- November 21, 2022 - February 24, 2023
- California Institute of Integral Studies, Desai Matta Gallery
There is a space between sleeping and wakefulness where ideas are formed, where memories and dreams stored in disparate places in the mind connect across synapses. Lines between experiences that were compartmentalized long ago fade away and allow for something new to come to life.
Long before her 2017 stroke, artist Karla Diaz dreamed vividly, and would wake in the morning to recount to her partner each scene witnessed in the night. But while recovering, Diaz spent hour after hour awake with insomnia, dwelling in this hybrid space, healing and making paintings. Creating the works in this exhibition with a memory transformed by injury, Diaz describes a process of unlearning her formal training and instead trusting herself to make the work she needed to make, a powerful act of advocacy—for one’s voice and one’s very survival.
Each image is bathed in washes of bright colors that are the seductive and sometimes bewildering ground for intricate narrative paintings in which memories, ancestral lore, and images derived from dreams entwine to form something new. In Lucha in Mamas Kitchen, a young girl with a luchador mask and her mother gaze directly at the viewer as the mother arranges the mask on the child’s face. On the wall religious icons live adjacent to colorful cooking pots, and looking closer towards the stove, the pots and dials become faces that also stare back at the viewer. Diaz blurs the lines you have been taught to draw between the multiple spaces you occupy, instead inviting us to inhabit the lived and the dreamt experience at once. In her healing, Diaz unlearned those imposed delineations and found another way to depict her world.
"My approach changed because I really truly trusted that I needed to nourish that kind of creative space and that process of being in connection with my mind and my body that before I was not really paying attention to."
Memories are often uneasy, sometimes painful, and always fragmented and transformed by time. Moving in a dreamlike, surreal space, Diaz’ paintings dance easily from the diaristic and personal to the cultural and diasporic, quilting together memory and identity much as our memories are transformed in time. In her love of magic realism, Diaz has found another tool for transformation and survival.
Magic realism gives us a container to hold (struggle & trauma)—to go on or to walk with it, to know that it is part of our life… the best way I know is that strategy for survival. And I think surrealism kind of affords me that, in a way where I'm using it as a tool for survival and visual communication.
Diaz makes vivid and visible the power of accepting her now disjointed memories and dreams as a new way to tell her story. Stepping into power as who she is today—despite or because that person diverges from the one she knew herself to be—the work integrates the whole self, removing the compartments that we impose to keep the inside and outside worlds more organized.