The Artist

...continued from Her Body Commands the Narrative

All I knew was I was breaking the Catholic law, at a Catholic University, with an upbringing that called to face the church steeple and genuflect when the bells rang. I was as a forced-out lesbiana, and the lifetime of shame inflicted on me by family, religion, and the cis-heteronormative world was powerful enough to make me believe I could be arrested, raped or even killed. I closed my eyes and tried to disappear. Without question, I called out to our lady of Guadalupe, and asked her to cover me with her mantel. She was the only woman I knew was magic. My stomach blew in and out, at the rate of my heart blasting in my throat, pinching into the flap of fat skin hanging over my metal jean button. Maybe I could have escaped weeks ago if I would have succeeded at suicide, I thought, after my mom told me she wouldn’t talk to me if I chose to be gay. Maybe I could escape if I jumped off the ledge. To get out of this one, I’d have to step out onto the white, cement parapet ledge wrapped around the towering renaissance style building, and risk falling. 

Through years of jumping into my artwork, I have cultivated the approach of escaping the homophobia in the world by building a world in my work where the freedom to exist as a queer, brown and sensual body, commands the narrative. I remain awake to the reality that homophobia, racism, colorism and sexism came in the form of disease to our bodies by colonizer. Because of this, I choose bravely to paint and write stories in and where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-binary people of color can become validated of their experience in the reflection of themselves in my art. 

I remember my first paintings at the age of seventeen. The figures were vague silhouettes, wrapped around each other in knots, some in fetal position as a call to my absent mother, some stretched out with limbs open, as a call to my closeted lesbian self, eager to be set free, others had hidden words between brush strokes, describing lust or grief. Each time I stare into the blank page or canvas, I’m reminded of the police lights, the dizziness pounding inside my head, the urgency for me to jump and tell the untold story. Every time, I create afraid the images I am going to paint or write will bring danger to me and my family, but also validation for ourselves, for the viewers and for the world. I also remember I have lived the last 25 years able to live openly as a lesbiana, chicana, queer, gender-fluid person, with violent opposition at times, but I have thrived.  I remember the feelings I felt back then, as a young queer person, told to leave my home, told I wasn’t wanted, told I was an “embarrassment” a “disgrace” to the family, told that my abuelita, my first love, would “drop dead” if she ever found out I was kissing a girl. The world I knew to be so loving, so safe, filled with frijoles and tortillas imploded into my heart and floated out into my body like a million little shards of glass, cutting me but growing scars of fresh skin over the wounds.

Today, each time I stare onto a blank page, I stare off the parapet ledge, I remember as a teenager. I walk onto the parapet ledge. I look down and see that the fall will open wounds, but with each brush stroke, with each word, with each queer story of resilience and truth I paint and write, I see the distance between the edge and the ground get closer together. I feel the fear dissipate and I feel the world becoming a safer place for me as a lesbiana, chicana, queer artist and author.

When asked, the late Lesbiana Chicana author Gloria E. Anzaldúa why she is compelled to write she said, “Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me.” I am lesbiana, queer, woman story maker. My work manifests itself as artwork in paint, drawings, stories, and poems, as a continuation of the conversations I had with myself on that staircase in 1994, and as an evolution from the teachings and brevity of Gloria E. Anzaldua. My current work is infused by latinx, transfeminism, intersectionality, queer politics and resistance. As a cultural producer, I am driven by a sense of urgency to record and create queer visual and literary work as a continuous reflection and questioning of self-representation, aiming at discovering and recovering the history, dynamics, and complexities of relationships with others, myself, my memory and the future. My work demands that sexuality, gender and our bodies are crucial players in art. 

While for all women, our sexuality, gender variance, gender exploration, and body love is viewed by many as residing in the margins, on the fringe and as an object of shame, my work illustrates the truths of how the butch/woman/queer “me” labors to learn, to wonder, to survive, to maneuver, to birth and to celebrate self and queer love. Within my artwork I offer an access point for viewers to investigate how sensory, spirit, environment and memory are recalled in the body. Like Anzaldua, I create art “to  become more intimate with myself and you, to discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispel the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit... Finally I write because I'm scared of writing, but I'm more scared of not writing.” Summoning my past and future when I create compels the aspects of my artistic practice, ever-evolving, where I question my own authenticity and prove identity is not static like maybe I might have once thought, but enacted, forced, shaped, influenced, evolved and challenged. With each creation, I build staircases for viewers and readers to ascend or descend, as an emergency exit from the opposition of homophobia, transphobia, cis-heteronormativity, colonization, sexism, rape, patriarchy, binary thought and violence.  I also offer viewers and readers a view into a world free of false histories, colonized sexist and racist narratives, wounds and guilt-inflicted religious ideologies; a world of vibrant colors reflective of the flor y fauna of Mexico and South Texas, of lips and eyes staring out onto the viewers and of voices speaking freely about queer love and lust. I do not claim to know how or what process is perfect for all queer bodies, to heal and build through art, but I do know that it is through my use of accessing blood memory, living memory, our current surroundings and love, I am able to create narrative imagery to claim as identity - for at least the moments it takes me to create them. And, in these practices of creating and exhibiting I, Anel I. Flores, the person and artist, grows stronger.

When reflecting on my last 25 years as an artist, I am proud to see the imagery unfold into more detailed accounts of each story. My paintings and poems in the 90’s were of queer bodies and queer love depicted in metaphors. Going into the 2000’s, I began to unlearn the language of silence and paint images of women’s faces. Still, then, their eyes were often closed or they were looking away from each other. The more I painted, the more I wrote, the more I moved closer to the truths of myself as a queer, Lesbiana, mujer, the more descriptive, brilliant, detailed and linked to current societal movements, my work became. The more I created and exhibited the work, the more I also got to know the stories of those around me. I also was able to get to know the people in my life, like my mother, like my college girlfriend’s mother, in a way I could have never done in real life, face-to-face, and understand them more. Further, my viewers are able to do the same.   In my newest work, Pintada de Rojo, I return to my past life, when I didn’t have the tools to understand why opposition existed. It will be my first graphic novel; a memoir of my childhood as it intertwines with the complexities of gender and sexuality in a mexican immigrant family that is both feminist and also devoutely catholic. It will be the first time I use my visual art and my creative writing in one collection. The events will illustrate how those influences affected me and my seemingly easy coming out process to the world, but dramatically slow coming out process to myself. Told through a witty first person narrative and carefully crafted drawings, my memoir uses trauma and humor to discuss how we learn to define ourselves when we defy convention and expectations, when faced with the rape and sexual abuse you thought your whole life was your own fault. Born into the delegitimizing forces of colonization, I aim to highlight the various trajectories I traveled, seeking “worth.” During my process, fingering through scene by scene, I am remind of the laboring hours, days and years I have spent and still spend rebuilding, repairing, reclaiming, examining and differentiating what is real and what is a trigger, a scar, another brick in my life’s journey toward identity and gender. 

If I can even if for one minute, provide the viewer and reader of my work, a moment of freedom, a moment of lust, a moment of sensuality, or just one minute of validation, I will keep on creating. As the subject and researcher of my writing and art, I challenge myself to explore how subject embodies their body, in the present moment, in the past, in other dimensions on it’s spectrum. I will jump fearlessly out off the ledge, or take escape onto the staircase I built for myself, my body, my story.