall at the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. The group debuted their current show, “Gentrif*cked,” at home in Austin before heading out to the West Coast, where they were met with applause at the San Francisco Sketchfest. Building on this momentum, the LCP took “Gentrif*cked” to the San Francisco Mission District, putting on four sold-out shows in the notoriously gentrified neighborhood.

Adrian Villegas, founding member of the Latino Comedy Project, had this to say on the success of the group’s new show: “People were responding to what the show was about…We got stories from people who live there in the Mission District, saying ‘you’re telling our story.’ Although everything in the show was written based on what we’re observing in Austin…it connected with these people on the West Coast, and in an emotional way.”

Born at the University of Texas in the late 90’s, the LCP has witnessed the explosion of Austin, as well as the unfortunate social issues that tend to come with immense population growth, such as gentrification. But Austin is not unfamiliar with gentrification, as developers have slowly been expanding East for years and in doing so, eradicate years of Latino heritage. The “[development] is concerning because it’s ramping up,” says Villegas, as the city is “welcoming the top bracket” and systematically forcing minorities out of their land. East Austin, while one of the most heavily gentrified areas in the city, is still Austin’s main artistic hub, and resistance art such as the mural below by Raul Valdez will continue to be created in the face of developers. “Gentrif*cked” is a new addition to this long tradition of artistic resistance.


“I don’t know how you can look at [gentrification] and say it’s good for a city…to me that’s like the antithesis of human.”

The LCP has regularly strived to stay ahead of the curve with regard to their content, from early joke that questioned the Iraq invasion in 2003 to their newest show on gentrification. “That’s always what we’ve done…[tried] to be the other voice,” according to Villegas — a voice that undoubtedly needs to be heard, as a response and alternative, despite the fact that popular media consistently tries to drown it out.

After taking a break from performing, the LCP had to decide what they wanted the focus of their reunion show to be — a series of the group’s “greatest hits” or an entirely different direction with new content. The group ultimately wanted to seize the opportunity to make the reunion “more than just another sketch show,” and decided to use their art as a platform to discuss the serious problems facing their own neighborhoods. Choosing to focus on the widespread and visible problems of gentrification in Austin, the LCP is making a statement that citizens will not allow years of culture and history to be forcibly turned over for profit.

The end result: “It’s just as funny as any of the other shows we’ve done, the laughs just come from different places…not [only] the big, bold, over-the-top comedy, but it also comes from moments of human recognition and discomfort…there are really a lot of layers to the show.”

A huge part of “Gentrif*cked” that Villegas emphasized was that it is a show that not only highlights some big problems with gentrification in an innovative way, but also tries “to motivate people to actually get involved in what’s happening to our community.” Villegas noted that he “is starting to envision the show as an organizing tool” as well, adding that “the intersection between art and activism is key.” He is confident that “the art is kind of empty if you’re not enacting some change out of it,” so at each show, the LCP plans to include a call to action in which, after highlighting key issues throughout the performance, the group can then point the audience members in the direction of organizations that are facilitating meaningful change. By partnering with activist organizations such as Jolt, the LCP is hoping to send a powerful message to the entire state of Texas, against not only gentrification, but all racist policies or laws that are unfairly put into place.

By using “Gentrif*cked” as a means to mobilize people, the LCP is taking important steps to get viewers involved. After watching the absurdity of the real situations that people face everyday, audience members will hopefully take it upon themselves to join with Jolt and other organizations in an effort to make lasting and meaningful adjustments in their own communities — from educating the public on the unconstitutional and hateful SB4 to registering neighbors to vote.

“Gentrif*cked” will be live June 9–10 at the Spiderhouse Ballroom, and representatives from Jolt are excited to be present at the June 10 showings to get the audience involved in the fight. We are looking forward to a great show that elaborates on “Gentrification Explained,” an LCP sketch video that Adrian has referred to as the “thesis of Gentrif*cked.” Check it out below: