While we all follow in our journeys, few do so with a conviction and belief in what they do and the motives that lead down the road.
As someone who sought art that looked like her and her surroundings, Chicana artist Irma Patricia Aguayo has been on her own path of creation since she was 14 years old, with her earliest work taking the form of the people around her.
“My first subjects were my family,” she shared. “I have portraits of my family, my sister, my brother and I just began to paint a lot of brown skin.”
Aguayo remembers an experience she had with her sister at Main Street Park, which lead her to see art as a journey.
“My sister and I saw this indigenous spirit here in San Diego,” she shared. “He has been the goal, the ultimate goal was to paint him; but painting is now the journey, because it has opened doors for me to paint that spirit.”
As a part of this journey, Aguayo came across Berenice Badillo, whom she cites as a major influence. One night during a San Diego exhibition of Cheech Marin’s Chicano art exhibit, Aguayo found herself astounded by the indigenous images depicted in Badillo’s work, becoming an instant inspiration.
At 22, Aguayo held her first solo art show at the now-closed Chicano Perk Coffee Shop, a hub for artists and poets in the Logan Heights area. From that point on, her artistic projects began to take off.
“I started showing at different places in Barrio Logan. We had shows at Voz Alta and I got to curate a few shows,” Aguayo recalled.
Aguayo gathers works that center on identity topics, which closely correlate with her motifs, as part of her curatorial process in organizing art shows. For her, it is very important to create and show pieces that add to the empowerment of Chicanos and Chicanas everywhere.
As a curator, Aguayo had the opportunity to collaborate with Badillo in as part of a show titled Chicana: Una Decision Consciente, which celebrated the lives of 30 women in the Chicano movement and featured a 20-foot-tall statue of a brown-skinned woman, made and painted by both artists.
Aguayo’s latest curatorial effort was a show titled Magia de Mujer, which was hosted at Barrio Logan’s La Bodega Gallery this March. This exhibit presented a departure of sorts from traditional Chicano iconography toward work that displays the creative force Chicana women can evoke through their roots.
“(Magia de Mujer) spoke a lot about magic and portals more so than physical things such as protests and marches; it wasn’t about that,” Aguayo explained. “I felt that we all have that magic of creation as women, not just because we can give birth, but because there are women who choose to not give birth and go on to create beautiful art and poetry.”
Despite a strong focus on her own art and curating shows, Aguayo’s work is not limited to gallery spaces. In 2012, Aguayo gathered a group of young local artists to paint a four-sided mural on a pillar at Chicano Park. The mural depicts Chicano Park Steering Committee Chairperson Tommie Camarillo and was used as the primary image for 2017’s Chicano Park Day Celebration poster.
“As a Chicana artist, there is no greater honor than having a mural at Chicano Park,” she stated.
Through a collaboration with the San Diego Museum of Art, Aguayo has also worked along residents of communities such as Logan Heights, Southeast San Diego, Lemon Grove, and National City to create public art in these communities.
Her work in the community also reaches Chicano Park as a Steering Committee member and Sherman heights, where she directs the Community Center with a keen, respectful ear for the wants and needs of the community.
“The center belongs to the people and I am here to be accessible and to take into consideration what they say they need,” she said. “I am a Shelltown resident, I don’t live in (Sherman Heights), so I come with respect for all the people who have worked very hard to being the neighborhood into what it is. These communities have a history and activism so I always feel that the center belongs to the people and I am just here to help out.”
As part of this artistic journey she traverses, Aguayo says that she will continue to paint and create all while making herself available to others who are also on their own creative journeys.
“My take on art and helping others is that we are all a resource and a bridge and we should all be sharing that,” Aguayo said. “When we show new artists I always tell them that I appreciate their work, that I like what they’re doing, and say yes if there is anything that I can help out on.”