The Moment Where You Push Yourself: Jorge Gomez-Gonzalez, MFA ’22
Jorge Gomez-Gonzalez arrived at SMFA at Tufts University in 2020, outspoken about their identity as a gay-Mexican activist artist and how it guides their practice. “All my work is about how trauma looks and changes and how it can appear differently from one person to another,” they said. Their photography and performances center around the aftershocks—the scars, bruises, and weighty burdens that marginalized individuals carry as a result. Their family is from Jalisco, Mexico but they were raised in Oakland, California—and shuttling back and forth between these cities and distinct cultures in the body of an outsider is at the core of their MFA work.
When they came out to their immediate family as an adolescent, Jorge’s father was ultimately supportive yet expressed fear because gay Mexicans in Jalisco were frequently tortured and killed by homophobic men. “I was just looking at my culture with these feelings of wanting to reject it before my culture rejected me,” they explained. In contrast, when Jorge came out at school in Oakland, they were embraced by protective friends and educators. Even at that young age they experienced a kind of survivors’ guilt that is still at the root of much of their art.
Jorge avoided returning to Mexico for years out of concern of homophobia, but their family got together following their 2018 graduation from UC Santa Cruz to pay for a trip anyway. When Jorge became aware that their town’s new mayor was openly gay, they ultimately agreed to accept the gift. Were things shifting slowly, they wondered? In the role of the insider/outsider artist, they documented newly built infrastructure and a cousin’s wedding ceremony and reception—a heterosexual celebration that they would never personally experience.
Makeup serves as a protective mask capable of either covering or revealing trauma in Jorge’s Idolos series of performative portraiture. Here (as in all their work) they deliberately leave titles in Spanish without italics or translation, forcing non-Spanish speaking viewers to carve out linguistic entry points. They explained, “It's always interesting seeing people try to work out the Spanish titles in their head, especially since most know Spanish from a high school Spanish class.”
In these images, Jorge takes on the costumed personas of Latin icons to demonstrate the interweaving of sexuality and identity. Many pieces reference their childhood habit of secretly applying nail polish and makeup, then frantically scrubbing it off in the bathroom to avoid being “caught” by family members. Here makeup—considered illicit depending on who wears it and how—is flaunted with a heavy hand. The series was shown at The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History in 2020 and makeup continues to play a strong role in their practice.
Most recently in the MFA program, their work has addressed the racism experienced both on a personal and systemic level in the United States, including in Boston. In a clear continuation of Idolos, with “Lately I Wanna Smack Some Mouths,” Jorge assumes the persona of Maria Felix dressed in a campesina dress, with a wig of braids referencing old school beauty ideals. Glitter-dusted pinto beans reverently adorn their face like precious jewels. The work’s title references the lyrics of a popular protest song, “Frijolero" by Molotov:
"Now I wish I had a dime
For every single time
I've gotten stared down
For being in the wrong side of town
And a rich man I'd be
If I had that kind of chips
Lately I wanna smack the smiles
Off these racists"
Jorge has discovered real community through the Artists of Color Union, primarily with emerging undergraduate artists. They are currently conceptualizing a collaboration with a performance artist peer from the group. Meanwhile, they have been active on virtual panels this year, especially one exploring identity through Tufts Latinx Center. They reflected, “It was really interesting to hear other students’ perspectives because things here on the East Coast are totally different. In Oakland, Mexicans are the majority. I’m still exploring whether I’m Chicanx or not.”
Recently, Jorge began to experiment more deeply with video performance art. They are thankful for faculty member David Antonio Cruz in particular, who encouraged that they dig deeper. Jorge remembered, “He would always say I'm still waiting for that moment where you push yourself. This is good, but you can do better. I really loved that because a lot of times, people look at my work and don't know what to do with it. I get the silent room a lot.”
“Sin Pelos En La Lengua” is the result of that dialogue. In the performance piece, Jorge graphically digests and regurgitates a long, black ponytail—a symbol of how it feels to have to passively chew and swallow the wounds caused by racism without the ability to speak out.
Lead image: Martha, image courtesy of Jorge Gomez-Gonzalez
Please note, artwork titles are not italicized or underlined in alignment with the artists' preferences.