Interdisciplinary San Antonio Artist Daniela Riojas
Meet Daniela Riojas.
An emerging Texas interdisciplinary artist currently based out of San Antonio, Texas, she specializes in performance, photography, film, installation, and music Her creative body of work recalls ancient ritual practices and engages seemingly anachronistic couplings of pre-colonial world concepts and contemporary cultural theory. Throughout her creative process her corporeal presence often attempts a locative terrestrial engagement for the sake of her performance narratives. Using her process of, “individuation through embodiment,” Riojas physically places herself in a mode of abstract worship as a way to connect to feminine deities, totems, archetypes, and new mythic characters. The images become vehicles for remnants of a lost spiritual history. Bringing them to the forefront of contemporary art likewise brings along pre-colonial mythologies which can help reconstruct a cohesive and collective consciousness rooted in nature and the understanding of the cosmic female.
[Cuauhtli. performance installation. Centro de Artres Gallery. 2016]
Texas is my birthplace and my blood.
How is Texas, and specifically San Antonio, incorporated into your body of work? If so, why is this important?
Texas is my birthplace and my blood. I’m from a small, dry border town called Eagle Pass. My upbringing and experience looking at the scarcity of the desert instilled in me a close connection to the tierra, both in its abundance and its lacking. Coming to San Antonio, which has a more centralized river, showed me how magical water is and how the earth provides it as a great gift. Despite my initial admiration of the San Antonio River, though, as I looked further into the history of how it has become commercialized and how badly the Blue Hole (headwaters) have been treated, I became more awakened to the politics of colonialism and how it relates to land ownership.
Does your use of bodies relate to biopolitics?
In some ways, yes. Unfortunately, in our society, women often reach a point where they need to undergo a rigorous process of regaining ownership over their bodies. Through the media, body image propaganda has a way of stealing women from themselves, from self-acceptance, and from viewing their bodies as blessed vessels. Self-portraiture started off as a way of doing this. The camera also gave me a platform for me to tell my stories in a way that couldn’t be ignored. As someone who continues to recover from a history of abuse, these discoveries in self-expression through body and image were crucial to my need to be heard and seen. Just as the advent of the camera served women in the feminist movement during the 20th century, it also served me in the same way.
The humanity is always the most important thing to capture.
How is your practice informed by technological advancements?
As a multimedia artist, technology plays a very big role in my work. Working through song, performance, photography, and music videos requires a large skill set, since each is accomplished through specialized gear, programs, collaborators, and often scientific methods. It is very technical and I spend many hours on the computer producing in some sort of way. I always try to balance this with the tactile process of using my body and my voice to express all the things I can’t fit in a sound byte or screen or box. The body, in the end, will always be the most palpable and undeniable aspect of the creation, no matter the amount of equipment used. The humanity is always the most important thing to capture. The tools are simply there to preserve and communicate. In My Well, My Stream, The River, creating the appearance that I’m floating in rapture as a part of the performance took a very precise technological approach to accomplishing that feeling. This weightlessness. But, what people remember most is the feeling of a real person being a living image for them to experience in real time. The body did the most important work.
What is your relationship to space?
Space is integral to my approach for both self-portraits in the privacy of my studio, working in nature, and also for performance in the public realm. If I am undergoing ritual, there is purpose for inhabiting the space with openness and flexibility and reverence to my intention. For my self-portrait series, Being and Becoming, which I made at the Vermont Studio Center, the ritual act of embodiment required a certain amount of research of each goddess I was speaking to first, and also days of prep – moving my body to feel authentic to the sentiment. Upon my arrival there, the first thing I did was undress and become accustomed to the environment without inhibitions, allowing myself to be vulnerable there. In the Rio Abajo Rio series, I underwent a pilgrimage and used a big, clunky, large-format camera to document my ritual acts in nature, with the elements playing parts in the polaroid development, and also how my body was responding to being directly active with wild natural environment. The process was painstaking, but because the goal was to portray an ancient crone character, the result of manual labor mixed with rudimentary technology mixed for accurate results.
More about Daniela:
Her work deals in issues concerning reconnection to indigeny, ancient ritual, de-colonization, rediscovery of the matriarch, and investigation of the self. Daniela is the owner of local photography and media business, “ZaaZaa Productions,” voted Best Local Photographer by the SA Current in 2013 and works out of her studio “Studio 111: Daniela Riojas Multimedia Arts” as a part of the Lone Star Art District. She studied English-Creative Writing at The University of San Antonio, TX and also attended the Vermont Studio Center Residency Program in the winter of 2013. She is a Surdna Foundation grant recipient, a former artist-in-residence at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center through the Artist Lab Fellowship Program, and was awarded a grant for Media Arts from the Cultural and Creative Development Department of the City of San Antonio through the Artist Foundation in 2015. Her most recent performance My Well, My Stream, The River, was awarded “Best of CAM” for “most exceptional artwork” during Contemporary Art Month in 2016. Daniela is the lead singer and composer for progressive, fusion band, Femina X.
[photo by Andrew J Gonzales]