An Artist Reimagines His Ancestors Through Costumed Self-Portraits

By

Daniel Gerwin

Excerpt:

The power of this work lies in its ghostly sensuality. But what separates it from the mass of artwork addressing the politics of representation is its investment in intimate autobiography. The fictional characters are linked to the artist’s actual ancestors — Gonzales-Day researched his family back to 1599, revealing the tangled ethno-cultural mix from which he descends. The blending of his actual roots with an invented narrative yields moving specificity. Half the front room is hung salon style, like a family portrait wall, prominently featuring Ramoncita. Around the corner, the drawing “Family Tree” (2017) is just what it sounds like: a traditional rendering of Gonzales-Day’s genealogy, containing fascinating details….

This exhibit is Luis De Jesus’s contribution to Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, and it comes as America’s president takes aim at the fundamental liberties of transgender people and immigrants. Soon After Gonzales-Day began working on “Bone-Grass Boy,” Californians passed Proposition 187, limiting state-

Ken Gonzales-Day, “Untitled #13” (1994) Bone-Grass Boy Series, C-Print, 14 ¾ x 23 ¼ inches (image courtesy of the artist and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles)

 

funded services for undocumented people, and today the entire country faces a nativist clamor. America was founded on slavery and genocide — twin dimensions of the white supremacism openly surging through our 50 states — yet paradoxically, this nation has always subscribed to principles of freedom and self-determination. Gonzales-Day’s larger project is to broaden the established canon of art, and U.S. history more generally, to recognize not just Latinx people but all those whose ethnicities and sexualities are so mixed as to be beyond meaningful categorization. And when you think about our country’s greatest qualities, what could be more American than that?

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