Reinventing what “home” means is a common theme of Jessica Valentin, aka Ratgrrl’s, work, especially in the past two years.Q:
Suffolk County News sat down with Valentin, the thought-provoking artist and astute businesswoman who opened Muñeca Arthouse in Blue Point earlier last year and has been keeping art alive through shows and exhibits throughout the pandemic.
Sam Desmond: Loving the vintage vibe mixed in with the contemporary political thought. Where are the prints from?
Jessica Valentin: Many of them come from the New York Public Library’s public domain pages. A lot are from playbills from the 1890s through to the 1920s. While I transfer them over, I keep some or subvert the original meaning. Like in this one piece, the play was called “Dangerous Black Man” and it has the racist iconography of the exaggerated lips and nostrils and I collaged that with the BLM movement, collectively bringing the past and present to collide into a statement on how long the struggle has been going on for.
Did you find a lot of your artwork in the past year have political leanings?A:
Yes, a common theme I found is making your homeland something to be respected when you emigrate. In this piece where the continent of Africa is shown, it’s to remind the viewer that Africa is the cradle of civilization and not to be looked down upon as something that hasn’t evolved or has been left behind, but rather a part of us all.Q:
How about your own heritage as a Latina?A:
As a Puerto Rican growing up in Patchogue, there were maybe two or three other kids in the large school district I went to that were also Latino, and I myself, as someone lighter-skinned, is often mistaken for Italian, so while I have a lot of Latin pride, it doesn’t necessarily look like someone else’s. I’m friends with this artist who also grew up on Long Island but in a majority Latino community, and his idea of Latin pride is different from mine. But what unites us is this idea of homeland being something tenuous and needed to be safeguarded once you moved to another place.Q:
Another theme of your artwork is loss and longing, could you tell us about that?A:
Yes, in the past year I lost my mother and my father. My mother had a rapid decline, passing away only about eight weeks after her initial cancer diagnosis. My father died of COVID-19 and a lot of my work on the east side wall shows that need to connect with someone who has gone on. You’ll see it in the shadowing and the coloring. Some are even starkly obvious with one figure in bright colors and one figure in dark colors, but that speaks to how the connection is there, it’s never severed, but strained now that one person is gone. I also lost my two husbands, so there’s both romantic and parental love that my artwork reaches out for.Q:
Have you had any influence for other artists come out in this collection of work?A:
Yes! The most obvious is Andy Warhol in the “Platanos” works. Very pop art with comic book writing, but also a nod to commercialism. It speaks to the appreciation or fascination with Latino foods and culture, but not necessarily Latino people. I’ve also had that theme recurring in my “Latina Inteligente” pieces where there’s a mid-century alien vibe. Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” is also instrumental there and my homage to honoring hip-hop culture. The fear comes out of a monster with ideas instead of just mindless destruction.Ratgrrl’s collection, which has already sold nearly a dozen pieces, will be on display until April 4 at 166 Montauk Highway in Blue Point.