Organized as symbolic systems meant to analyze and chart multiple bodies of knowledge, this work is
conceptually anchored by my research on the human condition and the desire for emancipation. I consider
how history can appear through a work of art. Whether in spectral form, as invisible structure or excluded
voice, the past is present as a return of the repressed.
Ideas about liberation, both at an intimate and social level, have long been a concern in my work. This often
leads to my use of a visual language that is highly symbolic and deeply connected to a civil rights aesthetic
viewpoint: the paintings are representational and tethered to allegory. The work before you is a meditation on
strength and resistance. The series is based on the multiplicity of roles women have performed in
movements of resistance, rebellion and war. Mapping is used as a point of departure. Without regard for
space and time, new imaginary mappings are created by juxtaposing different political, geographical and
historical cartographies. This first iteration of the series is commemorative in nature, charting a course for a
global, transhistorical account of multiple feminisms engaged in battles.
I approach figurative painting with particular interest in human behavior. I use the figure to explore and
illustrate how memories are stored and expressed by the body. In this series, each portrait is a snapshot of a
woman dancing alone; there is no apparent stage, no audience. Her contours are traced by the blanket of
nebulous color in the background. Bold and finer paint strokes delicately intersect to create an illusion of
slight delay in resolution, allowing the surface paint to emerge as movement. This interplay between blurred
and sharp focus lays down the rhythm by which to follow the dance. The carved-out path suggests that the
momentum will continue beyond the edges of the painting. Special attention is given to the gestures that
distinguish each woman: a quivering lip, a clenched fist or the direction of her gaze. These subtleties
contextualize the dancer’s motivation.
The women in this series dance with the uninhibited grace and coolness that comes when no one is
watching. The dancer roams about the space shaping the surrounding environment with her moves,
redirecting the energy that impels her to shake it off. My intention is to record this unbridled moment captured
in full swing. It is a shared universal impulse, expressed in a variety of personal and unique styles. Through
this collection of paintings, I memorialize the nomadic thread of rhythm that moves through each woman,
weaving an uninterrupted dance. Much like the live wire carrying current, once severed from the continuum,
each woman dances freely and yet in this freedom there is solidarity.
“My work is motivated by contemporary interpretations of the borderlands, extensive documentation and
research on human rights issues, psychological theories on the systemic memory hypothesis, as well as
personal accounts and oral history. I look at innovations and experimentations from throughout art history as
guides for structuring my conceptual reality of the corporeal manifestation of psychological violence and
degradation. Together, these investigations and experiences allow for a comprehensive approach to the
production of ideas and images interpreting the border reality."
At a relatively early age, Adriana Gallego has created an impressive body of work and a niche for herself as an
outspoken, socially conscious artist. Born in the border town of Nogales, she became acquainted with, in her
words, “both the brutal nature of survival and institutional oppression. I leaned that la línea (the border) is not
a passive or static world but rather one that lives in permanent tension and fragmentation.” Channeling her
social concerns into her art, she entered the College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona (Tucson) on
scholarship and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1997, simultaneously having apprenticed with Jane
Dickson, Alan Sonfist, and the Alternative Museum in New York. In 1997, she became the youngest first place
award winner of the Ford Foundation’s Siqueiros-Pollock Binational Painting Competition, juried by Jose Luis
Cuevas and Luis Jimenez. Immediately launching a series of solo and group exhibitions, Gallego also
became an instructor, teaching art at the University of Arizona, Theatre of Hearts/Youth First in California, and
the Central California Arts Network.
In all of these activities, Gallego maintains, her interest in social issues concerning the border. Exhibiting her
paintings on the subject in 1998, she told a journalist, “The divisions go beyond a simple division of land; they
become divisions in the human spirit and psyche.”
Gallego’s paintings are characterized by a lush application of oils on canvases that she deliberately defaces
to represent the scar of the subjects she portrays. For this artist, texture is a key element in the process of
creating. She often employs a fleshy gesso application and a sanding of layers to arrive at succinct and
penetrating works. While working to reframe the border’s politicized and exploited social identity, Gallego
ultimately expresses and unspoken humanity in her haunting images. The body fragmented is a recurrent
theme, suggesting that the regional anxiety is replicated in the psyche of its inhabitants. We find many parts,
but few completed visions of the physical. As the body endures the insurgency of its environment, a struggle
to be whole ensues. The intensity of Gallego’s palette is even more striking when considered against her
graceful use of illumination. Enveloped by the surging color fields, the subjects seem to survive only by the
tender fortitude of the artist’s intent. Gallego successfully documents the reality of a place and people
relegated to the fragmentary fancies of politicos and demagogues by carefully reconstructing the impact of
these antagonisms. It is an elaboration that is as timely as it is powerful.
In the painting Liberación: Contradictoria, two hands are entrapped by an aloe vera plant that seems poised
for a strangulation. Produced for Gallego’s Fragmentos de Liberación series, this work presents the
contradictory function of a plant that is traditionally used for medicinal purposes. Considered in this new vein,
a painful realization occurs. Nature itself has turned against the individual in the inverted logic that dominated
the imaginary line separating Mexico and the United States. The sanded surface of this pain confirms the
aggression that is endured by an anonymous and ruptured subject. Gallego avoids making a condemnation
by the narrowest of margins. The hands are bound but continue to struggle, abetted by the fortitude of the
gesso application. This conflagration balances at the edge of the canvas, poised to burst its restraints, a
portent perhaps of what may occur if the border malice continues unabated.
Anhelos is an abstract work that employs a precise figuration counterpoint to complete its emotional impact.
Violent black strokes pierce fields of deep blues and corporeal reds. In the left field of this work, a female
apparition fixates on the viewer. The seizures of contrasting colors enclose this elusive figure in a space of
militant neutrality. There is a guarded effect produced. An anonymous longing provokes a desire to achieve
recognition, to invade the protective cell. Alas, the viewer is compelled to feel something in the face of a
persistent perplexity. This segregation of emotion and intellect are exemplary of Gallego’s ability to rescue
the emotional truth fro the degeneration of rationalism. (Joaquín Alvarado)
Excerpt from Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art :Artists, Works, Culture and Education
Bilingual Press, Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University, 2002.
Adriana graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts. As a painter, her
artwork is forged from ideals about equality and understanding rooted in the Civil Rights and Feminist
movements, with sensibilities born out of her upbringing alongside the United States-Mexico border. She is
the recipient of the Border-Ford Bi-national Painting Award and continues to build a repertoire of exhibitions,
publications and speaking engagements.
Adriana Gallego is Deputy Director of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC). She
recently joined the NALAC staff in 2012 and brings with her years of experience as an artist, administrator and
educator. In her cumulative roles she has developed programs, grants, services and resources in support of
arts organizations, artists, universities/schools, community groups and government agencies. Prior to joining
NALAC, Adriana was the Director of Strategic Initiatives with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Educational
Assistant at the Norton Simon Museum, and Arts Educator throughout Arizona and California.