It’s not often that you see a luchadore with long, luscious lashes, sparkling blue eyeliner and popping pink lips. But that’s exactly the sight awaiting visitors in the current stairwell installation at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH).
UC Santa Cruz alumnus, class of 2018, and artist Jorge Gomez-Gonzalez’s “Idolos (Icons)” is on display at the MAH until Jan. 26 next year. Ascending the stairwell, visitors can find photos of Gomez-Gonzalez in drag, dressed as six different Latinx icons from his childhood.
“I like to reference my upbringing and my experiences in the work that I do,” Gomez-Gonzalez said. “It’s been a cathartic experience looking back at everyone that I have looked up to because one of the things that has frustrated me a lot is who we’re allowed to see as icons in our community.”
Originally from Oakland, Jorge Gomez-Gonzalez moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC. After graduating, he stayed in the area and continued to work on art. His photography projects include documenting communities in other countries and self-portraiture, like “Idolos (Icons).”
Representation matters to Gomez-Gonzalez, which is why he researches the people he includes in his art. Childhood experiences, Mexican telenovelas and his mother’s music introduced these Chicanx luminaries to Gomez-Gonzalez, but he still made sure to do his homework before using their likenesses.
From the folkloric la Llorona and comedic el Chapulín Colorado to singer Amanda Miguel and actress Doña Florinda, “Idolos (Icons)” sends the message that your role models don’t necessarily need to look like everyone else’s.
“To me it’s important that I [portray] someone that I feel a connection with and has impacted my life in a positive or negative way,” he said. “I can do justice to create a new narrative that I’m able to push and feel comfortable showing the world.”
Gomez-Gonzalez was also wary singling out one person as a representative of an entire culture. Frida Kahlo is a prime example of this tendency, he said.
Despite being a skilled artist with a complex background, the commercialization of Frida Kahlo in the U.S. reduces to her to being a figurehead of Mexican art. Her identity as a queer, disabled woman of color with strong political beliefs are often left by the wayside in favor of her aesthetic value.
“I’m constantly looking for other queer or Latino artists out there and giving them shoutouts,” Gomez-Gonzalez said. “We need to create a more complex way of how we see the world and how the world sees different communities.”
Gomez-Gonzalez also challenges conventional gender roles through his art. “Idolos (Icons)” is the fourth chapter of a larger series titled “Mi Vida Con Maquillaje (My Life In Drag),” in which he explores matters of identity through makeup.
By portraying female idols himself, or representing male icons wearing makeup, Gomez-Gonzalez urges viewers to think about traditional stereotypes.
“El Luchador represents hypermasculinity, but what happens if I include makeup? Huge eyelashes and nails? How does that also challenge my community of what machista looks like, of what masculinity looks like?” said Gomez-Gonzalez in reference to his piece “Soy El Luchador.”
When tackling these questions that relate to identity and community, form is just as important as content. Gomez-Gonzalez is the subject of all of the photos in this series, and the art itself is much more than just the finished product.
“Be the representation that you want to see,” Gomez-Gonzalez said. “With my work, I’m trying to find ways to bridge what communities can be and what they can look like. What acceptance can be.”
Self-love and exploration are part of Gomez-Gonzalez’s journey of becoming more comfortable with the things he was taught to fear growing up. He also hopes his art will also help other members in the Latinx and LGBTQIA+ communities feel comfortable as well.
In his project “Casa de Sinverguenzas,” Gomez-Gonzalez photographs members of the family he has built living in Santa Cruz. The subjects partake in the same kind of self-reflection that he did for “Idolos (Icons),” fostering feelings of closeness and discovery.
“It’s important for me to do self portraits because it’s learning to love myself and continue loving myself. The process is so important for me,” Gomez-Gonzalez said. “It’s therapeutic to just sit there […] and look at yourself in the mirror. I’m putting time into myself to love myself because this is how I feel I can love myself.”