The first career survey of works by Los Angeles artist Carolyn Castaño opens this week at the College of Communications and Fine Arts’ Laband Art Gallery. “Carolyn Castaño: A Female Topography 2001-2017,” features more than 40 artworks highlighting the artist’s ongoing exploration of identity, gender and social conditions facing women. Curated by Laband Director Karen Rapp, the exhibition opens with a reception from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, and continues through Dec. 10. All Laband events are free and open to the public.
“Carolyn Castaño’s practice reflects and celebrates the artist’s deep roots and experiences in L.A.’s Latina culture,” Rapp said. “Castaño is the daughter of Colombian émigrés and her artwork draws inspiration from her bi-cultural identity. She is known for mixing styles from L.A. street culture with the formalism of early 19th century botanical drawings. I am drawn to her bold juxtapositions, especially in her most recent body of work, ‘Ventanas’ (Windows), that illustrate her facility for blending multiple visual traditions.”
Over the past 15 years, the artist has worked across a range of media, including collage, drawing, painting, video and installation. One of the threads of Castaño’s multi-media practice is her exploration of identity; earlier artworks tend to be more inward focused and reflect the artist’s engagement with her own subjectivity, while recent series like “Other Feminist Voices” (2015) and “Women Who Create” (2015) are concerned with external themes — making connections across culture, place, and female experiences.
Castaño’s interest in the stories of diverse women has led her to projects depicting complicated gendered relationships. In her “Narco Venus” series (2012), Castaño’s gaze centers on the sometimes-notorious liaisons that exist between drug traffickers and their female companions in Latin America. In male-dominated drug culture, women’s roles are performed in many guises: as mules, money launderers, trophy girlfriends or wives. From the safe distance of the internet, Castaño closely monitored the tabloid narratives of multiple women whose stories are made known via their public personas as beauty queens, models, actresses and TV journalists.
In 2015, Castaño embarked on an artist residency in Medellin, Colombia, where she conducted workshops with women through a nonprofit group called Mujeres Que Crean (Women Who Create). These women are survivors of the intense internal regional conflicts related to the narco wars, many of whom have lost a brother, father or husband to drug-related violence. Castaño’s finished project depicts portraits of the workshop participants emulating famous historical Latin American female protagonists; some participants posed as artists or their subjects, others chose Colombian heroines.
A curator-led walk-through with Rapp and the artist is planned for 5:30 p.m., Nov. 15; Castaño will participate in a conversation with Bill Kelley Jr., independent curator and Latin American art historian, at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 6.
More information about the exhibition and gallery can be found on the Laband’s website, http://cfa.lmu.edu/labandgallery/.
Image credits: Carolyn Castaño, Tropical Baby (Self-Portrait), 2007, acrylic, glitter, rhinestones, mirrors on canvas, 72 x 56 inches, courtesy of the artist and Artist Pension Trust; Carolyn Castaño, Beauty Queen and Druglord, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, (diptych) 60 x 96 inches, courtesy of the artist