Meet the artist addressing Politics, Mental Health and Identity

One look at Salazar’s artwork and you know they have a lot to say and a message to deliver. A person of very few words, Moises Salazar uses their art as a way to communicate the words they cannot articulate. With their artwork carrying an impactful punch to the world, they are well on their way to dismantling the image of gender and fluidity for men in the Latinx community and turning the corrupt aspects of politics on its head. In conversation with Moises, they share where their love for art stemmed from, the method behind their process, and how they have used their artwork to take agency over their life.

Photo Credit: Farah Salem
Photo Credit: Farah Salem

What was your first introduction to art? 

When I was in elementary my dad was involved in a couple of social activist groups. They were involved in organizing marchas for la reforma migratoria. The majority of them were undocumented artists that were apart of the early Pilsen Art Walks. Some of the first art shows that I saw were in people’s basements and attics. I also have early memories of going to the National Museum of Mexican Art at a young age. My dad would take us very frequently on his days off. I have seen their permanent collection change so much over the decade. My dad, a baker, is also a creator like myself. When I was a child he would make elaborate houses and boats out of popsicle sticks and hot glue and I would be forced to help. At that age I would sometimes hate being a part of all my dad’s social groups and projects but it has completely influenced who I’ve become.

What is the process behind your art?

My work is a mixture of material exploration and cultural research. Currently it is focused on finding objects, symbols, and materials that are somehow related to my experience and my family’s experience living in the United states. Using nostalgia as a navigator, I often find myself collecting and researching familiar color pallets, cultural objects, family events, and religious objects that took part in my experience growing up. My research consists of collecting photographs, narratives, and cultural skills. It's important for me to collect an oral history of my family and my experience. My process can be summed up as, the recontextualization of objects, colors, and materials that have their own shared meaning in my community and superimpose a queer and immigrant experience onto them.

How have you used your art to take agency over your life and the life of your family? 

If you spend enough time around me you will realize that I am a person of a few words. It is hard for me to express frustration, anxiety and anger. Through the making of my art I am able to project my emotions and ideas. In my work I am loud, take up space and hopeful. In many ways, being a creator has guided me through the toughest moments of my life. Art has become the way for me to guide my identity. It has taken over a large part of who I am as a person. This has extended to my family as well. There are so many people that try to control my family’s narrative. There are people in the U.S that think my parents are criminals, lazy, and detrimental to this country and I am here to prove them wrong. The reality is that it is easy for them to dismiss me but my pieces stand like monuments that they can’t deny. My pieces protect the true narratives on my family’s situation.

Photo Credit: Farah Salem
Photo Credit: Farah Salem

When and why did you decide to start “Cuerpos Desechables and Brillo Putx” Explain the reasoning behind the name? 

Cuerpos Desechables is a body of work that was born out of a couple of pieces I did in the summer of 2018. Those pieces were a response to my frustration of the political situation we were entering that year, as well as the lack of political agency I had. The first piñata children I made that summer were meant to showcase what has been happening in detention centers. My work before those pieces were rooted in revealing the trauma and violence undocumented folks face and I was tired of it. I was tired of seeing and making dismembered and beaten bodies. I wanted to find a balance of showing the power and endurance that is at the essence of the undocumented community. Having the privilege of being a U.S citizen I wanted to be more careful on how I moved forward with the first piñatas I made. Cuerpos Desechables came out of that mental space. Piñatas are created to serve a single purpose and then discarded. The name comes from watching so many people in my family give their lives to this country only to be treated as criminals and seen as expendable.

In the beginning of 2019 I was in a rough place. I was struggling with my cultural distancing because of my queer identity and I had a general lack of appreciation for myself. I felt that there was something missing inside of me which manifested in feelings of loneliness and doubt. In the peak of this mental space I ended up going to Mexico City. In that space I was able to understand that the reason for my disconnection with my culture, my art work and love for myself was that I did not feel like a man anymore. It was in those times that I became non-binary and that became the catalyst for Brillo Putx. That body of work was made to understand how to love myself. I was a new being and needed a new language to appreciate what I have become at the time. I felt so free and I wanted to show resilience in a new body of work. Brillo Putx was the title I went with because I was using glitter and I wanted to address the word Puto. It is a word that in the past has caused me so much pain. Before coming out as non-binary I had so many anxieties about being perceived as feminine and I wanted to in some way honor that struggle. I think that many queer people struggle with masculinity and binaries and that is what I wanted to capture in the body of work.

As the city populates with more creatives, what is something you think they should know about trusting their craft? 

I think that it's very easy for creative people to feel alone. At least it is something I personally struggle with. There is this false notion that the artist’s relationship to their craft is the most important. We spend so much time by ourselves working in our studios and forget that community is equally as important. Creative people need to know that their craft is the gateway to meeting other creatives. Trust in your work and it will help you build connections. I understand that in the professional world it is sometimes hard to identify who wants to represent you, support you, and who just wants to befriend you. In a world where people are so focused on competition and representation I would say that it is more important to make an honest connection for the sake of yourself. There is so much generosity that is generated by creatives and it's something that new artists should not take for granted. I would say it is your responsibility as an artist to nurture them. I would argue that many artists have a relationship with loneliness. It's something that we need to be open to talk about to combat the unhealthy behaviors that artists continuously enable for the sake of productivity.

How important is the theme of identity when it comes to your work?

It is very hard for me to remove myself from my work. Everything that I make and care about is related to identity. I have always been surrounded by bodies that have experienced forms of violence, trauma, homophobia and persecution, that is why it is hard for me not to respond to it. I make works about bodies that I want to protect. I have always made work about the figure because the human experience is what I think is the most important. Cuentos, leyendas and oral histories is how my community has survived and I wish to carry that legacy in my work. It took a long time to figure out my agency in regards to having ownership over my identity. When you grow up lacking social economical stability you believe that controlling your narrative is a privilege, but I realized that it is my right. Themes of identity are what feel the most authentic to me. For the majority of my life I have stood back and been labeled without my consent. I have seen how people have labelled my parents, family and community without their consent as well and I’m tired of it. For this reason, I decided to do something about it.

What is something you are anticipating for the new year?

I have been very lucky to have focused on my own practice these past few years. It has been amazing and truly transforming. That being said, part of why I became an artist is to be able to create and maintain communities. Coming from a neighborhood, Chicago Lawn, that has no community space or community groups I make it my goal to create, make space, and bring people together. I’m excited that I am currently planning with a couple of institutions to create group projects. These projects will involve group dialogue, participation and performance. With these projects I want to address celebrations and community events in Latinx communities that have been a part of my experience. I am looking at quinceñearas, partidos de fútbol, pachangas, tianguises, confirmation parties, and cookouts. These projects are in development but will generally involve inviting artists, community members, and audiences to participate in performances or showcase art. Many institutions ask how we can get the community into their art spaces. My response is not only bringing the institution to the community but completely reformatting it in a way that is familiar to the social groups in those communities. Can we have a fashion show in a soccer field where the soccer players are wearing the art while they play a game? Can we play cumbia and serve tacos de trompo in a gallery opening in the banquet hall? These kinds of questions are what have been generating these projects and I’m excited to see them manifest in the coming year.