Artist of the Month: Bárbara Miñarro
is a visual artist from Monterrey, Mexico and McAllen, Texas, currently living in San Antonio. Some of her former media include paint and photography. Presently, Bárbara has been invested in creating installations with large fabric structures. Her spaces are a study of environment, womanhood, and the body in relation to the U.S./Mexico physical, psychic, and cultural borders. Bárbara was in town installing some of her work so we met for coffee at Greater Good, just South of the train tracks in East Austin.
Jason: Which gallery is it?
Barbara: Dorf? D-O-R-F. I’ll invite you to it, let me add you on Facebook. Is it fine if I add you on Facebook?
J: Yeah that’s fine! Do you come to Austin often?
B: I used to when I was in college because I had friends here, but now that they all graduated, I don’t come as often.
J: You’ve been in San Antonio how long?
B: Four years last week!
J: Did you move for college?
B: Mhm. But I graduated a year ago. I graduated, freaked out for a summer because I didn’t have a job, and then I got a job and I stayed.
J: After looking through some of your work, I wanted to ask if you have a favorite place.
B: Favorite place…I can go with a cheesy answer and say my grandma’s house or something. Favorite place in San Antonio or anywhere?
B: So I’m from Mexico, and there’s this mountain, Cerro De La Silla, and you can see the entire town [of Monterrey] from there. That’s my favorite spot. I’m not very outdoorsy but I like it there.
But I’ll go with my Grandma’s house!
J: How long has it been since you were in Monterrey?
B: As of this year, I have spent half of my life here and half of my life in Mexico. 12 years here, and 12 years there. I moved to McAllen, TX. A border town. I love McAlen, but I feel like a lot of people that are from there don’t like it. I guess its kind of secluded in South Texas. You have to drive for 4 hours before you hit San Antonio and that’s the next big city. A lot of people stay there for their entire lives, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.
It holds a special place for me, it was my first American home! That why I like it.
J: In some of your earlier work in photography, it seemed like you were documenting McAllen. Your work now has become more abstract and political. Is there anything that changed for you?
B: I’ve always been very interested in environments. I feel like that is a continuing thread within my work. Before, I was really focused on the human impact on the environment, but now, my work has become more political because I became aware of things. I accepted my reality and other people’s realities. I embraced the situation. I don’t want to say healing, but my work now is me understanding what I’m living through and what everyone else is living through.
J: So it’s been a clarification of your own viewpoint?
B: Yeah. Mhm. And in talking to other people… they have this false idea of immigration or immigrants, I guess they haven’t experienced immigration themselves so there is a disconnect. I’m not here to preach or say “This is what you should think” but let’s start a conversation – why do you think this? Let’s just talk about it.
J: Do you feel that you have had productive conversations that have come from your art?
B: Yeah! Especially my latest solo show in San Antonio. I created this immersive environment where I wanted the spectator to walk around the piece. But when they walked around, they had to adjust their bodies and they were bumping into things. They would say “I’m sorry I keep bumping into your work! I don’t want to but I keep on doing it!” But that was what I really wanted to happen. That’s where I wanted to start the conversation. That’s what an immigrant feels when they come into a new space – having to adjust, “Can I walk here, can I not walk here?” Having to adapt to new environments, not necessarily having the environment adapt to yourself.
I use sweet colors that are friendly and approachable, but I may build a 10ft wall at the entrance of the installation to make you feel really small.
I like to break it down to body movement, because we can all relate to that. It’s a tactic for talking about immigration because when people hear “immigration” they think “I don’t want to hear about that” but if we break it down to body movement – how does our body adapt in different spaces – I feel like that would spark conversation.
I had a show in L.A. once so I was with my sister there. I always hear of racist things happening in L.A. or in New York, and so I found myself there, afraid to speak Spanish. I was unconsciously afraid. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I wasn’t a criminal, but I felt afraid. My sister asked why I was speaking in English and then I realized I was afraid of standing out. Why was I adjusting to this? It was the fear, fear can control us. I hate it, but it’s powerful. If someone incites fear in you, they can do a lot.
J: You mentioned that you hold an interest in the environment in terms of global warming and climate change. How does that interact with your interest in politics at the border?
B: I don’t really talk about [climate change] in my work anymore, but all the material that I use is second hand clothing. Mine, my Mom’s, my Grandma’s…but now I’ve been incorporating clothing from other women in my life who I have met in the US. I’m no buying new material. I’m recycling or upcycling in a way. The focus on environment definitely shifted.
All the fabric I use is donated from women that I know. They often don’t really understand the art world, but it’s cool for them to see something they donated as a part of an art exhibit. My friend once gave me her deceased mother’s clothing. I was like “Are you sure you want me to use this?” She said she was sure - she knew it would be put to good use, that it would be given meaning.
J: What was the learning environment like for you at UTSA while you were getting your degree?
B: (laughs) I never know if I should share this experience or not!
J: (laughs) Oh okay!
B: For the most part it was…. well let me back up. I started college in McAllen, and I didn’t like the program at all, it wasn’t what I wanted as an artist. It was good for some people, but not for me so I transferred to UTSA and the program was more contemporary but because most of the professors were White, they didn’t understand some things about my work or why it was important for me to talk about [politics around the border].
One incident – I’ll never forget. It was finals and all the students had to present their work. One girl did a portrait of everyone in class. For each one, there was splash of color in the background, and then the subject was depicted, just portrait style. A few of the portraits had symbols, so I started looking closely. One girl’s portrait had a spider, another had a Bernie Sanders t-shirt. One of the worst ones was this guy doing steroids! I see mine and mine says the word “Illegal” and has a sombrero.
I’ve been in racist situations, but this one was so personal. She took the time and used her talent to portray me this way. There was thought behind it, and it wasn’t an instant thought. It was something that was cultivated. I was conflicted, and partly because I am a woman, I didn’t know how react. I just thought “This is fucked up.” She just said “Well, this was my first impression of people in class...” The professor said “I’m just going to cut you off before you say anything stupid.” I thought “How can your first impression of someone be that they look illegal?” whatever that means. I didn’t say anything, but I made a disgusted face. It was never addressed after that. He was the only Mexican-American professor and I expected him to sympathize with me, but he didn’t do anything. That’s what sparked my wanting to be a bit more vocal. I thought “This is a safe environment, we are in the art school” You would think people would be more outspoken about [politics], but it’s the same narrative. People don’t want to touch these things. It’s the white elephant in the room. Everyone turned their head to the side.
To this day, I still think “What? Who would do that?”, you know? But I have the drawing now. Somehow it landed in my hands and no one will see it again! (laughs)
J: (laughs) You have it?! That’s hilarious.
B: I don’t know have you ever experienced something that felt like it never happened? It’s so absurd it makes me wonder “Did that really happen?”
I had a really good professor named Jason Willome. I reached out when this happened, and he empathized. He didn’t understand, because he hasn’t gone through something like that, but he was very receptive, and I felt good that there was someone that I could rely on. There were some really good, really special people at UTSA. Jason Willome was my favorite professor.
J: What is San Antonio like for art?
B: The community is so strong, it’s very supportive. I love Austin, and I wanted to come here because of the arts but I never expected to have that back in San Antonio. Besides that incident, the friendships that I have developed have been supportive and engaging.
It's very segregated though, its like any other city. When I was in school I was like “Where are all the Mexicans?” (laughs)
J: Are you still doing any painting?
B: Actually, I want to go back to painting!
J: Why is that?
B: I loved painting. It just made me happy. I’m interested in combining fibers with painting. There’s a lot more to do with fiber, but now wondering how I can incorporate both.
J: And your installations are huge! How long does it take you?
B: The one for Virginia is thirty feet by fifty feet. It’s big. I’m also very intense so I’ll stay up until the AM working. You have to really love it. I’m a social person, I love to go out, but sometimes I’m just in the studio like this is what I have to do.
J: How are you going to get these pieces to Virginia?
B: I got lucky, they are paying for the shipping! I have one that is seventy feet long! That’s huge! But they are paying for shipping and flying me in so that’s good. (laughs)
J: Do you feel that you are at a point where people are receptive to your art and it is taking off a little bit?
B: I don’t know! (laughs) Maybe? Yeah! So far so good. There’s a long way to go!
J: Would you ever want to go back to Mexico to share your art?
B: That’s something that I’ve been thinking about. I don’t know how it would be received because it’s about being a Mexican in the US. I don’t know if that is of interest there. I love Mexico but I don’t think I would ever live there, my life is here. I’m happy here! Have you ever been to Mexico?
J: I haven’t! I really want to go to D.F.
B: Everyone says if you move back to Mexico, you have to live there. But I hear D.F. traffic is something else. I don’t want to have too much traffic in my life! (laughs)
Bárbara Miñarro is a visual artist from Monterrey, Mexico and Southern Texas. You can follow Bárbara’s journey @barbaraminarro and www.barbaraminarro.com. Jason often makes sonically erratic Spotify playlists because of his refusal to commit to a singular sound. You can follow Jason, @jas.ikp.
Photography by @theoctopi