‘Tina Medina's Pochismas’

Review of Tina Medina's 'Pochismas' at Women & Their Work

Arts Review

Tina Medina's 'Pochismas'

Women & Their Work, through Sept. 20

Knowing the meaning of the word "pocho" Ñ a person of Mexican origin who is willfully ignorant of his heritage and doesn't speak Spanish Ñ one might expect some fierceness in Tina Medina's "Pochismas," currently on view at Women & Their Work. However, the absence of bald anger is the first of many surprises in her show. Instead, humor and whimsy are the guiding conceit of Medina's work on walking the bicultural tightrope Mexican-Americans confront. Another surprise is the quiet delicacy of the exhibit. Handkerchiefs Ñ from dainty thrift store finds to sturdy men's handkerchiefs Ñ are the predominant "canvas" for her work, inspired by paño art created by inmates who write or draw messages to family and friends on handkerchiefs when paper is not available.

Two pieces, Obserd and Be Specific, are particularly striking. Each features an "indigenous" face (that resembles Medina) drawn in graphite and acrylic. In the first, the image wears a duncelike cap with "obserd" written across the front, its eyes glance downward. The second work features a more confident face, gazing into the distance, "Be Specific" written in old English text on a banner beneath. Sun rays suggestive of La Virgen de Guadalupe surround the face. Prominent in this image is a cactus leaf sprouting from the forehead, a visual representation of "tienes nopal en la frente." Idiomatically, the phrase means that a person has strong indigenous features. Taken together, the works invoke both the outsider status felt by Mexican-Americans Ñ both in the U.S. and in Mexico Ñ as well as the consternation that comes with the familiar "What are you?" question. As mestizos, with indigenous and European ancestors (and in the present, a blend of Mexican and U.S. culture), there is no simple response, and yet this is a question that always demands an uncomplicated response.

Other influences include Aztec codices and comic book art, which Medina skillfully blends in several pieces, bringing the ancient into the present and vice-versa. And there's no shortage of humor in her work. In "Nopalita Headgear," a cactus leaf is sealed in cellophane like a package of Mexican herbs. A bright-eyed indigenous face smiles on the label, imploring the viewer to "Get your ethnic on!" In a more droll commentary on the consumption of "ethnic art," Medina has stamped in the corner of some pieces, "Genuine Ethnic Art by Tina Medina ... enjoy the art, avoid the people who make it."

Of the 23 pieces in "Pochismas," one is an installation, Dos Casas/Two Houses. In this, two houses, one white, one blue, silently face each other. An audio loop alternating between "Happy Birthday" and "Las Mañanitas," norteño music and "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and other familiar tunes from both sides of the cultural map belie the stillness, creating a sensorially resonant representation of negotiating the tightrope Medina is obsessed with in her compelling, often poignant exhibit.

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Medina, Pochismas, bicultural, Mexican, mestizo, installation

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