Teresita de la Torre: Hilando Relaciones at Eastside International
Through May 26
By Lara Salmon
Upon arrival at Teresita de la Torre’s opening at Eastside International, it was immediately clear that this was not the typical art show opening affair. Cumbia music played loudly as people danced around the gallery. On a side table sat bowls once full of jicama, cucumber, and fruit and bags of spicy chips. An empty tequila bottle and chewed lime wedges, remnants of shots enjoyed, were left alongside a bucket still full of less-popular beverages. Merriment rung through the space—everyone was having fun. It is not uncommon to see alternatives to the clean sterility of the commercial gallery opening or its beer-fueled artist-run counterpart, but this was something different. It felt like we were at a neighborhood party. Teresita said she wanted to make her friends and family who are not in the art world comfortable, so she created a familiar environment for them. Yet, upon reflection, it was they who created this Mexican-American style celebration for her. She thinks of it as a performance that they all did together for the show.
Teresita’s show is formed around a fantasy she has—the fantasy of coming out to her mother. Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco Mexico, Teresita was the sixth of seven children. As a child her parents moved to Laredo, Texas where she grew up. She describes her family and their community as conservative and Catholic. While they may know she is gay, it is not a permissible household conversation topic. She makes art to believe that it is.
The first part of the show is a line of handkerchiefs embroidered with Spanish words in blue and pink thread. The handkerchiefs are presents from Teresita’s grandmother, gifts given to her over the years. And “embroidered” may be too generous of a descriptive for the uneven stitching and obtuse dangling threads. Teresita is clearly not an aspiring seamstress. And yet, this lack of technique lends determination to her desire in communicating these words. “yo le rompi el corazon a la otra muchacha,” “pero volvi con mi ex novia,” “mi novia termino conmigo otravez,” “Ama soy Lesbiana”—they are all things Teresita wanted to tell her mother after a painful break-up with an ex-girlfriend. The old handkerchiefs, the girl baby verses boy baby colored threads, and the untranslated phrases are mysterious for someone who does not speak Spanish or know the artist. Without backstory, the relationship of their cultural and social signifiers is harder to decipher.
On the other side of the gallery at Eastside International is an installation. The scene is meant to be reminiscent of Teresita’s childhood house and bedroom. The twin size bed, whose sheet she used until recently, is stitched with the red-thread words “esta bien ser gay pero so actuar gay” (“it’s okay to be gay but don’t act gay”). Under the pillow is a collection of rosaries and religious items, because her Grandma said they would keep her safe. Some of the items in the installation are from her family’s house and others are meant to represent a more general Latinx home setting. One piece, the golden depiction of the Last Super which hangs on the wall, is almost a duplicate of the one Teresita grew up with. She scoured the internet and drove many miles to obtain this replica.
The most affecting piece in the show is the table that sits center stage. The decorative placemats declare (in pink stitches) “Ama,” “soy,” and “Lesbiana.” This table is the place where Teresita envisions telling her mother she is gay. The fantasy is simple, to sit around the table for a heart-to-heart between mother and daughter. Teresita’s steadfast adherence to the manifestation of this fantasy is beautiful. The tension of desire verses reality throughout the show gives it the sense of broken delusion.
At the center of Teresita’s table is a bright doily with “marimacha” stitched in baby blue thread. Marimacha is a derogatory term for lesbian, a word that intimidates Teresita. She has, in fact, stitched a number of derogatory terms for lesbian in Spanish on kitchen towels. They hang in a line on the wall next to the table. By crafting these words onto common towels, she hopes to take away their power over herself. If she looks at them everyday then the fear of hearing them, from family or strangers, will not be so scary.
Teresita’s show functions upon her belief in a reality that is seemingly just out of grasp. She attempts to fill the gap between personal fantasy and actuality with art.
Teresita de la Torre’s solo show Hilando Relaciones is on view at Eastside International until May 26.
You can see Teresita’s artist website at http://todoslosdias-365.com/
Gallery hours: Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 pm