Claudia Elisa Zapata ,originally from San Antonio, currently lives in San Antonio, Texas where she is pursuing her Ph.D. at Southern Methodist University in the RASC/a: Rhetorics of Art, Space and Culture Program in Art History. Before moving to Dallas, she spent time in Austin where she received her BA & MA at the University of Texas in Art History, specializing in Pre-Columbian and U.S. Latino Art. Later on, she was the official Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Mexic–Arte Museum from 2010 to 2014. Curating over 30 exhibitions during her time there, Claudia recognizes that period as vital towards her career path. Specializing in Latino/x and Chicano Art, Claudia also cofounded Puro Chingón Collective, a Latinx art collective that publishes art zines and Chingolandia, a Latinx designer toy line. Claudia not only identifies within the art community, but within the queer and Masculine of Center/Boi community as well.
Claudia wears many hats within the arts, which include art making, curating, and art history. Focusing mostly in Post-WWII Chicano art, when political shifts between Europe and the US were altering the direction of Latino lives in the US.
“Chicano Art is 50 years old and it’s challenging to decipher because it talks about an area that has been going on for generations.”
The messages behind the artwork created by Latino artists, like today, have always carried similar voices.
When curating shows, Claudia and the institution work mutually. Depending on the type of institution, the staff, access to available resources, the institutions necessities, her creative thinking, restrictions, and her ability to adapt to the fundamental understanding of the institution itself. For example, while working at the Mexic–Arte Museum, shows were programmed within specific dates such as Dia De Los Muertos.
One challenge of the job is knowing how an institution can serve emerging artists.
“What are the artist’s expectations and what are the institutions? How can their work serve the institution’s permanent collection? How can the artist connect with the community?”
Plenty of Latino/x artists Claudia has worked with deal with the challenge of being underestimated. Issues such as being questioned over who they are as artists, who they are as an ethnicity, and the meaning behind their artwork.
“An institution should allow the artist to have a space and allow themselves to get to know the artist.”
In her opinion, cities such as Austin have a lot of informal gallery spaces and not a lot of space for emerging artists, especially for emerging POC artists. Usually being reduced to certain events and holidays. In general, she believes art museums typically aren’t welcoming spaces for POC artists.
Currently, Claudia is working on her dissertation and engaging with the wider art historical community through conferences and various publications. She’s also working within zine communities, which are primarily event-based, to promote Puro Chingón Collective and the artists involved. Her activities range from speaking at lectures, booths at events, and overseeing the annual zine publication and release party for ChingoZine. A product of Puro Chingón Collective and the first project the collective worked on, has been something Claudia along with the rest of the team: Claudia Aparicio-Gamundi, and James Huizar, are very proud of. Enchanted by the museum environment and possibility of exposing emerging POC artists, the team started the zine back in 2012. The work presented is about experimentation, breaking from formal rules, and circulation of Latinx artwork and artists. Their success is measured by the outcome of people who show up to the ChingoZine release parties, by the way they execute the zine itself, the circulation of the zine, and by allowing the zine to act as a historical archive and network for artists.
Claudia’s motivation for these projects are centered around visual experiences and ideals within a society. Oppression towards less fortunate communities, the way the effects of colonialism have altered our existence today, and the fact that a sort of hierarchy is present in all corners of the art world are deeper reasons as to why Claudia keeps going.
“The idea of art production and community building are not just to make the product, but for the continuation of the project itself. You see where you are needed. I have the capability to exist because of my own abilities.”
When curating for the zine, Claudia looks for specific themes and the presence of the idea of Latinx and Chicano art. The end product is a small booklet in black and white, ranging from design to photography. The team’s targeted audience is typically artists, designers, Latino, or queer Latinos who they feel benefit the most from the space created. They hope that by doing so, they are creating a safe environment for these individuals who usually don’t see themselves reflected in mainstream media.
“This makes me think of a Junot Diaz quote about reflecting on oneself.”
"You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn't see myself reflected at all. I was like, "Yo, is something wrong with me?”
Being raised in San Antonio within a Mexican household and spending most of her childhood there, life as a woman was about following the rules of a patriarchal world. If any self doubt or questions about her own sexuality and gender aroused, she knew it was better to disregard them. Following this period, it took years for her to articulate what was missing.
Today Claudia identifies as a queer Chicana who is also part of the Masculine of Center/ Boi community. MOC/Boi is a community made up of mostly women who identify as gay, queer, through their own identity in terms of gender, and gender presentation. This community serves as a safe space for people who identify as such and was first introduced through the Brown Boi Project, located in Oakland California. The term Masculine of Center/ boi is a fairly new concept, coined by the group's founder, B Cole. Being part of this community and interacting with other queer and queer Latino/x people, have helped her have a better understanding of who she is.
Identifying as a queer POC has negative and positive implementations within her professional life. For one, it dictates the way she sees herself in the workplace in terms of acceptance and visibility.
In her opinion, the LGBTQ community is still defining itself in an ongoing period of conceptual reflection and defining. As a person with the privilege of having a profound knowledge in history, Claudia uses this to help others like herself. She believes that by being herself and presenting herself through fashion, people will see that it’s possible.
“A lot of it is about how I present myself in this sort of legitimization of a typical place through fashion. It may seem like a common look but in reality you don’t get to see my look in public. Others do…. The linear directional approach to progress assumes an evolution: that at one point this is better than the period that came before. Do I think that the community is going in a positive direction? I will have to be elusive and say that the lack of a binary approach to thought and existence is what makes the LGBTQ community said community. All that are a part of this community engage in unique ways and experiences, but are part of a shared experience of sexual and gender identities that lack a conventional approach to experiencing life than the heteronormative experience.”
Ultimately, her goals include finding better ways to adapt and to add to history that she believes needs more work and inclusion. A primary efforts includes preserving and promoting US Latino/x and Chicano art. It’s important for her to accomplish this because these aforementioned objectives are integral to a wider objective of arts advocacy and a proper balance of art historical records that recognizes and reflects upon the diversity of artists that exist today.
For more information over Claudia Elisa Zapata, make sure to visit her website at claudiaelisazapata.com.