David Antonio Cruz wants to give queer people of color a place in art history. Through his painting, sculpture, and performance, Cruz gives his subjects a sense of dignity, visibility, and beauty despite the tragic narratives in their lives. Embedded within Cruz’s paintings are layers of code; the foliage often represents plantlife from the same place as the subject; certain colors also mean different things—green, for instance, signals immigration. Cruz’s practice explores the intersection of homosexuality and race, highlighting the complex stories behind the faces in his work. A series of these portraits are featured through October 26 in One Day I’ll Turn the Corner and I’ll Be Ready For It at Monique Meloche in Chicago.
Although Cruz doesn’t know many of his subjects, their narratives align with his own in many ways. He was born in Philadelphia to Puerto Rican parents, and identifies as Latinx, black, and queer. Cruz spent his youth protecting himself with an “invisible shield,” not to draw attention to himself in order to avoid being bullied or harassed. “[I spent] so much of my earlier years trying to navigate that space silently,” remembers Cruz, who found solace in art. “It was the safest thing for me, it was just a way for me to create a place for myself.” Cruz found himself coming out to his mother in a conversation the summer following his freshman year after his sister broke the news to her. “It did not go well,” he remembered. “It was something that—as much as she loved me, as much as I was the baby—was really challenging in our family.” The artist would immortalize his mother, who passed away two years ago, in a painting that emulates Michelangelo’s Pietà, with Cruz as Jesus and his mother as the Virgin Mary.