A Weaving of Worlds: Artist Miguel Arzabe explores ch’ixi – 71Bait

Artist Miguel Arzabe literally weaves his cultural roots into paintings. A unique process takes place in his Oakland studio that is not just about applying paint to canvas, but much more about research, deconstruction and adaptation.

Arzabe was born in St. Louis, Missouri and grew up in Centerville, Ohio. After grad school, he arrived in Oakland in December 2000 and landed on some college friends’ couches. The idea was to continue north to Portland and Seattle and pick a city. However, he never left the Bay Area and now lives in the Mosswood area of ​​Oakland, just around the corner from that couch.

But it wasn’t always a given that one day he would follow his artistic whims.

“As a kid I loved to draw cartoons, but I was also good at math and science and was steered in that direction,” Arzabe told 48hills.

Artist Miguel Arzabe

His impressive academic background includes a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA and an MS in Environmental Fluid Dynamics from Arizona State University, Tempe. He majored in Fine Arts and continued to draw and paint while working as an engineer. The Bay Area was the first place he saw an opportunity to pursue a life in the arts, a vision that led him to pursue an MFA (2010) from UC Berkeley.

“Ultimately, I decided to be an artist because it feeds my soul,” Arzabe said.

Its roots provide a key to understanding this soul. He is very close to his parents and they had a profound impact on his life and work. Originally from Oruro, Bolivia, they emigrated to the United States in the 1960s.

In Bolivia, where the majority of the population identify themselves as indigenous, Arzabe’s family is mestizo. The country’s racial hierarchy has existed since the Spanish conquest of the 15th centuryth Century, with people with lighter skin color being preferred. Against this complex background, Arzabe speaks about his own experiences as a Brown child in conservative white Central America.

“My work comes from a drive to break down all those hierarchies and find a deeper self-knowledge,” he said. “Who am I? Where am I from? What is my own hybrid culture?”

“Basquiat Richter”, small paper mill (2015)

For inspiration, the artist scours books for historical artworks that can serve as a starting point for his acrylic paintings on canvas. The paintings are then sent to a processor who cuts them into strips that Arzabe weaves together in his studio. Some elements of the designs are planned, but for the most part they are improvised and grow organically.

After taking his daughter to preschool on a typical workday, Arzabe bikes to the West Oakland studio he shares with his wife, Rachelle Reichert. The room has an uneven cement floor, a high ceiling with skylights, and a two-way radio that’s always on KALX.

Arzabe lived in an adjacent warehouse 15 years ago while applying for MFA programs. This period marked a major transition away from his engineering career, so here he is years later, coming full circle. (He is also a founding member of the Minnesota Street Project, where he maintains a joint studio.)

His process of transforming painting into weaving brings the imagery of Andean textiles into a productive confrontation with Western modernist painting. His works emerge from an exploration of his own Latinx/Mestizx identity, rooted in the blending of European and Indigenous.

“The Bolivian sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqi writes about the concept of ch’ixi, an Aymara word that refers to the juxtaposition of two contrasting colors,” he said. “Two parallel identities that do not cancel each other out, but coexist in an antagonistic relationship.”

Arzabe went on to say that all of his art studies served to indoctrinate the Western art canon, particularly in relation to painting. That didn’t feel like his cultural narrative.

“The Andean practice of hand weaving is one of the oldest active textile traditions in the world, but it has received little or no mention,” he said.

Large Paper Weaving of de Young Posters (2016)

Arzabe began to glimpse another line of art during visits to Bolivia and noticed how textiles are present in everyday life there. When he did a residency at the de Young Museum in 2016, he went straight to his textile library.

His research excited him to learn more about the techniques, symbolism and socio-cultural significance that weaving plays in Bolivia and inspired him to connect this unique cultural expression to his practice.

When the pandemic began, Arzabe enlisted his parents, who live in New Mexico, to work with him on a project. He mailed them small paintings and video chatted throughout the process. His parents cut out the pictures, rearranged the pieces, and his mother sewed them back together into a kind of quilt.

When traveling to see them, Arzabe, partly motivated by his father’s recovery which left the rest of his family under duress, brings with him a circular orange kite and sets up a video camera in the same spot in the desert to record the kite’s flying to film in the mountains behind his family home. It is a ritual to help him process the trauma of loss and to connect with the cycles of nature and the passage of time. To celebrate abundance, presence, and reflection, he flies this circular orange kite each year to capture the Harvest Moon as it rises in the east.

The artist is busy and preparing for the coming year. In 2022 he received the San Francisco Bay Area Artadia Award. He works on public art proposals for transit facilities in two major US cities and undertakes a major mural project in San Francisco.

Arzabe recently showed video work at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, and another of his videos was acquired by the State of California for a digital media collection on display in the lobby of the California Natural Resources Agency’s Sacramento headquarters.

“Para Humber”, acrylic on canvas and linen (2022)

His work “Para Humber” can be seen in the group exhibition “Tikkun” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum until January 2023. It will also feature in a 2023 exhibition of Andean textiles at the Tucson Museum of Art.

Arzabe’s 2021 piece Te Quiero Inti has just been acquired by the de Young Museum and will feature in an upcoming exhibition in 2023. His new work will also be shown at Miami’s Untitled Art Fair with Oakland-based Johansson Projects in Winter 2023. He was also commissioned by San Francisco-based author Ingrid Rojas Contreras to silkscreen her memoir for launch at City Lights Books The man who could move clouds.

“I want my work to remind people of their presence in this world,” Arzabe said. “I hope it has enough openness to bring some beauty, joy, humor and casual contemplation.”

When he’s not in the studio you might catch a glimpse of Arzabe playing fútbol, a lifelong passion, attending a game, watching sports on TV or aspiring to coach his daughter in the future. This was the 10th year of his Orange Dragon Ritual, which took place on September 9th on Bernal Hill when the harvest moon rose at 7:32pm – in case you happen to catch a glimpse.

For this day and all days, Arzabe says: “Gracias, Pachamama. Thank you, Mother Earth!”

Visit his website for more information miguelarzabe.net or his profile on Instagram.

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