Performance artist Patricia Alvarado has punched walls, glued hair onto old porn images and reenacted old beauty rituals to challenge and question societal standards.
The 21-year-old Chicago native is not your traditional artist. Instead of using paint or models, Alvarado uses a variety of mediums that include her body, images, text and video. Her work often focuses on topics like identity, femininity and issues surrounding women of color. She has translated lived experiences and feelings into a collection of powerful thought provoking pieces.
I reached out to Alvarado to discuss the creative process behind her personal and impactful artwork. We talked about her mottos for 2014, embracing your beauty and her take of what it means to be a ‘bitch’.
Who are you and where you from?
I’m a sober brown queer Filipina artist named Patricia Alvarado from Chicago, IL.
Above: A screenshot from Alvarado’s performance “Keep ‘Em Coming.“
Performance art is most often used to display or inform the world about important issues using non-traditional methods, but what’s your definition of performance art? How did you decide to create art through this method? Were you inspired by anything in particular? Are there any challenges in using your own body to visually convey a message?
For me, performance art is any work that relies heavily on a performative aspect, whether the final piece is the performance itself, or an object resulting from some type of performance. I guess I decided to start working in that way because it felt natural; it felt like a fitting medium for the works I was interested in creating. The medium I work in is always reliant on the idea. The relationship between the content and the medium is something I’m very interested in; why should a piece be a photograph rather than a video? Why should it be a live performance rather than a video projection of said performance? I’m interested in artists like Adrian Piper and Kara Walker whose work is highly reliant on some type of performance. For me, the challenges of using my own body are just human challenges; times where I feel weak or inadequate. But I use myself because I want to provide some type of mirror for other queer/fat/brown women. I want us to be seen.
I’ve noticed that both of your blogs speak a lot of about empowering and welcoming women of color. Your most recent performance piece, Thinking about wanting to be white in 2008 in 2013, is a seven minute video of you applying your mother’s white makeup in an attempt to change your skin tone. By reenacting this former beauty ritual, what do you hope to accomplish?
I hoped to accomplish what I always hope to accomplish, which is the sparking of a dialogue. When I was physically doing things like lightening my skin daily or getting my hair thermally reconditioned to be constantly straight, I didn’t understand that I was doing these things because I equated whiteness with beauty, I just thought I wanted to be prettier. The insidiousness is what interests me. The reality of the situation is that black people have gotten fired from jobs and threatened with expulsion (and much more) because of their natural hair, dark skinned women are slighted by white supremacy into thinking that the color of their skin makes them unappealing and inferior, and whiteness is still communicated as the most ideal. When I was critiqued in class for this piece, I was one of two people of color in the room, which is often the case. I listened as person after person talked about how this piece was about makeup and general beauty standards and how they could relate because they felt pressured to do their hair nicely, and I was just completely floored by the level of misunderstanding, and quite honestly, the level of selfishness communicated to me by many of my white woman peers. I thought to myself, this is why I stopped identifying as a feminist. This piece specifically was never about makeup; it was never that simple. It was about my experiences as a woman of color feeling the crushing weight of white supremacy as a young teenager; experiences I know other women of color can relate to. That is what I want to have a dialogue about.
As a woman of color myself and proud Filipina, growing up I was always told by relatives that being too tanned was ugly. What words of advice would you give to women of color struggling to find beauty within themselves?
Wow I really feel that. My mom and my twin sister are very light skinned, and my dad, brother, and I are all dark skinned. I used to be so jealous of my mom and sister because they were so light; but now I tell my dad that I’m grateful to be his color. Anyways, my words of advice would be to attempt to surround yourself with other brown people who are feeling similar struggles. When I started to talk about these feelings with other women of color around a year or so ago, my entire world changed. The way I looked at the world changed. I was truly able to embrace myself in being a woman of color, and that was so important. Seeing mirrors of yourself out in the world is so important, and since we can’t rely on the media to show us representations of ourselves, we just have to find it other places. It’s that much harder, but ultimately so satisfying. Also just as a lil piece of love from me to you; you are beautiful, no matter how shitty you’ve felt in your life about being a woman of color, you are an ultimate queen, and the universe is blessed to have you in it.
What influences your art? Is it mainly past experiences or modern day issues? What is your creative process?
My lived experiences influence my art the most. I don’t make work about things I don’t experience. Of course the outside world influences me in a variety of ways, but my ideas come from my experiences, whether they be past or present. My creative process is the weirdest thing in the universe to explain because it makes no sense to me. I pretty much come up with ideas based on my thoughts and feelings. I’m an emotional person.
In many of your works, you’ve focused on body hair and appearances, challenging what society views as femininity. Where do you think you’re going from here in terms of new artwork and future goals?
This is so whack of me, but I’m not really sure right now. I’m still pretty focused on social issues and lived experiences, so my future work will continue to play in within those themes. I feel a lot of anxiety about my work being only associated with “feminism,” so I’ve been trying to break out of that. (Not because I have an issue with feminist art, just because I don’t want to be boxed in as only making one type of work.) As far as future goals, I just want to graduate college, work and save money, keep up my studio practice, potentially move back to Chicago, go to grad school somewhere, and then I hope to move back to Brooklyn (I think).
You’ve mentioned that you were a fan of Bitchtopia. What does the term, ‘Bitch’ mean to you and why is feminism so important in your life?
I’m here for aggressiveness in a society that makes women feel like they need to apologize before speaking. I’m here for the assertive women taking over. When I think of the term “bitch,” I think about Nicki Minaj talking about the negative connotations that come with being referred to as a “bitch.” To me, being a bitch isn’t about being a mean person; it’s about owning your queen status, and being aggressive about the things you deserve and work for. Feminism is important to me because it taught me to be critical. I don’t feel comfortable identifying as a feminist at this point in time. With things like Ani DiFranco attempting to hold a “feminist retreat” at a former slave plantation, white feminists defending Miley Cyrus against “slut shaming” whilst completely ignoring her use of black women as literal props to authenticate whatever the fuck she’s even doing at this point, or even just at the root of it all, the simple truth that for years on years, feminism at large has ignored the struggles that women of color face in favor of conversation that is un-critical of the privileges white women are granted. That being said, I’m not being a hater! Feminism has taught me so many things, and I wouldn’t be where I am now had it not been for feminist thinkers and activists.
What is your motto for 2k14?
Claim the universe as your own. Crown yourself the queen.
Kick those who compromise your mental health out of your life.
No time to praise mediocre white men for unimpressive shit.
Women of color are on the come up so WATCH OUT.
You can see more of Patricia’s work here:
Catherine Uy is a freelance journalist and blogger. She loves pizza, traveling and old school photo booths.