TK Tunchez, Space Creatress

With mercados such as Frida Fridays, this artist and jewelry maker makes room for women of color

TK Tunchez (front left) at Empire Control Room surrounded by other creators who have helped shape and support Luna Llena (l-r): Rejuvenate Bath & Body owner Melinda Dawson, Cool Beans owner Priscilla Jerez, co-coordinator and jeweler Tabitha Hamilton, DJ Eddie "Chorizo Funk" Campos, and live painter Carmen Rangel. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

TK Tunchez, Space Creatress

Artist and jewelry maker TK Tunchez remembers how difficult it was when she first moved to Austin from San Antonio to be a woman of color in mostly white spaces. The pop-up markets here were usually expensive to attend, and the clientele did not always appreciate her work, so she felt pressured to change her creative style to conform to mainstream jewelry-making.

Now, after making connections with other women of color who are artists and vendors in the area, she is actively working to make spaces for entrepreneurship and creative collaboration. That's why she began the Frida Friday mercados at Kebabalicious in March, and in May, took over hosting Poco a Poco's Midweek Mar­kets, begun in 2016 at Rio Rita and now held at Sahara Lounge. These pop-up events feature vendors from across Texas who come to share their work, such as handmade needlepoint and crafts from Hermanas and Crafts, natural soaps from Nepantla Life, gemstones from Brujatx, and more. But these events aren't just for selling goods. Tunchez makes it a priority to feature local musicians and DJs; DJ Mahealani is a regular, and there's always a guest headliner – Stephanie Bergara of Bidi Bidi Banda performed in October to benefit the victims of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico and the earthquake in Mexico. The markets also raise funds for women-focused organizations such as the Lilith Fund to help low-income women in Central Texas meet their financial and reproductive needs.

And these markets are only growing in frequency and collaborations. With the help of the community she has cultivated here, Tunchez launched a Luna Llena mercado series in September with food trucks and musical acts that include Chulita Vinyl Club, Chorizo Funk, and Krudas Cubensi. According to Tunchez, expanding these curated markets is more important than ever. Consid­ering the historic attacks on women's bodily autonomy taking place at the federal and state level and President Trump's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, making spaces where women of color and undocumented residents feel safe is crucial. As she says, "I am a space maker. That feels very important to me. We need this space for cultural survival."

TK Tunchez (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
“I am a space maker. That feels very important to me. We need this space for cultural survival.” – TK Tunchez

Tunchez finds that to be especially true in today's Aus­tin, where attacks on Latinx culture are becoming more prevalent and a city claiming to be a liberal bastion of "cultural appreciation" is tilting more toward cultural appropriation and even erasure. In July, Chulita Vinyl Club was asked to end its set at Upstairs at Caroline early because the hotel didn't want CVC playing Latino music – despite the fact that its restaurant serves Latino fusion cuisine. In historic black and brown neighborhoods on Austin's Eastside, murals such as the Mama Sana mural on East 12th are being covered and replaced with art that's generically "Austin." "My focus is not to create a space that caters to the white gaze," Tunchez explains, but rather to foster a space where all are welcome, but where women of color are centered. "When women get together, magic happens. I am the curator and facilitator of the event, but the reason it is successful is because these women are bringing their magic to the event."

Tunchez's creative work is just as vital to her as her work as a "space creatress." Her store, Las Ofrendas – roughly "the offerings" – speaks to the shared experience of partaking in her work. The flower crowns that she creates and shares on her Instagram page are worn by ecstatic customers and marketgoers who glow with happiness at being reinas for a day, with no special occasion necessary but to celebrate their beauty. In the jewelry she makes, Tunchez incorporates gemstones that she searches for in her travels, keeping some pieces simple while making others, like her Mayan textile earrings, with more complex woven designs. Sometimes she includes folk imagery and iconography from Latinx cultures, such as the unique portraits of Frida Kahlo. Her process often begins with finding the right color palette that is vibrant and bright: electric blues, marigold oranges, sunny yellows.

"Las Ofrendas celebrates the divine within: my identity as a queer, fem Latina indigena," Tunchez says. Having trained with a Mayan/Azteca stone healer, she felt inspired to craft jewelry that combines beauty and healing and asked herself, "How can I get stones into people's hands?" Tunchez also felt a desire to connect with her heritage as an adopted Guatemalan American woman. Stones were a part of her ancestors' stories and power. Through this practice of stone healing, she learned more about the properties of different gems and the stories behind each of them, and as she began to create pieces with gems, she was able to gift the stories to her customers.

Samples of jewelry, flower crowns, and other wares made by TK Tunchez for sale at Luna Llena at Empire Control Room (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The markets Tunchez has created have also been inspired by her travels and heritage, especially her journeys through central Mexico and her time taking part in the mercados and pulgas ingrained in Mexican and Mexican-American identity. She's sought to bring the communal pride and mutual support traditional in those markets to the ones she has cultivated in Austin.

Tunchez hopes not only to keep the existing markets going but also to expand them and create further opportunities for community building, such as collaborating with women of color artists and healers to offer workshops and activities. Recent support from and work with #BossBabesATX could help cement these events in the culture of Austin. In a rapidly gentrifying city where many are searching for this kind of community, convening to make these markets happen can be an act of resistance against efforts to erase women of color's power.

The next Frida Friday will be a Holiday Mercado Fri., Dec. 8, 6-10pm, at Kebabalicious, 1311 E. Seventh. Follow Tunchez’s store, Las Ofrend­as, on Facebook and on Instagram @lasofrendas.

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