Monday, December 16, 2013

What's in a name...

This post is truly the result of me finding some slides from 1980 and 1981, which is when I was doing some artwork about identity and labeling and ethnicity, etc. when I was a student at the University of Washington School of Art in Seattle, Washington.

I've been recently trying to digitize my art slides, and to my distress, I've been finding out that some of those slide-holding binders have succumbed to mold and moisture, and those two moist diseases have robbed me of a lot of my own artistic history.

I am sure that the fact that between 1980 and now I've moved about 30 times, including twice to Europe and back, has something to do with it, but it still sucks.

Seven Fridas by F. Lennox Campello - click for a larger version
"Las Siete Fridas (The Seven Fridas)"
Pen and Ink Wash, F. Lennox Campello
Univ. of Washington Art School assignment circa 1980-1981
Collection of Seeds for Peace.
What hurt the most was the loss of slides documenting a series of pen and ink drawings, such as the above one, that I did on the thematic focus of surnames and what immediate impact is attached to them as soon as people hear them. Most of them, except for the dozen or so Frida pieces such as the one above, were sold at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, which is where I used to sell my art school assignments back then. The last name identity series was anchored around my documented passion for Frida Kahlo, and we must remember that not too many people outside of a certain artistic sphere was familiar with her back then... certainly not too many of my fellow Washington art students knew about her and her work back then.
Her last name gave rise to some interesting questions about her... "She was Mexican?" was a common question after I gave her name at a class review or talk... I knew that it was the last name throwing them off... a Mexican whose last name was Kahlo?

Having been raised in two distinct places of immense ethnic and racial diversity (Easternmost Cuba and Brooklyn) I was a little surprised at their surprise. "How can she be Mexican with a German (well, really Austrian... but) last name?" they might as well have asked... some did.

And so, starting in my junior year (I think) I commenced a series of portraits of faces migrating across a spectrum of ethnic, racial, cultural and even fantasy diversity. The Seven Fridas is a good example of that... as we see her as Nordic, Moslem, African, Punk, Native American, Vulcan and Beatle.

Many of the pieces were akin to this one, but the portraits were of either some fellow students, or sometimes borrowed from popular imagery. And they had titles such as "Portraits of Peddrossah" instead of Pedrosa and Rhoddrighez instead of Rodriguez, and "The Seven Stages of Dellauhehrtah" instead of De La Huerta, etc.

As soon as a De La Huerta becomes a  Dellauhehrtah, I discovered, his/her whole ethnicity, and in some cases, his/her race shifts tremendously, regardless of the race, ethnicity or national origin of both the subject and the ones being subjected to my name and visual puzzlement. By the way, to this day, that name/word does not exist in all of the Internets.

Get my drift?

The Kahlo name issue, was of course somewhat kindled by my own last name issue.

"Is that Italian?" is the question that I'm used to getting, except in New England, where it is usually a more blunt "What are you?"