What kind of art do you practice?
I call myself an emerging interdisciplinary post-modern folk artist, but I also work in a civic practice and as a curator. I work in the visual arts, performance, and music. Sometimes I put it all together and other times they are separate, but in each of them I pull from artesanías which are Indigenous folk art traditions from Mesoamerica/Latin America. I like to reinterpret folk art techniques and folk music and put my contemporary spin on them.
What lead you to become an artist?
I have always been drawing, and I have always known I was going to be an artist. There are a lot of pastors and theologians in my family, so as a kid I was always in church, waiting around, and some of my earliest memories are of drawing on the back of those envelopes with the church pew pencils and making sketches inside of bibles. Also, my dad was a musician and my mom was a dancer so I have always had music in my life. They were both very active in their own social practices, my mom as a pastor and my dad with his involvement with solidarity movements as a refugee from El Salvador. Art for Social Change has always just been really important and foundational in my life.
How has art impacted your community?
Well, most people I know are artists, using art and music as a tool to grapple with social change and uplift identity as latinx immigrants or chicanos of Indigenous roots, and also to plant seeds for change in consciousness of how we are connected as humanity. We use art to address issues within our community. Here on the West side there's a lot of gentrification that is happening really fast, and also a lot of issues around toxicity and the environment. We are all using art and music to talk about issues like gentrification, identity, colonization, and interconnectedness.
The West side was the first immigrant neighborhood in the whole state. Migrant farm workers from Mexico and from Texas would come up here to pick sugar beets and cherries, and would go home and be kind of transient coming back to this community. This was also a Jewish neighborhood, so there was mixing of different communities who weren’t accepted by the greater Twin Cities. This was a neglected neighborhood. It was a ghetto, a happy ghetto though, full of resiliency, culture, pride, and deep community bonds.
How do you engage community in your practice?
As a solo artist, I take the ideas of Nueva Canción which is basically social protest music and I try to always infuse a message. Often in my visual and curatorial work, my focus is on the importance of sharing how Latinos reframe immigration. Immigration is not about Latinos taking jobs. A Lot of us are here because our families were forced to come here because of U.S. practices and policies. Really we are Indigenous people of the North and South on our own land where we have mirgrated to generations before. We have a lot of parallels in our great big family tree of the world. There are little bits and pieces that are similar and so often we focus on the differences, and it's important to hold on to traditions and identities in that way, but also to see where we have common roots and branches.
In addition to this, I co-founded this space, Electric Machete Studios, as a way to intervene in systemic inequity, for Latinx identified artists to have a collaborative space that can support people from the collective who share resources, and also have a place that houses contemporary and experimental work. It can be really hard for artists of color to grow professionally. We created this space to support professional artists, show cultural arts and preserve history, and also to provide space to have intergenerational community workshops where we can revitalize and pass on techniques from traditional folk arts. A lot of times we are able to support people who don't feel comfortable entering a traditional “fine arts space”, like The Walker, so this can often be their first interaction with contemporary art or experimental performance. We are here to support them so folks who don't normally interact with art feel more confident going into other spaces that don’t normally meet people in the middle.
What is the biggest adversity you’ve faced as an artist?
Its pretty clear that there's systemic inequity. I have a lot of privilege, in that I am half white, and that I went to college. But still there are all these walls all over that have to do with money, networking, and resources. On top of that, I am a woman, a mother, and a breadwinner, so I have to continue to be resourceful and adaptive. Even though I have this body of work that I want to return to, and I have this idea for an exhibition that has been put on hold, I have to sometimes go where the money is and try to still infuse my creative work into each opportunity rather than it being the other way around.
A pattern I have seen with other Indigenous artists and artists of color is that because there are systemic inequities that don’t support our sustainable success, a lot of people have to take a break from their own practices in order to fill the holes in the broken systems. We have to create our own nonprofits, our own businesses, and our own galleries so that we have spaces to exhibit our work. That takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. By the time you are done with that and have gotten over the hurdles of things like getting our work documented, learning how to write a resume and a bio, knowing how to respond to grants and calls, and being able to navigate dominantly white systems, its 10 years later in your career. Often other artists have these resources right away coming out of college so it puts a lot of us behind to play catch up, and by the time we are able to do that we are not necessarily emerging artists anymore. Even though we’ve been working all along, we don’t necessarily have the body of work to show for it. The biggest adversity of an artist is balancing administrative work, activism, filling in the holes of structural inequities (for ourselves and our communities), and creating new bodies of work all the time while still making a living.
“We are really just conduits for other types of stories, so each time I have a dream, or I hear other people are having similar experiences, it's exciting to know that we are working with a theme that needs to come out for this moment in time.”
- Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra
What has been your greatest joy as an artist?
Probably the most exciting thing for me has been discovering music. I had never thought of myself as a musician, but I was slowly moving into performance, and in general a joy has been realising that as an artist you don’t have to be defined. This is something I sort of struggled with in terms of being a social and civic practicing artist because it's art that people don’t necessarily see, so they don’t get a solid grasp on what it is that you’re creating, in changing systems. Music has a more immediate way of doing things that is really exciting to me, and I had no idea that it was a resource that I could tap into. Also, being able to step back and see what has come out of past seed projects and collaborations however small it seems in the moment. Artists are like farmers, planting seeds, cultivating ideas, and watching the garden grow. Overall, finding new ways of creating art for social change has been my greatest joy.
I am really inspired by my dreams. I feel my ancestors speak to me through my dreams. Imagery of jungles and jaguars are constantly coming up in my work because it's something that I dream about, and I feel like it's not necessarily from me. I think most artists feel this way, that artists are conduits for other types of energy. We are really just conduits for other types of stories, so each time I have a dream, or I hear other people are having similar experiences, it's exciting to know that we are working with a theme that needs to come out for this moment in time.
Obviously I am really influenced by my family too. All of my work is really about theology, and the way that we study and think about God or a Creator or spirits or ancestors, and make sense of the meaning of injustice, and how we are connected to the earth and connected to the cosmos.
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of you story?
As a curator I have been holding space for this series called Dimensions of Indigenous for ten years. It has been at Intermedia Arts, and it was started by a band that was also connected to Electric Machete Studios, Los Nativos. They had started Anti-Columbus day, a Hip-Hop showcase concert, at 7th Street Entry as a way to connect Indigenous artists of the North and South, many years ago. The event started having people do art on stage and it just kind of organically grew into an art exhibition in addition to the music. The exhibition was curated by a friend of mine, and then it was passed down to me to hold space for. It really was what grew me into a curator, and also what gave me the opportunity to exhibit my early work in context. Through that exhibit, I tried to find different ways and themes to connect Indigenous artists of the four directions around parallel stories of decolonization, survival, and resistances. Most of our common resistances are about connection to the earth.
Also at Intermedia, I have worked on one of the teams with Creative CityMaking with Mankwe Ndosi and Reggie Prim, working with the city of Minneapolis and regulatory services with tenants and inspectors using theatre of the oppressed, so that's more of an equity-based civic practice.
Rebekah co-founded Electric Machete Studios, a Twin Cities Art and Music collective and gallery featuring contemporary Latinx artists, where she serves as an Artist/Curator. She writes and performs music as Lady Xok. Of her relationship with Intermedia Arts, she worked as curator of the 10 year exhibition series Dimensions of Indigenous, uniting Indigenous people of the 4 Directions, and with Creative CityMaking Minneapolis on an innovative team using art to address systemic inequity. She is self-taught, family-taught, and studied studio art at St. Olaf College and Holtekilen Folkehøgskole in Oslo, Norway. Rebekah has over 10 years experience as a teaching artist in non-profits, churches, and schools sharing cultural storytelling and environmentally-just reuse found-object resquatche techniques. Her multicultural Indigenous identity fuels her passion for equity in contemporary cultural arts, especially as it relates to Creative PlaceKeeping, cultural preservation, and economic advancement.