Decolonization through art

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By Val Reynoso

I am an artist with a decade of formal experience in using numerous media. My pieces fall under the umbrella category of decolonization. I elaborated on the concept behind one of my artworks titled “Nuestra Señora Purepecha Frida (Our Purepecha Lady Frida)” to cover the overall tone of my works for an exhibit where my work was displayed.

What I did in this piece was indigenize the Virgin Mary icon with Frida in place of it, with the intention of decolonizing religion and icons we tend to associate with Catholicism, the dominating religion in what is now known as Latin America due to Iberian colonization of the region.

Frida’s veil is inspired by indigenous Purepecha prints, which is a tribe native to Michoacán, Mexico, where her maternal grandfather named Antonio Calderon Sandoval was from. Sandoval was Frida’s only grandparent of indigenous lineage, as her paternal grandparents were of German descent and her maternal grandmother was Spanish.

Despite having more European roots than Native American ones, Frida was close to her indigenous ancestry, as demonstrated in her art, such as her 1937 painting titled “My Nurse and I,” which depicts a baby version of herself being breastfed by a Native wet-nurse. Moreover, decolonization means to undo the ideas and systems of oppression that European colonizers imposed on Global South people.

Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean were colonized by Spain, who enslaved African and Native-descended populations in said regions and forced them to assimilate into whiteness and particularly, in this case, Hispanidad. This assimilation was enacted through violent and coercive means with the purpose of erasing indigenous ways of culture and spirituality prior to imperial contact.

I also related this piece to myself, as a Dominican who reclaims my Taino roots, knowing that Christopher Columbus never set foot on mainland North America, but rather invaded present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti and initiated a mass genocide of the Taino nation of the northern Caribbean.

My Native and African ancestors were forced to become Christian and “Hispanic” at gunpoint, so to decolonize is to take back what was stolen from us, to reclaim our ancestors and their precolonial ways of life. Likewise, part of that is undoing the whitewashing of images we are exposed to, such as a white, Christian Virgin Mary, so I turn that around and reveal an indigenous Purepecha Frida, an emblem of anti-imperialism and indigenous resistance in the face of Spanish colonization.

Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.

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