In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we spoke to digital artist Quintin Gonzalez, associate professor in the Visual Arts department in CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media. Although he doesn’t call himself a political artist, his recent work was created in response to the family separation policy at the Mexico-U.S. border.
We began our conversation by discussing the terms Hispanic and Latino (some feel Hispanic is Eurocentric and exclusionary, as it excludes non-Spanish-speaking countries like Brazil). “Honestly, that argument has been going on for a very long time,” Gonzalez said. “I actually think there are much more important issues, such as the social ills we went through collectively under our ex-president.” For those interested in the child-separation policy, he recommends the book Separated: Inside an American Tragedy by Jacob Soboroff.
Let’s get to know Gonzalez by looking at some of his artwork.
Donde esta mi hijo?
Gonzalez admits he and his wife were very affected by a sound recording of a little girl crying out for her mother at one of the detention centers along the southern U.S. border. “That little girl just kind of haunted me,” he said. The painting’s title translates as “Where is my son?” The mother depicted looks depressed, but she is not crying. “The woman’s face looks as if she’s very sad but cannot cry anymore, which I think is actually the saddest point in someone’s life … where they have wept and wept and wept and at some point, they can’t do it anymore,” he said.
An American Cruelty of Rusted Steel
He may not consider himself a political artist, but Gonzalez does use the hashtag #artwillsavetheworld alongside this painting. His primary goal is quite simple: “First and foremost, humanity,” he said. By making the woman realistic and inescapable—she is centered and looking straight at the viewer—he is trying to humanize her and shift the focus away from the wall. “Somewhere in someone else’s mind, they don’t see migrants as fully human,” he said.
La Lucha (The Fight) merges two themes: migrant rights and Mexican portrayals in popular culture. Gonzalez explained: “Hegemonic whiteness is where whiteness is presented as the norm. It has a subconscious impact on Latinx people.” So he turned to the Mexican tradition of luchadores (masked wrestlers) to create a new archetype. “We were never Superman. We were never Wonder Woman,” he said. “I wanted to create a Chicano superhero.” The people in the background are participants in a migrant rights protest that Gonzalez attended and photographed.
La mujer del dragon
This painting is part of Gonzalez’s Mexican superhero series. “This comes from a period where these figures got kind of weird,” he said. The woman’s luchadora mask with tribal patterns, in tandem with her tattoos and piercing, as well as her animalistic scowl, give dragon woman an otherworldly presence. Against the stark landscape, she feels like a post-apocalyptic warrior. “One of the things that motivated me was that I didn’t see Latinos in heroic depictions,” he said.