Published May 24th, 2023 by Cynthia Maya
The multidisciplinary artist talks about family, Latine motherhood, and nostalgia in her solo exhibition 'Life-Long Brats' at The Pink Slip, with a closing reception May 27
Let’s all agree that aging is wonderful and weird. As Sandra Cisneros once put it, “growing up is like an onion or the rings inside a tree trunk or like my wooden dolls that fit one inside the other.” In Alondra M. Garza’s new solo show Life-Long Brats, the artist presents a display for her and her sister's younger selves and the childhood they hold inside themselves as they interact with their new generation. Garza was born on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande Valley borderlands of Mexico and Texas and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen, creating interdisciplinary work "about being border-raised with double nationality, identities, languages, and races." Through honoring her sister’s non-traditional path into motherhood in this exhibition, Garza holds a light to the freedom of choice, the intergenerational strength and glamor that runs through her family, and the memories her childhood room holds of growing up as a brat. And staying one.
Walk-In Closet Of Memories, 2023. Digital collages on silk fabric, hula hoop, cloth hangers, fishing wire, and rhinestones on the wall.
Cynthia Maya: Let’s get into Life-Long Brats, starting with the title. Where did that come from?
Alondra Garza: It came from thinking back to the 2000s and our childhood. When my sister and I were kids we loved the Bratz dolls and the word “brats” is about being a diva and a rebel and associated with kids in a way. My sister and I were, are, and always will be divas and we’re very extra people. We like the glitz and glam, and that’s kind of common in our culture but it depends on people’s personalities.
CM: I loved the Bratz when I was younger.
AG: Yes! They had a passion for fashion and they were very different from the Barbies. Bratz were more modern. Barbies were a little more innocent, and the Bratz were one of the first dolls that were something other than blonde hair, blue eyed.
CM: Definitely, I was gonna get into that, how it's one of the first times you see yourself in the things that you play with. Can you walk me through the exhibit? What will people be able to see?
AG: I wanted to do this show to honor my sister and the fact that I rarely see photographs of Latina or Mexican-American motherhood.
The idea started with that, wanting to have more representation. My artist statement focuses on family and about the border and all these things so I wanted to get even more specific, a little more feminist on how womanhood and motherhood are viewed. Here in the U.S. people think of Latinas as sexy but the Mexican small towns where we’re from it’s the opposite. They’re very conservative about this stuff. They’re very traditional.
It also focuses on the rebellion that I admire about my sister. She was always more rebellious than me, she never cared what people think. She still lives in that conservative area and she’s a mom and she didn’t want to get married, which is very unusual for that area. And still kind of unusual here. There’s also this whole story about how her first baby is a miracle. It’s a long story but she decided to keep the baby. And it was a miracle baby.
CM: Tell me more about that. I'd love to hear the whole long story.
AG: A doctor had told my sister that she had a condition that made it very unlikely for her to get pregnant. So she was with her partner for years and she got pregnant. It took her by surprise like, ‘Oh, I didn't really plan this and also I thought this wouldn't happen to me ever.’ She was still young but she decided to keep the baby since she didn’t know if she was going to have another baby again. It was transformative at first because she was always rebellious and very into herself and living her life. Then she was a mom and she never changed that about herself. She’s still her; super diva, extra but now she has a baby. Or two now. And I wanted to honor my deep admiration because she’s also my little sister. I'm the older sister.
Soft Girl Vibes, 2023. Acrylic, jewerly, fur, flowers, plastic objects, grommets, glitter, and resin on canvas, 36 x 24".
CM: What’s it like where you’re from in Mexico?
AG: My siblings and I were born in a small town in Mexico next to the border, so U.S. culture is kind of embedded in the culture of that area. Of course, not everybody can cross but we were lucky enough to cross. We became citizens when we were teenagers through my mom’s dad, my grandpa, who was a Tejano that had gone back to Mexico because he didn’t like the discrimination. He wanted to see if he could make his grandkids citizens so we could choose wherever we want to live, if we wanted to go and have the American dream, we could choose that. [My sister] is still there. She’s still there with my family. They still live in Mexico on the border and they cross every day for work and for school.
CM: Being from a small border town, what kind of ideas did your family project onto you and your sister growing up?
AG: It's a very traditional town not just because of religion but also because of how small it is. I don't know if you’re from a small town then you would know, but a lot of it is just because of ignorance. And it's not really their fault. And it’s our generation's turn to break those thoughts. We were raised to be very traditional, my mom was very traditional and strict. I had to be the perfect oldest daughter so I tried to do that but my sister didn’t care as much. She was always a little wild, she would still go out, she would still do her things while I had to be perfect all the time.
CM: How did they feel about you moving away and becoming an artist and having a non-traditional life?
AG: I always told my family that I wanted to be an artist so when I was a kid, they were supportive. But as I grew up, they were like, ‘Are you sure, maybe try being a teacher or art teacher.’ I did, but then I changed at the last minute and I got a BFA and then I came here to do my MFA at MCAD. I applied and I got in and my mom was like, ‘What do you mean you’re moving that far and you never even told me that this was your plan.’ She kind of had to accept it but every time she can bring it up, she’s like ‘When are you coming back?’
CM: You're more of a rebel than you think.
AG: Growing up I tried to be, when I was in my early 20s. And I was like, I’ve gotta start changing. I grew up a little manipulated. Like I already decided to just go for it. But it was sudden because they expected me to stay close by at the border still. They thought I’d be like one hour, two hours away.
CM: Yeah, culturally I know my parents didn't move out of their parents’ houses until they got married.
AG: Yes! Even when we were going to college in Texas it was very discouraged to move out for college. So I didn't really move out for college. I was 21 but I had moved in with one of my aunts. My sister never moved out for college; she was just going back and forth or doing online classes.
The princesses’ hair dye, 2023. Rhinestone drawing on wigs, 36 x 24".
CM: How is this exhibit different from your other works?
AG: Before I was super focused on my background, what it feels like to be from the border and being Mexican-American. Focusing on what it’s like to be bilingual, bicultural, and binational. The colors were a little darker. This is the first time everything is bright colors. I’ve never done that before.
There are more references to things that are normal in a woman's body. There are rhinestone nipples, and a rhinestone vulva, there’s pad packaging in my paintings and I had never done that before, and I don’t know if I would have done it if I was back home.
CM: So being away from that environment gave you opportunity and freedom to explore that?
AG: Yes. And it took a while too, I've been here for a while and there was a build-up of past photographs of my body and more low key things leading up to this and now this is the first time that I show up unapologetically. Also I’ve been very different with language, I tried to be a little more funny and more bratty in the artist statement but this is for women or people that are marginalized for their gender to not give a fuck what people say and just say whatever the fuck is on your mind unapologetically cause we are taught to be so quiet.
CM: The exhibit has a lot to do with the nostalgia & girlhood that you experienced with your sister as a child and also Latina motherhood & sexuality. Talk more about the contrast and connection to the two.
AG: Like I said, we’re sexualized in the American mind but over there, to talk about that is criticized. So I thought, how to contrast that sexiness with the truth that we were children once and we were sweet and we still are. Also, an interesting thing that I discovered — and I’m not a mom, I’m a tia, an aunt — but seeing the babies grow up, even though they’re still very young, it brings back a lot of your own childhood.
I hope that came through. That’s why I added pictures contrasting when we were kids living there and now the babies are there and it’s still the same house, it’s my moms house. My sister and I have talked about that dual life. It really brings you back and helps you celebrate the lenses of your parents.
I wanted to bring that nostalgia into the show. One way to recreate that was our room, where we grew up, and the beds are distinctive. One of the beds is for a girl and the other one is for a teenager. At some point my sister was still a kid and I was already a teenager.
Bratty girls, Bratty teenagers, Bratty 4 ever & ever, 2023. Multimedia room installation, a recreation of things the artist Alondra & her sister Andrea grew up with.
CM: You talked about twinning and all of that; did you and your sister share a room?
AG: Yeah we shared a room and we had twin beds through our teenage years. In one of the pictures you can see the beds, they look the same with butterflies. At first that was because of my mom. She would control it more but when we were older, I still liked it. Even as older kids we were still twinning. I remember one year I was like, ‘I want to dress differently now.’ I have this very vivid memory of my sister being sad as a kid like, ‘Why don’t you wanna dress up like me anymore?’
CM: Going along with that, how did you handle the selfishness of youth with all of the sharing that comes with having a sister? Like twinning and sharing your own space and still wanting to be your own person.
AG: [Laughs] That’s a good question. Obviously, in movies you see people having their own room, when I was getting to be a preteen I started to want my own room. I asked my parents and they were like, ‘That can’t happen, we can’t afford it, we can’t make you another room.’ I asked over and over again but at some point I just got over it.
CM: How long did you share a room with her? How old were you?
AG: I moved out when I was twenty, so seventeen years.
I think you just kind of learn to be in your own world. We’d be using our earphones and doing our own thing. She was there and it didn't matter to me, like, I trust you completely, I’m not ashamed of anything. I don’t care that you’re here, it’s almost as if I was alone.
CM: That shows the depth of your relationship.
AG: I actually hadn't thought of that but that's a great point. And she has her two boys so she starts to dress them up the same and they share a room with her but maybe they’ll share their room for a while.
CM: That goes back to what you said about your mom because when I saw the exhibit it felt very much like an intergenerational thing: You and your sister and your nephews. And then you mentioned your mom.
AG: It’s very lowkey, because I tried to keep it just to me and my sister but it’s because of my mom dressing us up the same. She was obsessed with decorating so she would be the one making the decisions and that’s how she showed us her love. My sister and I are definitely very glam and extra because of my mom and if you wanna go further back, my grandma was very extra. We get that from my mom’s side of the family.
There are some pictures that my dad is in. In the way that it feels generational with family, my dad passed away when I was 19, my sister was 16, and my baby brother was 7. It feels like a different story sometimes when I think about our lives. When people think about the ideal family, we were, and then my mom was a widow. She had to keep moving forward, keep the family together and work harder to provide for us. So my mom was also a non-traditional mother; a widow and single mother. That’s also why my sister is very strong in thinking that no one can tell her to follow this traditional path.
CM: What can we look forward to for the closing?
AG: There’s going to be some food and drinks. People are still invited to participate in taking selfies in a makeover and paint the walls. I’m going to give a prize for best dressed. I want people to be who they want to be. Maybe you always wanted to look like you don’t care. If you feel comfortable with how you look on the outside, it helps how you feel on the inside. ◼︎
Life-Long Brats is on view at The Pink Slip through May 28 with a closing reception May 27, 6 – 9pm.
All images courtesy of the artist.
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