There are two women in bright, floral clothing seated near a rooster while a couple dances in the corner in “Dance”, an oil painting from Mexican-American artist Jessica Alazraki’s collection.
The Portraits of Immigrants series was inspired by her love of Mexican art known for its use of bright colors, combined with photographs, both her own and by others. Alazraki, 46, began painting portraits of Latino immigrants to share images of biculturalism and to celebrate the culture.
“I just feel by painting portraits of immigrants in which they look very Mexican, I make a statement by default. I intend that the takeaway is celebratory both for people and culture.”
Alazraki was born and raised in Mexico City and earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from Universidad Anáhuac in Mexico City. In 1998 she moved to New York City after getting married, initially working in advertising before pursuing art full time.
She recounts NYC as being very welcoming and respectfully curious of her accent without judgment, this is during a spike in Mexican immigration in NYC reaching roughly 300,000 in the city according to NACLA.
“I consider myself a Latino immigrant and I feel very proud of my background, it is definitely a source of inspiration for my work” she said.
She began drawing and painting in 2004, later studying at the New York Academy of Art and now teaches art to teens at a private after-school program.
“I have been preparing myself for a self-directed body of work that represents my artistic interest, my personality and contributes to creating social awareness,” she states on her website.
“The narratives are based in ordinary and familiar scenes of Latino family life,” Alazraki said, stating the paintings are indirect political statements. “I just feel by painting portraits of immigrants in which they look very Mexican, I make a statement by default.”
In 2016, 1.49 million immigrants moved to the United States with 150,400 hailing from Mexico, the third largest number after India and China, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
With the controversy surrounding the latest policies separating immigrant families, artists have used various mediums to voice their discontent.
Most recently rapper Logic performed his track “One Day” at the Video Music Awards, sharing the stage with migrant children wearing shirts emblazoned with “We Are All Human Beings”. Perhaps the best known relevant art exhibit came from French artist JR who created a 65-foot-tall image of a baby looking over the border wall in Tecate, California.
Similarly, Alazraki’s art is thought provoking without being overtly political yet still making a statement.
“I do like to leave things slightly open to interpretation, so everyone gets their own take on it. I do want to portray a feel-good celebratory feeling of our Latino culture. Humor, nostalgia, and brightness are important,” she said.
Her “most likable” painting is “Siesta” where a man, woman, and child are laying in the park littered with everyday items including a boombox, a bag of Cheetos and a box of Marlboro on the ground. A relaxed and normal moment that’s still relatable with items Latinx would carry to a picnic, illustrating her intent to paint average settings and scenarios.
“Composition and color are prominent in the paintings,” she said. “My intention is to break traditional viewing rules and come up with unpredictable pictures.”