and a chatty but informative essay by Lucy Lippard, an eminent art writer and a longtime friend ofVargas’s. Before Vargas became a fine art photographer, she took commercial pictures of rock’n’roll musicians. From this period in her career, according to Wilson’s introduction, she retains a loss of hearing in her left ear \(from standing ing love of pop music, whose lyrics and sensibility \(especially those of Leonard work. For a brief time she was a member of Con Safo, an organization of Chicano artists who were promoting political art and trying to move their work into the mainstream in the late sixties and early seventies. Though Vargas sympathized with the group’s politics, her own work agenda was more implicit than overt, and she left the group after less than a year. But you don’t have to look too close ly to see the political subtext \(or, in the case of handwritten additions, superAIDS, and censorship are the issues that have driven her,” Lucy Lippard observes. “Yet even as she acknowledges suffering and would love to change the world, Vargas’s political sophistication, her sense of humor, and a certain wisdom combine in a serene acceptance of the way lives play themselves out, perhaps inherited from her Zapotec and Huichol ancestors. Which is not to say that she is free from anger at injustice.” In the early 1980s,Vargas completed a series of pictures of local household shrines: the altars, pictures of the Virgin Mary, and the flowers and gifts to her found in many yards. The emotional focus of the shrineits nexus of prayers and sadness, what curator Roy Flukinger has called “the hard truths, small mercies, and ever-arising hopes of this journey”is one she has continued to play with since then. Her series of “seafood saints” \(the fish that died to fish and squid in dreamy assemblages, colored in pale, angelic pastels. Later, in installations, she added to her photographs three-dimensional items like flowers and skeletons. After working for some time as a fine artist, Vargas eventually went back to school, earning both her BFA and MFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio. For 15 years, from 1985 to 2000, she was the Visual Arts Program Director at the Guadalupe Cultural Center. She coordinated the annual Hecho a Mano show and assiduously promoted the work of local artists. At the same as she held this position, Vargas kept taking pictures, and her work continued to develop. Crucial aspects of this work are the importance of family and the inevitable spectre of death. Vargas took care of both her mother and her grandmother until they died. In 1997, after her mother’s death, she mounted an installation at ArtPace, the contemporary art foundation in San Antonio. Entitled State of Grace: Angels for the Living/Prayers for the Dead, the 2/1/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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