Artpace Teen Council: An Interview with Artist José Villalobos by Elia Taylor

THE ARTPACE TEEN COUNCIL IS A NINE-MONTH, PAID PROGRAM DESIGNED FOR SAN ANTONIO AREA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS (15–18 YEARS OLD) TO BECOME ADVOCATES FOR CONTEMPORARY ART AND YOUNG LEADERS IN THEIR COMMUNITY. TEEN COUNCIL MEMBERS WORK WITH ARTPACE STAFF AND ARTISTS TO DEVELOP TEEN PROGRAMS, SUPPORT ARTPACE EVENTS, AND CREATE COMMUNITY-BASED PROJECTS THROUGHOUT THE SCHOOL YEAR.   
THIS YEAR, TEEN COUNCIL MEMBERS WILL RESEARCH AND WRITE AN ARTPACE BLOG ENTRY ABOUT THE INNOVATIVE ART AND ARTISTS THAT MAKE UP THE THRIVING SAN ANTONIO COMMUNITY. 

An Interview with Artist José Villalobos by Elia Taylor

Photo of José Villalobos by Andrea Rampone.

José Villalobos is a queer, Latinx artist based in San Antonio. Through his clothing and performance-based artwork, Villalobos challenges toxic masculinity and the restricting rules that exist within gender roles. He illustrates the conflict that lies within embracing femininity and the expectations that coincide with what one is expected to be. Growing up and being raised in a very conservative household, where machismo was very much present, there were certain things or actions I always felt were wrong for me to do. Even as a child it was wrong for me to do something that was considered to be feminine or girly. So, I was always trying to understand why it was so wrong.”

José’s work aims to empower communities who aren’t often heard. One thing that inspires him is the opportunity to connect to others through his work and help them through experiences similar to his own. “For me, the most inspiring part is the ability to help others through my artistic practice. Whether it’s helping another individual out with a related issue I may be going through or simply sparking that sense of encouragement to face these struggles they face every day. Seeing the outcome in others of what comes after experiencing my work is important.”

Not only does Villalobos use his art to connect and help others who have experienced similar struggles with not fitting into a set gender role, but also through taking ownership of his queerness he challenges the way masculinity is performed daily. “It’s a lot heavier when it is a person of color because we’re so heavily raised in this very traditional cultural space that has strict definitions of what our gender role is. It’s very sacred; it’s kind of what is used to shape and mold us and when we don’t abide by those rules you’re seen as a disobedient and disrespectful person.”

Jose Villalobos, A Las Escondidas performance, 2019. Photo by Jenelle Esparza.

Villalobos describes how throughout his career his work takes a natural shift.  “The work that I have is very deep and personal to myself and the struggles that I have personally faced. So, with a new shift in my work, I’m still creating work that is about these struggles, but now it’s not just my history, it’s the history of others. That’s the way I’m connecting to it. “At the moment José is creating work for Artpace that highlights some of the individuals who have been left out of history and shows who was in those spaces during that time. “The exhibition is about the Braceros, who were farm laborers that were contracted from Mexico to work in The United States. We’re always hearing these stories about these men and how they came to work in the fields, lived in barracks, and were working just to support their family in Mexico. That was also a time in which lot of Mexicans suffered discrimination and racism. The exhibition, de los otros, is historically based in these spaces, in which stories of queer individuals existed , but are rarely talked about. We’re always hearing about these macho men who made the farms thrive during WWII, but I wanted to go deeper into it history, as some of  those “macho men” were also queer.”

“Ultimately, the work is about why people of color and queer people of color are always silenced. We have a voice but we are always kept quiet and it’s because of how we’re raised and how we are told to exist in many spaces. The work really aims to put the spotlight on these specific individuals or histories that are erased or are never mentioned” Villalobos wraps up by sharing that researching and learning is an integral part of an artist’s work. “That’s how we discover whether we’re capable of doing things, or you find histories you didn’t even know existed.”

Cover image: Photo of José Villalobos by Marc Arevalo.

To read more about Jose Villalobos and his Artpace Main Space exhibition, de los otros, please visit the exhibition page here.

Elia Taylor is a senior at Steele High School. This is Elia’s first year participating in the Artpace Teen Council.