Saturday, February 17, 2007

February 17 Salon Sit Down - Discussion

Today we featured two writers, Denea Stewart-Shaheed and Erika Gonzalez.

What we focused on in the discussion were questions of artistic ancestry, the ways in which the artists' works interact with landscape and time. Excerpts from the two artists will be available shortly.

As the organizer of the event, and this being the introductory meeting, I was most struck by the balance between organic and formal interaction. I've structured the process so that the artist has time to present their work in any way they so chose. Following their presentation, I ask specifically pointed questions in an attempt to unearth the context of the work. In this sense, the folks in the Salon space act as witnesses to the artist's thought process, presentation and vocabulary.

For Denea, I asked her to speak about her artistic ancestors. She responded by citing: James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, John Coltrane and Bill Withers. What was interesting to me in this is that in addition to those artists, I also saw Toni Cade Bambara, Sharon Bridgforth. Another guest made connections between Denea's work and Tananarive Due's work. I asked Denea how she perceives the underlying dialogue of her work, and she responded that in addition to it being a story of migration, it also serves as a story about relationships between women over generations, as well as an exploration of gender and sexuality. There's sharecropping in her work, migration between Louisiana and Texas, magic, the blurring of boundaries between masculinity and femininity. When the conversation opened up to the guests, their questions and incites focused on the questions of accurate representations, a sense of time and timelessness, boundaries between present and past.

For Erika, I asked her to speak about the border, and the ways in which border tropes impact her writing process. What was immediately apparent in both her work and the reading of it are the repeated images of the border, water, assembly lines - the boundaries between machinery and human bodies - and the multiple references of landscape, mythical ancestry and blood kin. The guests asked her to consider the connections between blood-water-food, the embodiment of Coatlicue within the work itself, and to continue to explore the notion of borders and liminal spaces. Erika identified Gloria Anzaldua and Louise Erdrich as artistic predecessors, specifically. She also discussed how her work is deeply embedded in personal connections to both words and concepts. An artist that was cited in reference to her work was Wangechi Mutu.

Overall, this was a very inciteful discussion and themes of displacement, crossings, borders and water emerged from both of these artists' works. What I can't help but think about is Jonathan Lethem's article "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism" (Harpers - February 2007) on the nature of artistic practice. He writes: "Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing." Whether or not I agree with the notion of a `master' artist is dubious, but the notion that the work of an artist is inherently intertextual (thanks T.B. for this one!) seems quite sensible. I have to say that I also appreciate being pushed to consider the notion that the creative process begins not in the moment of putting pen to paper, tool to matter, but rather, in the moment of inspiration. Very nice.

Can't wait until next month!

February Featured Artist: Denea Stewart-Shaheed

Denea Stewart-Shaheed was one of two featured artists for the Salon Sit Down on February 17th, 2007.


Coming Soon!!

About Her Work:

Coming Soon!!

Excerpts from Her Work:

Coming Soon!!

February Featured Artist: Erika Gonzalez

Erika Gonzalez was one of two featured artists for the Salon Sit Down on February 17th, 2007.


Erika González is a 27 year old Xicana born in the border of Eagle Pass, TX and Piedras Negras Coahuila, MX. She comes from a family of Tejano musicians and migrant farm workers. In 1998, Erika received a scholarship to attend St. Edward's University through the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) where she graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and a Minor in Psychology.

Her passion is working for social justice issues and writing. Currently Erika is Co-Director of a social and environmental justice organization based in East Austin called PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources) where she has worked for the past five years organizing around transportation, affordable housing/gentrification, health and juvenile justice for people of color and the working poor.

About Her Work:

Most of my writing focuses on women in my family and my grandparents. I always keep in mind my ancestors, my grandparents, and the Creator when I write. I see my writing as a way to heal myself and help others heal through my words. When I write, I tend to bring up bodies of water and mention the importance of land. In the pieces I chose to share with the Austin Salon, I write about the loss of my grandmother Mima due to her drinking a gallon of Miracle Water from the Rio Grande aka the Rio Bravo said to have been blessed pure. I write about the connection to my grandmother and question the treatment of bodies of water by humans (contamination) and the effects that has on our health and spirit.

In my other piece, I write about my mother and her strengths and weaknesses as my guide into womanhood. I write about the realization of my mother’s struggles and realize that it is now time for both of us to fight against what has oppressed us. I also explore my own feelings of emptiness in my womb and the hopes of one day having children.

Excerpts of Erika's Work:
published with author's permission. author retains all copyright.

School Trips Part I and II

School Trips Part I: The Tortilla Factory

I was just a little guerquía in Eagle Pass.

not too special,

not too popular,

just a little shy mocosa

in the back of a school bus

going to the tortilla factory or nursing home

on elementary school trips,

as if our mama’s tortillas and abuelitos living

in our own homes weren’t enough already.

But the tortilla factory made me understand

the tortilla in a border town….

All abuelitas made homemade tortillas…

de maíz

or de harina with every meal….

Then, there was the tortilla factory –

an abuelita’s worst nightmare.

All of us guerquios mocosos lined up

outside the building,

pansas llenas with morning tacos,



The door opened.

Our cheeks were kissed

with a hot breeze.


Machinery everywhere,

an assembly line of round maíz

just traveling around and around in a maze

and at the very end were

hundreds of stacks of tortillas, ready to be placed

in clear plastic bags.

We all looked at each other in shock,

almost wanting to puke our morning taquitos

de chorizo and eggs –

but we kept on looking and smelling,


Starting to smell good!


Starting to smell like home!


Starting to smell like the border,

The Border

Where corn and machines meet for the first time,

but abuelitas fight not to be replaced

with brick buildings that sell illusions

to young children

growing up in a border – modern world –

Where corn is snow genetically engineered

and future abuelitas line up for food stamps and buy into the

cycle of believing

the tortilla factory wasn’t so bad after all?

Part II: The Senior Activity Center

Once again we lined up –

Little soldaditos

With hands to our backs

And school teacher breaking us in,

Molding our postures, and saying,

“Mijos, This is the Senior Activity Center.

Portansen bien, and remember to smile

At the viejitos, okay?”

So we lined up to shake viejito’s hands,

Going around and around an assembly line

Of rectangular table while viejitos

Turned their chairs around,

Stopped eating their meals so they

Could smile at us, and shake

Our baby soft hands.

I couldn’t look into their eyes –

Just their old, wrinkled hands

That smelled like

Band aids and baby lotion.

Then viejita says,

“Ay Severino, no es esa tu grandaughter?”

My heart beat


Too embarrassed to speak to Papa Cheno


In line

Couldn’t move.

Couldn’t look into his eyes.

He was a stern man.



Smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.

His home was my home,

But we hardly ever spoke.

We met again.

Two strangers meeting

for the

second time.

Then schoolteacher says,

“Keep the line moving, mija, keep the line moving….”

Our hands met in an embrace.

Felt warm inside.

Felt the border in my heart crumbling.

Felt the distance,

the border crossings,

my abueltio witnessing his home turn into two countries –

bitter strong man –

We crossed a distant border that day.

Papa Cheno and I,

But the line

Still keeps on