Growing up, Ángel Castelán, a gay Latinx artist, always wished that there were more queer artists represented in the exhibitions he visited. Now he’s getting the chance to be one of those artists through his appearance in the Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH)’s new exhibition Withstand: Latinx Art in Times of Conflict.
The juried show also features works by several other local LGBTQ artists. Open through October 17, the exhibition explores themes of social justice, human rights, the U.S. border situation, queer experience, women’s issues, and more.
Gabriela Magana, co-curator of the exhibition, says Withstand will promote a better understanding of the Latinx community’s strengths and struggles. “The show is very important as a platform for discussing different aspects of the Latinx and LGBTQ community experience.”
Rosa Ana Orlando, who co-curated the show, agrees and adds, “The main idea of the exhibition was to be inclusive to all, and have everybody’s voice be heard.”
Withstand consists of around 100 works by local Latinx artists. Those belonging to the LGBTQ community include Isaac Reyes, Moe Penders, Wood Fancher Anthony, Jacq Garcia, and others.
As visitors approach the Museum’s Mincberg Gallery and Spira Central Gallery, they’ll first come across artist Wood Fancher Anthony’s oil painting titled The People of Mexico. The work features skeletons in charro suits, a symbol of Mexican culture, standing alongside the living. The painting also includes a religious figure on one end and a devil on the other. His art captures how violence and struggle will often coexist with celebration and hope in Mexico.
Anthony, a gay Mexican American artist, hopes audiences realize how essential the element of hope is in his works and in the lives of Latinx people. “It’s a powerful show, and it explores the human condition in multiple ways. I hope that viewers can identify with these struggles.”
His second piece, My Nights, an oil painting of an anguished donkey being stabbed by little red devils as it rears its legs beside a church, captures his anxiety over living in the United States during the past few years. The painting also expresses his desire for change.
“In today’s political and social climate, we are all anxious and stressed,” he writes in an artist statement. “We all want and need positive change. Confronted with a feeling of being powerless and broken, the only thing many of us have is hope.”
Other sections of the exhibition deal with environmental issues, the pandemic quarantine experience, the power of performing in drag, LGBTQ love, and more.
Visitors can see Castelán’s artwork in the queer section such as his relief print titled The Talk. The piece and his artist statement capture the moment he came out to his father on Easter Sunday.
After Castelán told his father he was gay, the two sat in silence for over an hour before Castelán left to give his father time to process. The two did not speak for over a month, but then his father texted him, asking, “Cuando vas a venir a verme?” or “When are you coming to see me?” When Castelán returned, his father assured him that he would always have a place in the family home.
The empty space and unoccupied chairs in his relief print symbolizes the isolation he felt during those two hours of silence. His decision to recreate the moment in black and white illustrates how memories can fade over time.
Castelán hopes his art helps others. “Hopefully my work helps someone struggling to come out through the sharing of my experience or even my approach to the work.”
Jacq Garcia, a queer Latinx artist who uses they/them pronouns, has a series of small self-portraits on display. Each one zooms in on Garcia’s acne, large pores, wrinkles, and double chin. The portrait series challenges viewers to rethink Euro-centric beauty standards and celebrate gender-nonconformity.
“Beauty is subjective, and unfortunately we do have standards of beauty that impact people incredibly hard,” says Garcia, who was shamed for not being a thin teenager with clear skin. “I think it’s important to emphasize different features and showcase that, so people can see those features, and they become more normalized.”
Exhibition visitors with smartphones can learn more about the featured art and artists by taking a picture of the QR code found in each label.
Orlando encourages people to access the QR codes and read the artists’ personal statements to better relate to the Latinx experience. “Some stories were incredibly moving to me. The artists were so generous and so open to sharing their own stories. It was a privilege and an honor to read their personal stories in that way.
“Art is what connects us as humans,” Orlando concludes. “I think art is very powerful in relaying messages and dealing with important themes that everybody can relate to in different ways. If you’re not an immigrant, the exhibit will open your eyes to what immigrants deal with.”
HMH is open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. HMH members and those ages 18 and under are admitted free, and adult tickets are $19 (except during free-admission hours, 2–5 p.m on Thursdays).
What: Withstand: Latinx Art in Times of Conflict
When: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. through October 17
Where: Houston Holocaust Museum