In Jasmine Zelaya’s solo show at Ivester Contemporary, “Late Bloomers,” the Houston-based artist explores the awkwardness of growing up and forming identity, drawing from her experience with assimilation as the daughter of Honduran immigrants.
Zelaya’s parents came to the U.S. in the early 1970s, and so her paintings and earthenware sculptures reference the playful psychedelic aesthetics of that era with patterns, colors, and even the makeup and hairstyles of some of her portrait figures. The only visible brushstrokes are squiggle shapes that give the figures’ hair texture, which, when added to the portraits’ bright colors, give them a pop art quality.
Nearly all of the sculptures and paintings in “Late Bloomers” feature women or girls with flower petals in their irises and black flower petal patterns on their two-toned brown skin. The figures have no noses or mouths. Their eyes are pink as if from crying, and small sculptures perch on fake grass, silver tears slide down the figures’ cheeks.
Many of Zelaya’s figures gaze off reflectively, with a kind of emotional teenage introspection. The girlish flower elements adorning their eyes, skin, clothing, and hair position these girls as young, but also as in the process of self consciously creating their identities.
Zelaya’s bold paintings contain subtle elements, like the rhinestones that form part of the pattern on the figures’ shirt in “Teenage Dream,” and the surprising lettuce head design on the figures’ clothes in “In Abundance.” The sculptures, which are mostly busts, carry Zelaya’s visual language into three dimensions, where the flatness of her noseless and mouthless faces is striking.
On view in Ivester Contemporary’s project space, “Dream Hotline,” a multimedia installation by Natalia Rocafuerte, offers a different type of psychedelic vibe. The Austin-based Rocafuerte explores the complexities of identity and land through Mexican immigrant womens’ dreams, and the results are surreal.
At the entrance to the installation, fruit stickers with QR codes are stuck haphazardly on a concrete pillar. When scanned, they lead to a 360-degree video that recounts a dream, taking the viewer along through three floors of a shop in Mexico. A long banner hangs across two walls, turning a corner. Each of its three panels contains a dream journal entry. Panel One has a row of colorful pears, but in Panels Two and Three, the pears are overripe and some cover up parts of the text, obscuring the dream’s plot. Their rotten centers dissolve into the deep blue background of the banner.
In Rocafuerte’s hands, fruit is a complex symbol. It carries labels and must pass inspection to cross borders, like she did growing up on both sides of the Rio Grande. Her fruit imagery also evokes the term pocha, which, derived from a Spanish word for rotting fruit, is used as a putdown against immigrants from Mexico who assimilate into the dominant culture of the United States. Channeling repressed or forgotten memories through dreams, Rocafuerte complicates the idea of assimilation by turning to immigrants’ subconscious.
Headphones in the installation make it possible to listen in on dreams as recounted on an FM-radio station. Callers describe their dreams in response to Jungian questions read in English and Spanish, including “What emotions did you feel?” and “En qué país fue el sueño?”.
Their dreams play fast and loose with time and geography. “I’m in Las Vegas but it’s in China,” one speaker recalls. Meanwhile, the dream situations range from bizarre celebrity encounters, to a botched terrorist plot, to teaching a class on how to clean your eyeballs.
While listening, visitors can watch projections that are mapped onto three satellite dishes. They display a highly saturated sequence that includes anime clips, an infomercial, an animated eyeball, fruit, patterns, masks, and the Mexican passport emblem.
Sharing space at Ivester Contemporary, work by Zelaya and Rocafuerte are nicely in contrast to each other in medium and style. Zelaya’s figures are more immediately approachable than Rocafuerte’s mediascape, but as Latinx women artists interested in immigrants’ experiences of assimilation, their work is thematically linked.
Together, the exhibitions create a conversation between the two artists’ work, experiences, and experimentations.
“Late Bloomers” and “Dream Hotline” continue through Jan. 14 at Ivester Contemporary, Canopy, 916 Springdale Road. ivestercontemporary.com