News Column

Delilah Montoya photos in exhibit

August 24, 2014

By Kathaleen Roberts, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

Aug. 24--SANTA FE -- The photographs of Delilah Montoya suffuse the delicate boundaries of ethnicity and gender.

"Delilah Montoya: Syncretism" opens at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe on Thursday, Aug. 28. The exhibition showcases four of the photographer's series: "Sagarado Corazon," (the Sacred Heart); "La Guadalupana" (the Virgin of Guadalupe), "Women Boxers: The New Warriors" and "Sed: The Trail of Thirst."

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Montoya was raised in Omaha. Her work merges the practices of the Aztecs and Spain, crossbred with New Mexican cultural traditions. Native American and Anglo influences provide additional pollination. She grounds her imagery in the mestiza experience of the Southwest and its borderlands.

Northern New Mexico is Montoya's mother's ancestral home. The photographer visited the state often as a child, later attending the University of New Mexico for both her bachelor's and master's degrees. She maintains an Albuquerque home while she teaches photography and digital imaging at the University of Houston.

"Corazon Sagrado/Sacred Heart" (1994) is a series of 25 photographs produced with the collaboration of members of the Albuquerque Hispanic community, specifically young spray-paint artists who produced her portrait backdrops.

To produce the series, Montoya researched the sacred heart, a cross-cultural symbol originating with the Aztecs.

"It's the Aztec seat of human emotions," Museum of Art curator Kate Ware said. "The best thing you could give to the gods was your beating heart."

The Spanish appropriated the image into the hybrid Christian symbolism of Jesus' pierced heart.

New Mexico author Rudolfo Anaya works his literary magic through the heart, Montoya said. Anaya's sepia-toned image is a collotype, a 19th-century printing/ photography process used at the turn of the century to publish photographs.

"I liked the idea that it was a process that was archival," Montoya said, "-- that it could stand up to time. The ink will last as long as the paper lasts."

A close look at the portrait reveals an owl sitting on the dresser behind the author. Anaya brought the stuffed bird -- the curandera's symbol of power and soul -- from his book "Bless Me, Ultima," to the session.

Montoya's "La Guadalupana" is another symbol created in the collision of Spanish Catholicism with indigenous Mexican religion. According to the official Catholic account, an apparition of the Virgin appeared to the shepherd Juan Diego at a sacred Aztec site near Mexico City in 1531. She asked that a church be built in her honor on the hillside.

Montoya re-enacted the appearance in "Diego y La Virgen #1" (1998) using the tattoo inscribed onto a man's back. She draped her model in a lace mantilla and billowing skirts. Boxers and prisoners often appeal to the Guadalupe as a protector. The tattoo unifies male and female energy in a conflation of both the sacred and the profane.

"Women Boxers" includes a portrait of famed Los Lunas athlete Holly Holm. Montoya shot her subjects in black and white in an ode to documentary photography.

"I was thinking about bad girls," she said, "--malcriadas. Who are the contemporary bad girls? I thought, that would be the female boxers.

"She walks into the bastion of maleness. But the feminists are saying, 'You're hitting each other!' They're malcriadas."

The photographer expected to encounter a parade of gang members, but discovered she could not have been more mistaken.

"These women are athletes," she said, "and they want the combat sport; that's what they desire. They're not saying, 'I can't do this because I'm a girl.'"

The Holm portrait shows the boxer sitting in the ring, her muscled back to the camera as she adjusts her hair.

"She has this amazing, powerful back," Montoya said. "I wanted to present her as an athlete and to see that muscle structure. And she has this beautiful long, blonde hair. You're going to have to rethink your stereotypes."

The color panoramic photographs of "Sed: Trail of Thirst" document the American borderlands and the human suffering associated with clandestine migration. The images evoke stretches of hot and arid landscapes, hostile terrain traversed annually by thousands of migrants. But instead of showing people making the journey, Montoya puts the viewer in their shoes.

"Humane Borders Water Station" (2004) shows a single blue flag bent by the wind, arising from a trio of water tanks in the desert. Others in the series offer a migrant camp dotted with discarded objects: empty water bottles, clothing.

"In many ways, that is a portrait," Montoya said. "What I'm looking at is what has been left behind by the community.

"The land has a memory and in the land we can tell where we've been and who's been there. The land holds our cries; it holds our desires. I was looking at the scars that have been left there.

"The work in the show is my evolution of portraiture," Montoya said. "It's my way of understanding my world around me."

If you go

WHAT: "Delilah Montoya: Syncretism"

WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 28, through March 15, 2015. Opening reception 5-7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave., Santa Fe

HOW MUCH: $6 residents; $9 nonresidents. Museum members and children 16 and under free. Sundays free to New Mexico residents with ID; Wednesdays free to New Mexico resident seniors with ID. Students $1 discount with ID. Call 505-476-5072 or 505-476-5041


(c)2014 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services

For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters