Artist Profile: Morgan DeLuna

Morgan DeLuna: Conceptional Work, Emotional Experiences

Written by Genie Davis

Morgan DeLuna
Morgan DeLuna; Image courtesy of the artist

Morgan DeLuna creates highly conceptual work in which she takes “great care” to plan every element of each created image. “Everything from the lighting and scale down to the title has been designed with meaning and purpose. Because I work with concepts that examine how the internal and external worlds influence the perception of identity, my art-making practice entails a process of questioning, researching, formulating, and performing.”

Perception is a tricky thing, but the overall perception of DeLuna’s meticulous and mesmerizing work is of being invited into a richly emotional experience, one shared with and by its creator. She stresses that her most recent work, Norah, is an outgrowth of earlier work. “I am still looking at identity and liminal space, just from a new angle. I wanted to experiment with visually representing visceral, emotional experiences and memory that shape an individual but are unseen to the outside viewer.”

Currently based in San Diego, her move to Southern California from Minnesota in 2004 led to an exploration of personal topics and questions, after a focus in the performing arts. “Having the opportunity to pursue that career out here I slowly began to find it not as fulfilling as I once had. I was lucky to end up at UCSD, taking their Art and the Creative Process program, where a museum trip introduced me to photography as an artistic medium. I don’t know if I would have found photography and through it, my voice as an individual artist, had I not made the move.”

Exploring the human condition is a tall order, but she was inspired to take this work on, exploring the idea of identity and appearance which seems especially prescient today. “I have always been on the introspective/introverted side and very curious about life, so the inspiration for creating work on the human condition is innate to me,” she asserts. “I have been investigating identity for most of my life. Coming from a mixed ethnic background – Lebanese, Norwegian, and Ashkenazi Jewish – and growing up in Minnesota, I felt culturally and physically out of place.”

While California may be viewed as a more inclusive melting-pot environment, DeLuna notes “I never fully fit in anywhere, it was a peripheral existence. I was constantly asked ‘What are you?’ which thrust my awareness towards the subject of identity at a young age. It caused me to become endlessly fascinated by the topic of how outside perception clashes with, impacts, and shapes the sense of self.”

More than growing up in an ethnically and religiously diverse family, the outside world shaped her work. “Most of my family did not look alike, and we were a mix of Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim,” she explains. Personally, DeLuna was brought up Unitarian Universalist. “Everyone was accepted as is; we respected and observed each other’s religious practices when holidays overlapped. It wasn’t until I started experiencing anti-Semitism in middle school that I started to realize that my upbringing and perspective were not typical. It was in the experiencing of other people’s fears and beliefs that changed the way I understood and saw the world. I would dare to say it didn’t just shape my work, it was the reason I started creating.”

Morgan DeLuna_Phenotype Solo Exhibition
Morgan DeLuna, Phenotype Solo Exhibition; Image courtesy of the artist

DeLuna’s self-portraits are informative and astonishing: both in her story-telling-structured Phenotype and in the abstract, almost landscape-like approach to intimate aspects of herself in Extrospection. Taught in a studio arts class at UCSD about the need to find the right medium for each concept, she has since then sought the best way to visually convey her topics and ideas. “In Phenotype, it was important for me to express that longing to fit in, to be like those women in the glossy magazines I grew up looking at. For Extrospection, I was dealing with rapid weight gain caused by the medication I was taking for PTSD. I had been judging my body quiet harshly when I started thinking about how a curvier figure had been ideal for life-drawing. I wondered if I could approach my own body from that kinder point of view. That work became about finding beauty within the shapes, shadows, and ‘flaws’ of the body to create small, unretouched studies.”

With diverse background interests, ranging from history to science, DeLuna informs her work with her own fascinations. Her series We Walk Tall, was inspired by her Grandfather, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who had proudly served in WW II. “We were very close and as a child, I would sit with him in the den watching history films and listening to stories about his service; it really made a lasting impression on me. When it came to designing this series, I wanted to infuse the interwoven nature of primary and secondary source history along with the present-day commentary I was making. The American flag you see wrapped around the women in the photographs is my Grandfather’s burial flag for his service during WW II. When deciding on the framing, lighting, and posing, I was looking to elevate women of color in a way that, historically, we have not been represented. So, I chose to reference American Presidential portraits of the late 19th and early 20th century.”

DeLuna’s vibrant and visceral work will be appearing in three exhibitions through early 2020. An international traveling group exhibition, Piasanos is currently appearing at the Consulate of Mexico in San Bernadino until February 21, 2020. From January 25 – March 28, 2020, DeLuna’s all-female artist group Strong, Strong Women, will be holding its first exhibition at The Frame Maker in San Diego. In March 2020, work from her series Norah will be up at the Gallery FotoNostrum in Barcelona as a part of The 14th Julia Margaret Cameron Award Exhibition. That work recently won an award in the self-portrait category.

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