Icon Maker: Gabriel Garcia Roman
Get to know the artist Gabriel Garcia Roman as we sit down and talk about his monumental art project "Queer Icons", Mexico and the dancing rituals of introverts.
Listen to the complete conversation on the Studio Confession's episode #34-2 "Icon Maker"
LM: Are you a New Yorker, originally?
GGR: No, I was born in Zacatecas (Mexico), I grew up in Chicago, and I have been in New York for twenty years.
LM: Where do you consider home at this point?
GGR: Since day one, New York. I think it was the diversity, and the frenetic energy that the city has made me feel much at home. Growing up in Chicago never really felt like that was home, even though that’s where I grew up. I never felt welcomed there. Once I came here it was like no one gave a shit about anything and you could live anonymously if you wanted to or you could be an extrovert. Basically, you could reinvent yourself coming to the city.
LM: Do you get to go to Zacatecas often?
GGR: Yes, I get to go once a year. Which is a beautiful experience because I didn’t grow up going to Zacatecas. We were undocumented until I was sixteen, so we couldn’t travel. When my parents retired fifteen years ago they went back, since then I have been going every year.
LM: What’s that like?
GGR: It’s eye-opening. I grew up in Chicago very segregated reminded I was Mexican and not American. That was fine I never claimed to be American, I was always just Mexican, but as soon as I step out of the plane into Zacatecas it was immediately apparent that I was American and not as Mexican as I thought I was. Based on the way people would stare at me and automatically know that I wasn’t from there.
That was eye-opening because you are rejected in the country you grew up in but also in the one you are from. But since then I have made amends with it. Now I call myself Mexican-American or Mexican-Amaricon, a play on words. Maricon meaning fag in Spanish to add to both my identities.
LM: Can you tell us a little bit about your work for those that have not seen it?
GGR: When I first stated making art, it was all photo based. It was photography and it was all dealt with identity, my own personal identity as a queer person, as a Mexican, as an immigrant, as a city dweller.
Recently I have incorporated other mediums like woodworking, pottery, fiber arts, I delve into a little of everything because I like to explore, I think that is my main thing.
Most people know me for my portrait series called “Queer Icons” which is a printmaking series that highlights the queer, trans community of color, specifically activists and community leaders from around the country.
LM: What are some of your favorite or more memorable portraits?
GGR: I always go back to the image of Mitchyll Mora who is an activist and community organizer that works with the sex worker community here in New York. The reason that portrait sticks out is because it is because of him that I decided to highlight specifically activists and community organizers.
He told me his whole story, how he ended up in New York, doing sex work to survive and how one of his friends was murdered and no one was doing anything about it. As a sixteen year old, he took it upon himself to go to press conferences and yell out his name and ask why isn’t anyone doing anything about it. That’s when I thought: these are the folks I need to be highlighting. People that are our modern day saints, people that are going above and beyond their call for the betterment of the community.
Photogravure w/Chine-Colle and silkscreen, 11in x 14in.
LM: I was really moved and excited this past June when I was watching the Pride parade which was televised for the first time, and I see your work- it was so powerful. Congratulations!
GGR: I have been having this conversation for the past two weeks since that happened. I don’t know how to live in the moment. That day that happened I was focused on the thins that weren’t working. I was not focused on the grand scale of things, or the visual impact of my work. It was not until after.
Being in the parade is all a blur, but the next day or later that day my Instagram DM was flooded with folks who who tagged me from the parade or screen shots from the TV. That was just so beautiful. That part was really amazing to me. And then afterwards I got messages saying “thank you for your work“.
Someone went on to say, “You just made history as the first Mexican queer artist to put work out in the parade”.
LM: I just got chills. That’s right! This project was a commission, correct?
GGR: Yes it was. I was commissioned by Leslie Lohman which is the only queer museum in the world. They are here in New York City. They reached out to me in early spring to see if I was interested in creating an action for the march. At first I was like “Is this real? Sure, Ok.”
Even after the fifth meeting I still wasn’t convinced that it was going to happen. Not until the day they said, “Ok this is your space, get to work.” That was an amazing experience, I really appreciate Leslie Lohman because they are going through a shift which is important and I think I am just the beginning of their transformation.
LM: Another big part of your Instagram presence is your dancing. Can you elaborate for people that might not have seen you dance? What’s that all about?
GGR: I love to go out dancing all the time. Dancing has always been something very personal to me. Something that I just do with just me and my friends. When we go, we are never dancing together, we separate. I go to my corner and my friends go to their corners and when the party is over we reconvene and go back home together.
I’ve taken a huge liking to Instagram, specifically Instagram stories, because of how personal one can get. Really only the people who want to know what you are doing will click on the button.
It has to do with me being an introvert and me trying to push out of that shell. Out of that title I constantly give myself. I felt like dancing in front of a camera, which is again something very personal…
LM: …that introverts just don’t do!
GGR: So then I just started doing it and people’s reactions were very comforting. And now I do it just for fun, because I really enjoy dancing and it’s still an exercise for me to break out because believe it or not, it has helped me out a lot. In being even open to saying yes to being part of a blog. It helps even when I have to (participate in) an artist’s talk I no longer get as nervous as I used to because I have been so vulnerable through my Instagram.
LM: If you could go back five years and see yourself, what advice would you give yourself to prepare yourself for this great moment post Pride march?
GGR: To learn to live in the moment. So that something like this happens you can really appreciate the moment. Also not to be so hard on yourself and over-critical of everything.
LM: That is sound advice, Gabriel. Thank you for letting me into your space, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.