With their costumes and makeup on, waiting for the curtains to be drawn, Amy Zapata and her four siblings were eager to perform in front of the sold-out crowd. A hat was passed around the audience to collect tips from generous patrons. The show was a home production of lip-synced “Aladdin” songs, and Zapata’s parents and grandparents were the viewers.
It’s one of Zapata’s fondest memories of growing up in San Bernardino, California. As the middle child between two older sisters and two younger brothers, Zapata continued to build on the artistic foundations she and her siblings established in childhood.
Zapata, 38, graduated from CSUN in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Television. Two years later, she completed her training by obtaining a master’s degree in visual arts with a specialization in photography and video.
Today, Zapata’s photography exhibit, “Around the City “Around the Clock,” is on display in CSUN’s Manzanita Gallery. His photos document the cityscape of his hometown through double exposures. Close-ups of factories, neon signs at liquor stores, and check cashing buildings are among the multiple images that blend together to depict the Zapata neighborhood.
“I started to think about how, during [the pandemic], everything started to merge,” said the third-generation Chicana. “I used these double exposure images to create this abstract treatment of time, of isolation, of loneliness, of what happens when you don’t really have direction.”
Not knowing when, where, or what time of day the photos were taken was something Zapata wanted to convey with his images, Zapata explained. Although her passion is rooted in the visual arts, she is often inspired by other means of expression, such as music.
Listening to Frank Ocean in the car with his sister at a cafe in Rialto sparked something inside her, Zapata said. Ocean’s song “Nights” was the main catalyst for the exhibition, inspiring the title of the opening lyric, “‘Round your city, ’round the clock”.
Ocean isn’t the only artist to draw on Zapata’s creativity. Kanye West’s 2013 album “Yeezus” had an impact on Zapata with some of the track’s vocalization about racial inequality. Lady Gaga’s 2016 album “Joanne” also left its mark on Zapata for its uplifting songs about family.
“What does it mean to be an artist and part of a family when you feel like you’re burning,” Zapata asked. “When I listen to music, I have this visceral feeling. I just kind of have a natural reaction to songs or performances. I feel something.”
Zapata was new to working with double exposure photos leading up to the project. What started as an experiment has become a tribute to the neighborhoods in which she grew up.
Zapata felt like many other creatives during the pandemic, stifled and uninspired, but the idea of the exhibit invigorated her as an artist.
“I didn’t know if it was going to work and I didn’t know if it was actually going to be something that I would want to keep doing,” Zapata said. “But, the response I got from people and my own feelings when I look at the pictures really made me feel good. It’s almost like this next chapter of what I want to do.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of creating art for Zapata is working with other artists. Highlighting her hometown, community, and queer and Latino people are central to her collaborations.
Zapata and her siblings created Pocha, what she describes as a Latinx collaborative art event about “existence at the crossroads,” in 2018. The event tries to bring together their passions – theater, art performance, visual arts and drag shows – which makes working with people so rewarding for Zapata.
“I like talking with other people because I think their stories are always very interesting,” Zapata said. “It’s my favorite thing. That’s what I miss doing.
Representation and honesty are an important part of what Zapata presents through his art. Although Selena Quintanilla, known by her stage name as Selena, was an early obsession for Zapata, she felt like she never really had someone trying to represent who she is or where she comes from. It wasn’t until a friend introduced him to Chicana photographer Laura Aguilar that Zapata found an artist and someone to look up to.
Aguilar’s work often played on the theme of vulnerability, with photos often challenging the idea of female nudity as an object of the male gaze. Speaking about the intricacies of the Chicano community, Aguilar’s images also touched on body image issues, the portrayal of marginalized groups, as well as social and political issues.
Aguilar’s artistic talent is reflected in Zapata’s connection between his art and his personal experiences.
“Being vulnerable is always a process for me. But I think it goes along with how you’re treated as a person of color and how you’re treated as a woman,” Zapata said. “I think it’s always in my works in a way. Even if it’s not in the foreground, there’s always me trying to say, ‘This is who I am.’
Zapata shared her own observations on what it means to be honest in art and to be part of an underrepresented community. She believes honesty can be ugly, but it’s important to ask questions, even if the answers aren’t pretty.
“We’re kind of scared to really have discussions about things, even people in my own community don’t want to have those conversations,” Zapata said. “I’m aware and aware of what I’m trying to get across.
“And I hope someone who grew up like me, who felt isolated, who felt ostracized and different, can say something like, ‘Hey look, here’s someone trying to represent where I come from or what I am. ‘”
For a long time, Zapata felt alone in her struggles as a Chicana artist. Hearing words like diversity and inclusion meant nothing without action, she said of discussing “white-centric” spaces in the arts community.
According to Zapata, being a person of color was usually synonymous with a lack of opportunity. After having the chance to present her work at Manzanita Hall, Zapata understood the responsibility she had towards her community.
“It’s important for us to share our experiences and it’s always important to be as honest as possible about your experiences so that someone else can understand it and realize that they are not alone. “, Zapata said. “I want to bring other people. I want to bring in other communities, I want to work together instead of working against each other as minorities.