Sarah Castillo is an artist based in San Antonio, Texas working in mixed media and portraiture. Born and raised in San Antonio, Castillo obtained her Master’s degree in Bicultural Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio with thesis title: Art as an Embodied Practice: Artistic Expression, Conocimiento, and Identity Formation. She is co-founder of Mas Rudas Collective, Creative Director of Lady Base Gallery, and Resident Artist at Clamp Light Studios & Gallery. She has shown at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Artpace, Institute of Texan Cultures, Mexic-Arte Museum, and was in the IV Biennial El Paso - CD. Juarez in 2015. She was recently awarded a grant from the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture.
DRP: Hello Sarah, Where are you from and what is it you do as an artist and photographer?
SC: I’m from San Antonio, Texas. I am an artist that works with a variety of materials from collage work, self-portraiture, painting, fiber, to photography. As a visual artist I’ve worked with Mas Rudas Collective - a Chicana art collective (SA, TX) with exhibitions at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Artpace, and the Institute of Texan Cultures. And for now, I’ll be a working artist at the Clamp Light Studios and Gallery in San Antonio. Clamp Light has recently undergone changes to their resident artists roster and I’m happy to be apart of their new beginnings.
DRP: The series we'll be talking about is Remedies for Re(membering). Could you talk about this title and what it means?
SC: Remedies for Re(membering) reflects where I find myself today. I take control of self-representation. My hand covers the eyes of the human skull on Coatlicue’s belt because sometimes we resist new knowledges of insight into our trauma and colonization. The deconstructed frames represent boundaries challenged. My mother wears a crown made up of the Teatro Nacional to nostalgically speak of social spaces that provided cultural connections to our history and culture.
When I think of Remedies for Re(membering); it’s definitely a strong connection to Gloria Anzaldúa. But, one of my favorite books discovered in grad school is called Chicana and Chicano Mental Health: Alma, Mente y Corazón by Yvette G. Flores, a professor of psychology at University of California, Davis. I’ve never met her, but once I started reading that book, I couldn’t put it down. As well as Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by authors Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden. During grad school, I was exposed to so many woc authors that shed some light on some terrible circumstances woc experience on a daily basis, but through the sharing of lived experiences there is emancipation. This research informs my work.
DRP: How do you pick the color scheme, the figures, and the design elements in each piece?
SC: For Remedies for Re(membering), I chose floral patterns to emphasize spaces within the home. In particular, garden spaces because this is a past time for my mother and because this is how I remember my great-grandmother. The plants are from my mother’s front porch. I’ve been taking photos of my mother’s plants for a few years now; as a way to connect with her and a way to document my family. During this project a memory dawned on me; I remember creating collages with my mother when I was a child.. they were flower collages. We’d cut flowers from magazines and using an old framed mirror, we covered it with the magazine flowers cut-outs and held them down with tape. And with this, we’d decorate the home. So, to be sure that my family was reflected throughout this series, I included items that reflected my personal experiences with them or about them. Because if we focus and invest in our own stories and learn to believe the value of them, we have a bottomless pit of content. As creative woc, we are not encouraged to do this because most institutions are Eurocentric in aesthetic and context.
DRP: How does your own identity play a role in each piece?
SC: I intertwined my life into these images….from the story about my birth defect, my father’s baptism as an elementary school child, creative pastimes with my mother, and the experiences of losing a child; I push a lot of these experiences into my work.
I learned a lot in graduate school about feminist research methodologies and the powerful subversiveness in sharing lived experiences out loud. After some time with focusing on many negative aspects that women of color can be all too familiar with, I needed space to appreciate the good, the light, the best in my life because I’d been focusing too much on the trauma. The goal was to tell my stories while lifting those up in my life, to relive the past in order to reorder the perceptions of the present; to find a new way of healing and believing and coming into my own being, my own innate self in the process. In honoring the matriarchs in my life, it allowed me the time to connect with the power of forgiveness and empathy. Here is one of many stories below:
Solar Eclipse Memories
In 1979, my mother was pregnant with me during the solar eclipse. My great-grandma Benita warned my mother to place a silver key on her belly to protect me from birth defects but, she didn't abide and my right ear never fully formed. With that said, I believe my birth defect taught me about resiliency at such an early age because kids were so mean to me as I proudly wore my surgical helmet to school. I'd fearlessly pack my favorite books and crayons when it was time to visit the hospital again and again. (I had reconstructive surgery before 6 years old) Even though we have our own expectations of ourselves, there's always a way that the universe reminds you that you are perfect just as you are. The curandera I saw last year reminded me that the gods gave me this ear and I should be proud.
SC: This story is the inspiration behind this collage from my Remedies for Re(membering) series. Above is my great-grandma Benita and two of my tias beside her, as she wears a silver key on her belly and a lock of my hair.
DRP: How would you describe your approach to your work? Does the act of piecing together images mean anything in particular?
SC: It’s a method. A process formed partly by the pedagogy in the Bicultural-Bilingual Studies program at UTSA that focused on Feminist Research Methodologies, Chicano history, consciousness-raising practices, and the value of sharing lived experiences.
Piecing together images was an intentional part of this project, much like the theory of the Coyolxauhqui process in the 7 Stages of Conocimiento (1999) by Gloria E. Anzaldua. A theory whose central figure is inspired by Aztec goddess, Coyolxauhqui, the daughter of Coatlicue.
“Coyolxauhqui is your symbol for both the process of emotional physical dismemberment, splitting body/mind/spirit/soul, and the creative work of putting all the pieces together in a new form, a partially unconscious work done in the night by the light of the moon, a labor of re-visioning and re-membering."
DRP: What is next for you and your work?
SC: Chicana Feelings - a multimedia painting, self-portrait photographs, video, and fiber installation at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in December. This will be the visual component to my graduate thesis - Art as an Embodied Practice: Artistic Expression, Conocimiento, and Identity Formation.
Follow Sarah Castillo at sarahcastillo210.com