548 West, New YorkMay 9 - 12, 2024

Culture and Identity

Kiara Aileen Machado, Centro, 2019, Oil on canvas, 182.88✕152.4cm

Culture does not limit us to the environment in which we are born — instead, it encompasses the ideas, beliefs, and social behavior that we adopt as we travel along the journey of life. However, when we stand at the crossroads of multiple cultures, how does this shape our personal identity and how we perceive ourselves?

The three artists featured in this FOCUS article employ different art forms to express how culture shapes their self-perception. Their artwork not only evokes the knowledge and beliefs of their own upbringing but furthermore draws on the ideas and customs that they grow to embrace. Using a plethora of art forms such as oil painting, ceramics, and textiles, all three artists explore how their interwoven cultures form the fabric of their self-identities.

Natalia Gleason Alcántara, Century of Waste, 2022, Ceramic, 89✕41✕22.5cm

For Mexican artist Natalia Gleason Alcántara, art is more than a way of expression. Instead, it is an extension of the self. Through different art forms such as pottery, enamel, and glazed ceramics, Alcántra expresses not only her life experiences but also shares her culture with the world. The majority of her works have Spanish titles. In ‘Sentido’ (2018), a sculpture made from vitreous enamel, the playful primary colors and insect patterns of the artwork are reminiscent of a child’s toy. Yet the visibly worn-out, corroded texture of the sculpture evokes a sense of nostalgia. Likewise, her artwork ‘Picker’ (2022) draws from her everyday life in the form of a glazed ceramic dustpan and ceramic balls of waste paper. While the items appear ordinary, the unyielding texture of ceramic seems to freeze the dustpan and paper in time, commemorating the commonplace objects.

Natalia Gleason Alcántara, Sentido, 2018, Vitreous enamel, 11.5✕11.5✕11.5cm

Born in California but of Guatemalan and Salvadoran descent, Artist Kiara Aileen Machado also explores her cultural heritage through art. Her vivid oil paintings such as ‘Centro’ (2019) feature tropical backgrounds and figures dressed in traditional Central American attire. By spotlighting her cultural background, Machado criticizes how mainstream US narratives often exclude and marginalize other cultural communities.

Kiara Aileen Machado, Centro, 2019, Oil on canvas, 182.88✕152.4cm

While the artworks of artists such as Alcántara and Machado explore their cultural heritage, textile artist Blair Treuer explores a culture that she grows to embrace. As a Scandinavian raised in Northern Minnesota, Treuer became captivated by the traditional Ojibwe culture after marrying her Native American husband. Several of her textile artworks reflect the Ojibwe ceremonial fabric. In her collection, ‘Portraits: An Identity Exploration’ (2020), Treuer integrates spiritual symbols such as the goldfinch into her art to celebrate the culture she has woven into her own identity. Ultimately, her works not only serve as a way of self-expression and exploration, they moreover prove that art is capable of transcending all social and cultural boundaries.

Written by Rose Wei