Imagining Queer Futures with Martín Wannam

In the Guatemalan artist’s experience, art and sexual dissidence are at once intrinsic and expressed mutually. Through his visual practice, Wannam aims to give visibility to the structural issues that affect diverse communities in Guatemala as well as throughout much of the world.

C& AL: How did the project you are exhibiting at the Biennial come about and why did you choose it?

MW: I am showing two pieces at the biennial, Ser hueco en mi país (Being Gay in My Country, 2019) and a photo installation titled Bailando en mi legado y Brillantina (Dancing in my Legacy and Brilliantine, 2023). Originally, I was going to show other pieces, but because of the theme of “national symbols,” the foundation’s judges said I couldn’t. In any case, I think that those two pieces raise important issues for me and for Guatemala. I chose Ser hueco en mi país because of its relevance to the discrimination and criminalization of queer bodies both physically and through language. In the documentation of that performance, I am standing in front of the National Palace, where, to the music of the national anthem, the word “GAY” is engraved on my body. The performance came out of the need to protest against hate crimes where not only were gay people murdered, but their killers had also written pejorative words on their lifeless bodies. Bailando en mi legado y Brillantina is an installation I created to question what legacy means to someone like me, who is Gay. I include three self-portraits in it with vector drawings: 1. Fire: represents queer desire; 2. A Literal Text: Bailando en mi legado y Brillantina; 3. Plants: which represents the wild and natural elements of being. The installation includes my great-grandfather’s funeral, from whom I got my last name, Wannam (尹鍵南), seven photographs of me as a child, and the last paragraph is my great-grandfather’s story, written by my grandfather. That piece explores my legacy and questions it. It’s a retrospective that I need to express and confront, and that allows me to reflect on how my questions from an individual perspective can be addressed from a collective perspective.

C& AL: You are a member of an artist collective against the prison industrial complex. How did that collaboration begin, and how do you use art and your role as an artist in that action?

MW: The collaboration began during the pandemic. I was the last member to join. The members of the collective, which we call fronteristxs, include Szu-Han Ho, hazel batrezchavez and Bernadine Hernández; we all met through my master’s program in fine arts. Szu-Han was one of my mentors and hazel was a colleague in the program. As a collective we use different strategies in which art and writing are means for long-term goals that align with abolitionist ideals and the creation of economies of solidarity based on justice, sustainability and cooperation.

My role as an artist is to use my tools to create the future that we want to see. For example, in 2020, we organized the #FreeThemAll Billboards project, where we invited seven local Lantinx and indigenous artists to design billboards with the messages #FreeThemAll and #CareNotCages. Their designs were installed on billboards near prisons, jails and detention centers throughout New Mexico. The project inspired the self-publication of our four-part political education zine series, #FreeThemAll Zines. Each zine featured New Mexican artists and authors along with relevant facts, timelines and information about each topic: The Impact of Policing; The Prison Industrial Complex; Immigration; Abolition: Enacting Alternate Futures. Recently, we collaborated with Working Classroom, Pueblo Action Alliance and SouthWest Organizing Project to create the CARE Program (Collective Action and Resistance Education). The program engages young people in a parallel series of workshops about transformative justice paired with: 1) Writing and Activism and 2) Art and Activism. The first installment of the CARE Program culminated in the “CARE Cohort 2022 Group Show,” where the students interpreted their poetry and exhibited their art at the Nopal Gallery in Albuquerque. In 2023 we launched HOAA (House of An-Aesthesia), a performance in which we use performance and fashion as a tool to disrupt our society’s numbness to the surveillance and control that we experience daily.

C& AL: What are you working on now?

MW: Currently, I am participating in an artist residency at BASEMENT, in Chapel Hill, NC, where I will have a solo show of my work, La Eterna Injusticia (Eternal Injustice) early September; and afterwards I’ll prepare for a show in Chicago scheduled for 2024!

Martín Wannam (Guatemala, 1992) is a visual artist and educator whose work critically examines Guatemala’s historical, social and political climate, with a focus on the queer individual’s dream of freedom. Based on iconoclasm and the aesthetic of maximalism, his work explores the intersection of brownness and queer utopia through photography, sculpture and performance to constantly disrupt systemic structures such as religion, coloniality, folklore and white supremacy.

Translation: Sara Hanaburgh