Bryan Ortiz’s thesis exhibition revolves around several undercurrents in the history of political resistance and minority self-determination within the United States. His socially-engaged work is designed to revisit and reexamine moments of injustice and suppression that have been largely papered over in the annals of American history.
Born in Anaheim, California, but with deep ties to his ancestral home in Mexico, Ortiz’s observations and articulations of socio-political resistance involve both a reevaluation and a reaffirmation of his cultural and artistic heritage. His earlier work examined various issues affecting the Mexican landscape—from the impact of Spanish colonialism to the cultural encroachment and social influence from its northern neighbor, the United States. As he continued to traverse the border between the two countries, the recurring contrasts and themes captured in Ortiz’s work became increasingly aligned with his natural penchant for social justice and race relationships—centering organized movements and power dynamics as the primary domain of his oeuvre.
The work in this exhibition engages Black liberation by alluding to the historic resistance put up by the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and the brutal assassination of its leader, Fred Hampton, in 1969. Ortiz’s work similarly recognizes Sputnik Monroe, a white wrestler whose courageous and successful push to integrate wrestling arenas in the city of Memphis in the 1950s earned him animosity among the sport’s promoters and repeated court appearances. In his acrylic-on-oil-paper work, Red Power, the artist alludes to the violence and deception involved in California’s annexation of Native American reservations in the San Francisco Bay area, which involved the massive dislocation and relocation of indigenous people. While this incident has been largely written out of American history, the green plants dominating Ortiz’s pictorial space are meant to suggest the revitalized interest in such events within today’s discourse, especially as marginalized groups continue to be subjugated, both covertly and overtly. In general, Ortiz’s visual reconstructions of the past are meant to convey his preoccupation with revisiting historical injustices, critically engaging their contemporary vestiges, and shaping a deeper narrative aimed at reforms.
Though historicization plays a critical role in Bryan Ortiz’s work, his evocative musings negate the linear transcript of history to embrace a transformational visual alternative—explicitly purgative, truthful, emancipatory, personal, and relational.