Pick of the Week 

Painting Politics

Yumiko Omata and Bettsy Garcia Montijo have a lot to say, but you won't find either of them using very many words.

The two women, who are both studying art at the University of Arizona, are currently exhibiting their work at a local gallery, and both use the figure to explore emotional states drawn from their personal experience.

The exhibit is in correlation with the ARTSPEAK presentation featuring artist Alfred Quiroz at Hope VI Art and Culture Partnership, a new gallery that opened a month ago. Both Omata and Montijo have been students of Quiroz at the UA, and he picked the two of them to participate in the exhibit, said Xochitl Gil, coordinator of the exhibit.

Both artists deal with issues of gender politics based on their own experience, Gil said, but their similarities as artists don't go much further than the conceptual level.

Bettsy Garcia Montijo, who is currently enrolled in the MFA program for painting, was born and raised in Ures, Sonora, Mexico, a small town near Hermosillo that she describes as "very quiet, conservative and religious."

"My mother's grandmother used to say that if you don't go to church, bad things would happen to you," Montijo noted in her broken yet eloquent English.

It was that conservative nature that helped to inspire her artwork, Montijo said.

"My inspiration is the life that some women lead in my culture--roles that they develop," she stated. "I believe that we have the right to have equal rights, something beyond feminism: true equality."

Also providing inspiration for Montijo, 27, are issues of health and the human figure. After discovering that she had ovarian cysts last year, she became even more focused on the issue of women's health and the lack of women's health care in her culture.

"I didn't grow up in a culture that teaches you to take care of your body--it was always taboo," she explained. "Hopefully, other people can identify with these issues through my art."

Beyond health and women's societal roles, Montijo's artwork also grapples with the serial killings of working-class and homeless women in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Beyond the actual killings, she is most disgusted with the complacency of the authorities, she said.

"These murders have been going on for more than a decade," she noted. "The police don't really seem to care, and if an organization gets interested in helping the situation, they end up getting threatened or even killed."

Montijo says that she simply depicts what she feels about the situation, and her anger is apparent in her work, as one piece, titled "Juarez Blind" features text that reads, "Vaporized dreams / through night screams / Juarez blind / watch your women die / don't you fucking mind!"

"As simple as it may sound, I just want a better world; doesn't everyone just want a better world?" Montijo said. "It's interesting growing up in such a patriarchal society, when other places around you are teaching that men and women are equal."

Montijo is also very grateful for her university experience, because it isn't something that every person from her community gets to experience.

"The university has really helped me to improve as an artist, helped me by forcing me to share my ideas with others," she said. "Alfred Quiroz is my mentor, and he and others have been such a big help with making myself a better artist. Being surrounded by a community of artists creates a great sense of nurturing and also a good sense of competition among the students."

Yumiko Omata is also an international student. Born and raised in Japan, she lived and worked in Tokyo for 10 years before crossing the Pacific Ocean in 2000.

Omata is currently working on a bachelor's degree in studio art at the UA, with an emphasis in painting. Referencing her own experiences, Omata's "figurative studies depict emotional states, often focusing on the darker feelings such as confusion, agony, sadness and isolation," according to a press release.

The Hope VI Art and Culture Partnership, which is owned, managed and funded by the city of Tucson, the Metropolitan Housing Cooperation and the Tucson Pima Arts Council, is located at 951 E. 35th St. The exhibit runs through Saturday, July 29. It is free and open to the public. For more information or for hours (as they vary), call 792-3617.

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