At Scripps College’s Motley Coffeehouse, a series of photographs by Corina Silverstein SC ’25 hangs nestled in a corner. A skilled photographer, who has used portraiture as a way of social connection, Silverstein has also explored the ways in which Latinx womanhood has been represented in art within El Paso, Texas through their research.
Silverstein showcased a breakdown of their summer research over Scripps’ Sept. 21 Wednesday tea symposium. Their research consisted of spending the summer working for the El Paso Museum of Art and helping the curatorial staff design an exhibit on Latinx womanhood depicted in art.
They surveyed the collection based on the identities of various contemporary artists and proposed that the museum acquire more contemporary artwork created by LGBTQIA+, transgender and women artists of color.
The first part of Silverstein’s project consisted of researching the artworks created by Latinx women and identifying the nuance of representation that existed within those artworks. Some of these categories that showed up when surveying the larger collection included the male gaze on Latinx women, folktales and mother and daughter relationships. They then researched these contemporary artists, finding that one percent of these artists within the archive of the El Paso Museum of Art identified as LGBTQIA+ while 50 percent identified as white.
Silverstein spent time meditating on the positionality of the artists that created certain works centering Latinx womanhood within the archives. In particular, they thought about the representation of Latinx women and the inherent biases that certain artists may hold within the context of their identity.
“Because we didn’t have enough women artists in our collection to create an exhibit, we had to pull from some white male artists,” Silverstein said. “So, another thing for me was looking at how to address the fact that some of these artists were Spaniards, who still depict these women in a way that furthers stereotyping.”
This experience was a catalyst that inspired Silverstein to propose acquiring contemporary art by Latinx artists with intersecting identities.
“With the art scene in El Paso, everyone knows each other. It’s very much embedded into the culture in comparison to the Claremont Colleges. People talk about Border Art [in Claremont] as a concept to study, whereas in El Paso it’s just the epicenter of the art circle.”
During their time there, Silverstein worked alongside people who have roots in El Paso and a deep awareness of their surrounding community. They also found themselves within the epicenter of the Border Art movement, witnessing the sister cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico interact in an everyday sense.
“With the art scene in El Paso, everyone knows each other,” Silverstein said. “It’s very much embedded into the culture in comparison to the Claremont Colleges. People talk about Border Art [in Claremont] as a concept to study, whereas in El Paso it’s just the epicenter of the art circle.”
They emphasized that being in a space where all of their coworkers were hyper-aware of the interactions between Juárez and El Paso was very valuable. Coworkers were aware of how their family members and friends may interact with certain art pieces, and there is an emphasis on making art something everyone can enjoy.
“Because of the proximity to Mexico, there is a lot of Catholic culture,” Silverstein said. “Something we at the 5Cs may not find particularly striking has a very different reception in El Paso.”
During this research project, they were able to delve deeper into a circle of queer artists within the Borderlands. When looking for pieces to acquire, Silverstein discovered a wealth of trans and queer culture within El Paso. They discovered one artist, José Villalobos, whose art interrogates the machismo cowboy culture within El Paso through a lens of his own queer experience. His artwork is not collected by any El Paso museums; however, Silverstein is determined to change this.
Silverstein’s dive into the art community of El Paso was inspired by their personal connection to the city.
“My mom was born in El Paso, raised in Juárez and moved back to El Paso … All my family lives out there: aunts, uncles, cousins,” Silverstein said.
They were empowered by the ability to undertake a project that honored their identity and intersected with their education.
“It really solidified that I wanted to go into the arts and continue doing that,” Silverstein said. “A lot of times there are these cultural centers that are for predominantly Chicanx and Latinx communities, and they just get taken down.”
Silverstein expressed a deep personal connection to creating and fostering a space for art that centers the Latinx experience. They insist on expanding the associations with Border Art beyond violence. The two cities of Juárez and El Paso are rich cultural centers that contain a multitude of Latinx artists who bring a variety of perspectives into visual art.
In their approach to photography and their research endeavors, it is clear they have a desire to capture the hidden sides of a person or a place. They emphasize that with photography, they see it as a collaborative process to capture their friends in a different light.
“Because I know my friends so well, I try to capture parts of them that other people may not see,” Silverstein said. “I know what things are harder to capture about them, so I try to intentionally capture those things.”
You can follow their photography account at the handle @corinaspixels.