Many Todos Santos residents know La Dona Micaela Cota Carbello. Her ranch has been producing delicious cheese and produce for years, and her free-range herd of cows are often seen on the beach road near Las Playitas.
Local artist Christa Assad wanted to show the rancher in a different light, painting her smiling visage with acrylics on a large plywood panel in a vivid palette of pinks, greys and golds.
“Seeing the painting of herself blew her mind, she went from giggling to tears,” says Assad. “To see herself in that context, not as a simple ranchera, but as a powerful woman.”
La Dona Michaela is one of eight Mexican women featured in Assad’s show “Quien Calla, Ortorga”, currently on display at the Galeria Militar in Todos Santos. The commonly-used Spanish phrase translates to “silence is consent”. Assad felt it was an appropriate theme to explore the experiences of women in Mexico and chose eight female subjects ranging from a 17th-century nun to revolutionary figures to the Cota family matriarch.
“I wanted to do a show specific to our place in Todos Santos and including the whole country,” explains Assad, who moved to the puebla four years ago from California. “I came up with the theme first and then did lots of research on women, like a who’s-who survey.”
Famous Mexican artist Frido Kahlo is depicted in Assad’s work in bright green and pink. A muted palette was chosen for the piece “El Grito Silencioso, Tlatelolco” repre-senting the horror of mothers who lost their children in a 1968 massacre in Mexico City after soldiers opened fire on student protesters, killing and wounding hundreds.
A colorful bandana masks the face of a female insurgent in “Zapatistas”, highlighting the important role of women in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz, a scholarly Hiero-nymite who lived in the 1600s, is shown in blues and greens.
“Ines is one of my favorite stories. She was a feminist before feminism was a thing,” states Assad, explaining how the historical figure chose to become a nun to avoid the educational restrictions placed on women at the time.
The paintings, along with some of Assad’s well-renowned ceramic pieces, were unveiled at an opening held at Galeria Militar on March 11. Gallery owners Jessie Wallace and Mark Gabriel acknowledge that Covid-19 has impacted the way the gallery operates, but say they’ve been success-ful at bringing visitors to exhibitions.
“People RSVP for a certain timeslot and wear masks, so everyone feels safe,” Gabriel explains. “It’s great to have people out that haven’t been go-ing out and everyone was very happy.”
The couple’s back-ground as filmmakers is also allowing them to produce creative ways to share art. On their web-page at galeriamilitar.com you can virtually view exhibitions in 3D as if you are inside the contemporary gallery. The website also allows viewers to peek inside Gabriel’s own studio. His floating whale series, which he describes as his “spirit animal” has been prominently featured in several Baja publications.
The team moved to Todos Santo four years ago from East-ern Canada. In February 2020, they opened a studio with occasional art pop-up events and moved into the new space on Calle Militar last November.
“This is really the fun part, having a showroom to invite other artists in, exploring local art plus bringing in international artists of high calibre,” said Gabriel.
In the coming months, they will welcome UK artist Heath Kane, who has created a special piece for the gallery based on his Hero Portraits. The popular collection superimposes looks such as the Mexican lucha libre mask over historical portraits. One such piece of Kane’s is on display at the Louvre in Paris.
“It’s part of our desire to find new artists from different cultures and curate shows with a strong story, a meaning,” Gabriel says.
Assad’s pieces certainly carry a story of relevance to Mexican culture. “Here women have had to deal with the machismo environment,” she says. “There were a lot of young women at the opening of the show, a new generation who are excited to finally have a voice.”
The works are credited as “Assad X Wickham” to acknowledge the role the painter’s partner Kevin Wickham plays in their creation.
“I execute the paintings myself but we share ideas and he was strongly influential on the color choices”, she explains. “He gets excited about the con-tent too and is a true feminist.”
It is Assad’s hope that her paintings celebrating women will spark ways to empower them further. Citing Kamala Harris’ election to the US Vice President, Assad feels that the world will grow in a more positive direction when females are in positions of leadership.
“Yes, you gotta be hopeful about the future. Things would shift if women were in charge.”
Galeria Militar is located in Todos Santos at the corner of Calle Militar and Calle Hidalgo. The Assad X Wickham show is on display until April 12. For more information, check their website at www. galeriamitilar.com
See the Virtual Exhibition online at: https://www.galeriamilitar.com/silenceconscent