This feature on Yvette was originally published in Issue 18. You can order it here.
Midwest Latinx artists seem to be at the vanguard of contemporary ideas and concerns prevalent to current social issues. But at the same time, appear to get lost amongst the profusion of Latinx artists from Southern California. Chicago-based Yvette Mayorga is an artist that is giving the Midwest a winning tally; one that is well overdue.
Going down the list of historic neighborhoods in Chicago, you will find the Pilsen neighborhood. Originally a Czech neighborhood that suddenly changed due to white flight, Pilsen is now changing again due to gentrification. While the changes this time are different, Pilsen is trying to hold on to the smells, to the taqueros on summer nights, the soccer games, and their murals on the sides of buildings that depict the culture. In a way, the sounds, smells, and sights of Pilsen are very similar to many majority Latinx neighborhoods and cities across the country that not only feel the pain and trauma inflicted on them by the country’s current political regime but whose very way of life is being threatened.
It has been over a year since I last visited Chicago, a place I called home for several years. And it has been that long since being near Yvette’s artwork. I make that last point because it is more than just to view Yvette’s work on Instagram, where she posts constantly about new works in her studio. Yvette’s work needs to be smelled; it needs to consume you to feel a real connection. Just as Yvette Mayorga is consumed in her artworks, spending countless hours in her Pilsen studio, the audience needs to be imbibed in her pieces. You will feel empathy and anger at the same time. Her colors are vibrant, the gesture is strong, and that will make you look closer, as she creates a new place within her art. While images don’t do her magnificent pieces any justice, it is one step closer to getting into Yvette’s world.
How did you start with your aesthetic?
I started with my aesthetic around 2012 when I began experimenting with real frosting in my work. I was studying to be a painter and hated oil painting. I was tired of the medium and what it stood for so I rebelled. Frosting also offered me a way to talk about labor in my work, which felt genuine to my narrative.
Does it have any connection with memories of your childhood?
Yes, my aesthetic is celebratory, physically tiring, and takes you back in time. I use frosting (and the idea of frosting) to reference my mother’s labor and mostly only labor she had while working in a bakery in 1970s Chicago, before becoming a stay at home mom. It also references all of the celebrations, recuerdos, and cakes of my childhood that filled my home and it made a place of art. Similarly, I cull specific visuals from my experience growing up Catholic, which to me, felt like the first art I witnessed—specifically the paintings on the walls of the church—the ones ordered from a magazine on my living room wall.
How is place a factor in your work?
I think of an imagined place in my work. The place I create is always referencing a real place but is largely obscured in order to lend itself to the rococo, the dreamy, the liminal. I am interested in creating these fanciful made-up worlds where I address immigration, in order to cross-reference the imagined ideal of the American Dream and how it is also this sort of liminal, made-up place to most.
You just went full time doing your practice how has that been?
It’s been a blessing. Every day I get to go to my studio I feel a lot of gratitude for calling this my career. Growing up, I didn’t know an artist who had a studio, and to think that I am that artist now is amazing. But of course, like all work, it’s work, and there is a lot of admin, making, and shipping—you know the drill.
Do you miss teaching?
You know, I really do. But I do still get the chance to create workshops with youth sporadically and that feels good. I think young people/youth are so inspiring to be around and to get to share with them all of the (brown) art I didn’t know about when I was younger, feels so good. So I do miss that.
How connected do you find your work to political discourse?
I find it to be disconnected and connected in a way. Disconnected because it’s a constant bombarding of images that attempt to understand immigrants as the other and my work does the opposite. My work uses the idea of the American Dream as the protagonist in the work, the one that gets away with it all and sees brown bodies as disposable. And connected in the way that issues around immigration have been in my family long before this election. We have all been talking and dealing with it—sometimes in silence—in confidence with our family and always problem-solving.
Do you find your work to be accessible? How do you go about it?
Yes, the materials I use and the references I make to a Latinx household, celebration, iconography, and toys we grew up with, all lend themselves to be accessible.
What are some of your dreams and goals for the future?
My dreams are to continue to be able to make art, tell a story and rewrite this art history.
Is there an artist that you have shown next to and found it to be unbelievable?
I found it unbelievable to show work next to Dread Scott back in 2017 for, “Bold Disobedience,” at Weinberg/Newton. He was an artist I learned about in academia and I related to this performative work. Having my installation next to his work felt pretty inspiring.
Is your work didactic (intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction)? If so, what is something you want the audience to take away from your work?
Honestly, I think all work is didactic, even if it is not trying to be. All work is trying to teach something; Even if it’s nothingness it can hold a lot of weight. So yes, my work is didactic in the ways in which it clashes Eurocentric history of the rococo with class histories of the Latinx to unravel the imaginaries of colonialism and the violence it creates and permeates.
For more from Yvette Mayorga, follow her on Instagram.
Photography by William Camargo.