Exploring Home, Memory and Identity: An Interview with a Studio Art M.F.A. student


April 25, 2024
Large wall display of photography collage with a single large photograph of a home in the center
Installation view of Ariana Gomez's thesis project My Mother Speaks of Land as Memory in the Visual Arts Center. Image courtesy of the artist.

by Cami Yates

Studio Art M.F.A. student Ariana Gomez delved into the intricate layers of her artistic process, focusing on her captivating concept of “home as myth” for her thesis project, My Mother Speaks of Land as Memory, which explores home, memory and identity.

Gomez’s work, along with five others in her graduating M.F.A. cohort, is currently on view at the Visual Arts Center in the exhibition All Else. The exhibition brings together painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and sculpture to build spaces between inner and outer worlds, memory and experience, and examine how the artists’ individual narratives can generate expansive dialogues.

In her work My Mother Speaks of Land as Memory, Gomez’ explores the idea of “home as myth”, a concept she learned about during her research on Aztlan within the context of the Chicanx Movement. Aztlan, the mythical place of origin for the Aztecs, became a lens through which Gomez examined the construction of identity and belonging, particularly within diasporic experiences. Her artwork navigates the intricate interplay between memory, nostalgia and the elusive nature of home, weaving together personal narratives with broader cultural reflections.

Gomez reflected on her academic journey. After completing her B.F.A. at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, she decided to pursue her M.F.A. at The University of Texas to explore a profound connection to her roots. Hailing from Austin originally, she was drawn back to Texas to explore her familial ties and the evolving landscape of her hometown. Additionally, UT’s offerings in Latin American Studies provided a platform to delve deeper into her own cultural heritage.

The process of bringing My Mother Speaks of Land as Memory to life was a gradual yet deeply introspective journey for Gomez. Photography served as the initial medium, as she captured landscapes imbued with personal significance and familial history. However, the project truly took shape during the editing and sequencing phase. She integrated moving images and sound to convey the nuances of memory and grief, adding the sound of rain recorded on her front porch as a symbolic presence of her late father.

“I still wanted his presence, but more so as a thought, in a similar way grief will ebb and flow in and out of your conscience on a daily basis,” she said. “I wanted to make him a sound within this piece, and I landed on a rainstorm recorded on our front porch. It starts out soft and almost not even recognizable — and then gradually crescendos into a storm. It felt apt, especially in contrast to an entire wall of memory.”

For Gomez, the act of creating this artwork was an exercise in vulnerability. Balancing the desire to share personal experiences with the need to preserve intimacy proved to be a constant challenge.

“Throughout the entire process, I struggled to understand what to show and how much of myself (and my family) I should present to the world,” she said. “There is a lot in the work that won’t ever be visible to most people, but what guided me most was the understanding that grief is universal, and the loss of land and identity can be felt across generations.”

She found solace in the universality of grief and the shared human experience of longing for home and belonging. As her artwork takes its place in the public sphere, Gomez hopes to evoke a sense of empathy and introspection in the viewer.

“I don’t expect someone to understand it all, but when you step into my space, I want you to also see, feel and hear your own memories tied up in the ether with my own,” she said.

Gomez’s artwork serves as a reminder of the enduring power of memory and the complexities of identity. Through her exploration of My Mother Speaks of Land as Memory, she invites us to reconsider our own narratives and the ways in which we navigate the ever-shifting landscapes of our lives.

All Else runs through May 11. Visit the Visual Arts Center website for more information.



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