In Conversation with Leticia Contreras

Reacting to Social Emergencies

Texan native Leticia Contreras builds landscapes in her art. Her recurring examination of making and dismantling home is a reflection on her own cultural experience as a “Queer Afro-Xicana Tejana.” She recently completed an artist exchange between Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago and Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas. To C& she spoke about the exchange and her role as an artist, activist, and teacher.

C&: So much about your practice is about location and place and how you describe yourself as Afro-Xicana.

LC: What was really fun about How We Respond to Social Emergencies is that some of the artists have known each other for years, while many of them had never met before. And to see the synchronicity of the work and the materials that we are choosing fascinates me. One of the things I think about with quilts is the Southern Black tradition, how the stories were stitched into it, like maps for guiding you North. Oftentimes when we think about the Underground Railroad we don’t think about the huge wave of migration that went to Mexico, because Mexico had abolished slavery. I often think of myself as a Southern/Global South artist and a carrier of those stories, traditions, and knowledge.

I am highly influenced by embroidery and bordado and how it is used in Mexico to identify your tribe and your people. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that we had these other spectrums of colors because of the artificial colors that were introduced into the market. Before that we were working with natural dyes from insects, plants, and fruits from our communities, which again ties me back to the loving tradition and the relationship to the land.

Being creative first off is such a vulnerable space. Especially being artists of color, we’re always expected to talk about the trauma and the violence that happens in our communities. But we are complex beings, there’s so much more to us. So, can the other stuff be celebrated, please?

C&: This seems very specific to the South, how does that influence your approach to work?

LC: I’m from Louisiana, from the Black diaspora and third generation of what we call Texas, and my great grandparents once migrated from Mexico. The South West has been what’s known as Mexico a lot longer than the United States, and those are important histories for us to think about. I think that claiming an identity as Afro-Xicana is like a soft “fuck you” to the establishment because we were torn away from that identity. It also affirms that we can define home and that home can be in so many places which, too, is ok. Texas has this really interesting dynamic, Houston specifically, because it’s a port city next to Galveston. It teeters between a Northern and Southern relationship between Global South and North and between the South West and South Eastern historiography.

C&: What are you working on at the moment?

LC: I’m currently working on a large scale textile piece that will measure 20ft x 20ft titled Suficiente Sustento (Sufficient Sustenance). Around those works there will be several hanging pieces that contain different gentle reminders to take space. It is an invitation for those who define themselves as folks of color, belonging to the non-binary community, indigenous, poor or working class. They can all take one of the smaller hanging pieces home with them and anyone who identifies as white and/or wealthy can make a donation to the cause and can also take one home.

Leticia Contreras is a queer, afro-xicana, interdisciplinary artist and cultural organizer born and raised in Houston, TX. Her work explores themes of embodied memory, radical joy, and our relationship to each other and our environment. She uses materials that draw from the natural world, both as inspiration and materials. Leticia engages a variety of media; photography, installation, and performance to unveil the stories of a place. Viewers cross the boundaries of witnessing and participating.

Nan Collymore writes, programs art events and makes brass ornaments in Berkeley California. Born in London, she lives in the United States since 2006.