Editor's note: a video piece that is paired with this article is published on the Daily Lobo’s YouTube page, with segments of both the interview and shots of the art in the gallery described throughout.
The John Sommers Gallery, enveloped inside the University of New Mexico’s Art Building, hosts a rotation of student work throughout each semester, with graduate student Hazel Batrezchavez taking over the last few weeks.
Batrezchavez stood in an all black outfit, contrasting with the white walls of the gallery space. She is an artist, but more specifically a sculptor, standing at a solid 5 feet, 2 inches next to her sizable works of art.
“I think for me it feels really vulnerable to put my work up,” Batrezchavez said. “I think in some kind of way it’s what I needed”
The gallery space is filled with a variety of pieces, from a circular mirror branded with the words “I AM TIRED OF THE WHITE SAVIOR,” to a large wall made out of a variety of materials taking up the central space in the gallery. The wall that Batrezchavez built, was made of acquired material she came across as she drove through the city, she described the struggle of trying to fit the large discarded materials into her small car.
She made sculptures out of metal during her undergraduate studies, but as she started working through graduate school, Batrezchavez said she began to question why she was spending so much money when there are resources all around her.
“That’s kind of the idea of where working with found objects came into play a lot,” Batrezchavez said.
Draped from the ceiling on the right hand side of the gallery was a 16-foot long white flag displaying the word “UNGOVERNABLE” in the fashion of bold black letters stitched onto the flag by Batrezchavez herself. The flag flew on a top of the Mattox Art Building during late June this past summer.
Batrezchavez said the idea of taking up space has influenced her practice when she thinks about how she navigates institutional spaces. She said that as someone who identifies with her biological sex, and who has been categorized as Latina, she inverts normalized Western approaches, not only in her sculpting, but her actions during her performances as well .
“These spaces are not designed for me to thrive in,” Batrezchavez said. “So when I think about my work, I think about it as functioning with this notion of taking up space and reshaping the terrain.”
Batrezchavez said that she draws on similarities between the historic meanings of pillars and flags, with flags historically being used to claim a space or used to alert others of emergency.
“It became that for me,” Batrezchavez said. “It became something that I could put up and say ‘hey no one can govern me, no one can tell me how to feel, what to do with my body, how to act’.”
Batrezchavez said that the concept for the flag was in reaction to feelings that were evoked after presentation of her seven-minute video, “Colored,” also included in the installation. The video was played in a separate room of the gallery, featuring a projected image of a completely bare-chest Batrezchavez spanning the entire wall, glaring into the camera as the words “colored” and “woman of color” were drawn on her chest with a black marker, branded by a white hand.
“I just had so many people talk about my body and that kind of act, it just kind of felt that I also just needed to make a stand too,” Batrezchavez said.
Batrezchavez tied both the video and the flag into her interpretation of a self portrait.
“I think the flag and the self portrait pillar emerged at the same time in terms of the process of work and the line of thinking and what i was experiencing at the time too ” Batrezchavez said.
Following a discussion around her video, “Colored,” Batrezchavez said that she was overcome with a feeling of heaviness, leaving her in a low place, but a place that inspired her to materialize that feeling.
“I wanted to make something that expressed that, that expressed that idea of feeling heavy,” Batrezchavez said.
In the far right corner of the gallery stood a five foot, two inch pillar of crumbling cement blocks stacked on top of each other in a pile of dust and fragmented slabs of cement. At first glance, the pillar seemed to be made out of only cement, but was carefully sealed with pieces of her identity.
Layered within the cement was Batrezchavez’s own hair, pictures of her passport, the American flag, corn husks and beans, with some pieces coming from more of a nostalgic place, Batrezchavez said.
“There is nothing else that can represent how I feel right now, in this moment of time,” Batrezchavez said. “This is really a self reflection of that.”
She couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else, she said, other than continuing the process of making her work, working to define an understanding of how she interacts with the world.
“In the end when it comes to being an artist it isn’t just something that you just turn on and off,” Batrezchavez said. “It’s the way you literally live your life everyday.”
Shayla Cunico is the culture editor and music editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ShaylaCunico.