Soy de Tejas: Traveling exhibition unites the Lone Star State in Fort Worth with Latinx art

In a state as vast as Texas, how do you go about building a survey that encompasses the Latinx population’s art? Because this is Texas, you go big. Rigoberto Luna curated nearly 100 contemporary works of all mediums by native Texas and Texas-based Latinx artists into Soy de Tejas, which was originally exhibited in San Antonio in 2023. Now the massive collection is on display at Arts Fort Worth through June 23, 2024, exploring themes of identity, migration, mythmaking, displacement, and indigeneity while also celebrating the rich cultural traditions that unite these communities.

“A project like this was something everyone felt was long overdue,” says Luna, an artist/designer who directs Presa House Gallery in San Antonio. The idea for Soy de Tejas first arrived in 2019, but the pandemic put plans on hold for several years. Luna calls this a blessing in disguise, as the extra time allowed him to delve deeply into artists living and working in the state, visiting exhibitions and compiling a wish list of those whom he wanted to bring into the collection.

“I built the exhibition’s foundation around artists who were cornerstones of their communities. Artists like Gil Rocha in Laredo, Cande Aguilar in Brownsville, Joe Peña in Corpus Christi, Angel Cabrales in El Paso, and Tina Medina in Dallas were staples of their cities,” Luna says. “I had worked with a few of them, and others I had hoped to meet one day … this included Christian Cruz (Dallas) and her Nasher Sculptural Center performance; Christopher Najera (Fort Worth), whose work I saw for the first time in-person at Arts Fort Worth; Josué Ramírez (McAllen); Arely Morales (Nacogdoches); and Marianna Olague (El Paso); among many others I hadn’t worked with before, and Soy de Tejas provided that opportunity.”

Arts Fort Worth’s installation differs from San Antonio’s not only in its smaller, one-story footprint, but also because several of the artworks in the original show sold to public and private collections.

Additionally, three of the original 40 artists had to sit out this exhibition, leaving room to add a newcomer: Brownsville native and Houston-based artist Veronica Gaona, a 2023 recipient of the Latinx Artist Fellowship. Gaona’s two sculptural works were created during her Artist Studio Program at Lawndale Art Center in Houston. The work originally premiered in Sigo Tumbado, Sigo Coronando, where Gaona explored characteristics of transnationality, impermanence, and monumentality across international borders. Gaona uses truck parts from the popular Ford F-150 series, shattered polarized tinted windshield shards, personal and family photos printed on aluminum, and cut vinyl to resolve fragmented memories, subvert power systems, and solidify a place of belonging between the U.S./Mexican landscape.

Inspired by the Rio Grande buoys meant to deter migrants, El Paso artist Angel Cabrales’s sculpture The Rosario del Paso del Aguila reflects the harsh reality that asylum-seekers face. Mimicking the river buoys, each rosary bead is adorned with circular blades resembling the floating barriers. A steel cross, reminiscent of the Texas border walls, stands over the beads. Central to the piece is a large pendant filled with personal valuables from deported migrants legally entrusted to Cabrales by a migrant lawyer.

In her art installation AGAINST RE-PRESENT-ATION, Violette Bule, a Venezuelan-Lebanese conceptual artist based in Houston, has visitors confront a claw machine filled with acrylic capsules. The prize is a small-scale Venezuelan passport; however, to play the game and potentially win, visitors must first cross a sand-covered floor representing the physical obstacles people face to obtain a visa, and have two quarters ready, a rarity in today’s digital world, that represents economic barriers. Bule aims to highlight the challenges Venezuelans face with bureaucratic dysfunction and corruption while emphasizing the universal right to nationality.

For programming, the Soy de Tejas Performance Night and Artist Panel are back, along with a new film component called the Soy Tejana Film Series, featuring Texas female filmmakers. It’s organized by Manuel Solis, a film curator based in San Antonio and long-time collaborator of Luna’s.

Visitors will see sculptural works, paintings, drawings, fiber, mixed media, video, installation, and more. “I think an exciting aspect of the exhibition is the use of materials,” Luna says. “Many artists use a Rasquache aesthetic that upcycles and reimagines found objects to create artworks that speak to themes of migration, gentrification, and displacement, but also highlight the uplifting, at times humorous, joyous parts of the diverse Texas Latinx diaspora.”