Resistance Dance: The Art of José Montoya

One of fronterizo artist José Montoya’s powerful images is a color photograph titled “Resistance Dance.” It depicts a dancer wearing black laced high-heel shoes, and a black skirt with black fringe. The dancer is photographed in front of the mural painted by David Herrera and El Mac at Mills and Stanton streets in downtown El Paso.  The mural features a Mexican man flexing his muscles. In his poise, the dancer looks away from the camera and in his steps, he seems close to taking flight.  The dancer knows where he is headed and viewers are left to decide where WE WILL STAND – when the moment comes, will we resist?

“Resistance Dance,” Copyright 2020 by José Montoya, with permission by the artist.

What guides people to become artists?  What guides artists to draw and paint their communities?  What if you add chicananismo, hedonismo and joteria into your art work?  What if you want the challenge the narrative and paint people of color, the lgbtq+ community and add your visions and actions on social justice issues?  How do you create anti-racist, post-colonial, barrio, queer work? Where do you exhibit and present your work?  How do gay artists deal with machismo in the community (even in the arts?) How do artists create work that challenges patriarchy? Where do you find your audience or does your audience find you? One local artist who does all of the above is José Montoya.  

Montoya was born and raised in Alamogordo, New Mexico but has roots in Ciudad Juárez and Bent, New Mexico (located in Otero County).  He attended Alamogordo High School, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and a Master of Criminal Justice from New Mexico State University.  At NMSU, he also took courses with Dr. Cynthia Bejarano, with Dr. Manal Hamzeh and Dr. Dulcinea Lara, all leading scholars, community activists, and proponents of social justice issues, who have influenced Montoya’s work. 

José said his intuition and curiosity guided him towards becoming an artist since his childhood, when he began drawing.  After working in higher education for nearly a decade, the artist took a leap of faith and began my journey as a full-time artist/educator.  Montoya has exhibited his work in over a dozen regional exhibits and has participated in various opportunities.

His social justice work includes vending his art in the pop-up market of Mercadito Cultural in Barrio Duranguito, at the insistence of his friend, Franko Tormenta, a long-time community activist.  Later, Montoya said he attended the Paso del Sur’s barrio clean-up with the intention of sweeping sidewalks and picking trash to help beautiful the area, but he ended up painting a portrait of one of the former residents who had been displaced.  Subsequent barrio art followed.

Part of Montoya’s social justice work has been in dialogue with social justice issues and how his journey and his art reflects the reality of living along the U.S./Mexico border.  Last fall, he was invited to share his experiences at the Tacoma Community College.  Recently, he was re-invited by the college via a virtual video to discuss his art work in Duranguito, frontera arts and justice issues. 

Copyright 2020 by José Montoya, with permission by the artist.

When asked about his inspirations, Montoya states he has been influenced by “indigenous ways of understanding, soft masculinities, empowered femininities and social justice.”  He states his work “reflects empowerment and representation for people of color and the LGBTQ+ communities, as well as the two-spirit nature of being queer.” Montoya states feels his subject matter acts as his therapy and his voice.  He finds that “resistance is beautiful and is full of color.”  Montoya is guided by work which honors history, takes place in the present and is inspired by a future of hope.  

When asked about the reaction to his work, Montoya said:

I have received a lot of positive feedback and it has opened the doors for me to work in Cd. Juárez.  Advertising one’s self as an openly gay artist isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do especially in a region where there is so much machismo (even within the art community).

Among his media, the artist uses soft pastels, acrylics, photography and video as his tools to create. He feels pastels offer him the ability to add layers of colors and lend itself as an ideal medium for his work.  “Sometimes when I’m painting a face, I feel like a pottery maker,” he stated. Like clay, he said he uses that person’s facial contours to create his art and his reward is the glimmer in that person’s face as their eyes come to life. 

“Calaca,” Copyright 2020 by José Montoya, with permission by the artist.

We asked Montoya what people one hundred years from now would think of his work and he stated:

They might say, este vato, que pensaba (this guy, what was he thinking?) I really don’t know what people will say, but I hope that if they take into consideration the historical context in which I have lived in and it will all make sense.

The un-convention aspects of Montoya’s work make him an important artist along the U.S./Mexico borderlands where artists have historically challenged the status quo and created work which challenge master narratives.  His vision is characteristic of larger cities like Los Angeles where Chican@ artists have pushed the boundaries. These times call for the decolonization of art and the creation of new voices to understand and celebrate our diverse communities. José Montoya confirms that to be different and forge a path, you need to be true to yourself.

“Uprising,” Copyright 2020 by José Montoya, with permission by the artist.

You can find Montoya’s work at: artedemontoya.blog or on social media via: Instragram @el_hedonista, on Facebook at: artedemontoya

Montoya’s Art and Photography Exhibits include: 

2020, “Viva La Frida: El Paso’s Finest,” El Paso, TX.

2020, “Chicanismos, Hedonismos y Jotería Solo Show,” Dulcinea Casa Cultural LGBTQ, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, MX.

2019, Chicano Existentialisms: This River is of Love (Solo Show), Power at the Pass, El Paso, TX.

2019, “Pasos Urbanos: A Photographic Narrative of Borderlands Downtown Culture,” El Paso Museum of History.

2019, “Standing in the Light: Queer Culture in Art, Literature and Music,” Branigan Cultural Center, Las Cruces, NM.

2019, “Voice of Change: LGBTQ Activism, Branigan Cultural Center,” Las Cruces, NM.

2019, Featured Artist, Last Thursday’s Art Walk, El Paso, TX.

2018, Chalk the Block, El Paso, TX.

2018, “ConFIGURation,” El Paso Art Association, El Paso, TX.

2016, “International Women’s Day Art Show,” NMSU, Las Cruces, NM.

2009, “Capirotada Art Show,” Chicano Humanities and Art Council, Denver, CO.

2008, “Día del Niño Art Show,” Bo Matthews Center for Excellence, Denver, CO.

2007, “Freedom Unleashed: Marginalized Voices (art exhibit),” Denver, CO.

His Speaking & Community Engagements Include: 

2020, “Conversations with Vero: Art, Resistance and Community,” an Instagram Live event with El Paso Mayoral Candidate Verónica Carbajal.

2020, Guest Lecturer, “Activate Community Virtual Series: Strategizing & Thriving through COVID 19,” Tacoma Community College.

2019, Guest Lecturer, “Border Conversations,” Tacoma Community College. Tacoma, WA.

2019, Panelist, “Sipping the Rainbow Tea: A Conversation on the Experiences, Identities and Terminology of the LGBTQ+ Community,” Borderland Rainbow Center and UTEP, El Paso, TX.

2019, Facilitator “Anti-white supremacy training for professional staff, with a focus on decolonizing methods, intersectionality, image creation and follow up.” Hope Border Institute, El Paso, TX.

2019, Paso del Sur: Community-based art project “Mi Duranguito Bonito.” Assisted in renovation/beautification of a historic immigrant neighborhood located in downtown El Paso.

2018, Guest Lecturer: “Raíces de Resistencia,” NMSU Mujeres y Hombres Activistas Revolucionarios Student Organization, discussing community organizing, leadership and the use of art in social justice movements, Las Cruces, NM.

2018, Border AIDS Foundation Partnership: donated art for the Día de los Muertos Art Auction, El Paso, TX.

2018, Sun City Pride: donated art for annual Sun City Pride Art Auction. El Paso, TX.

2017, Facilitator: “Art, Justice and Leadership,” Southwest HEP/CAMP Student Leadership Conference, Santa Fe, NM.

2013, “Hip Hop and Social Justice,” Co-Presented with Martha Estrada at the Southwest HEP/CAMPStudent Leadership Conference, Santa Fe, NM.

2012, Facilitator, “Creating a Student Leadership Conference” Co-presented w/ Martha Estrada, Ivan Olay & Robert Garcia at the National HEP/CAMP Association Conference, Albuquerque, NM.

2010, “CAMP Peer Mentoring Programs,” Co-Presenter with Martha Estrada, National HEP/CAMP Association Conference, Philadelphia, PA.

2013-2016, Student Organization Advisor, NMSU CAMP Student Council, Las Cruces, NM (not associated with professional responsibilities): Advised the CAMP Student Council with fundraising and event planning. Mobilized youth to represent farm workers needs at the local and state level. Served as the student organization professional staff advisor. Successfully guided student members, which focused on community service and farmworker advocacy. The organization was awarded the “NMSU Student Organization of the Year” in 2015 under his guidance.

2010-2016, Amigos de las Mujeres de Juárez, Las Cruces, NM. Assisted local NGO to promote awareness on gender violence along the U.S.-Mexican border through social media and e-mail.

2008 – 2009, Mentor/tutor at Denver Metro Partners, Denver, CO. Promoted academic excellence for inner-city children. Mentored youth on a one-to-one basis and tutored in a group setting. Coordinated and facilitated art workshops for students. Advocated for cultural, artistic and self- improvement within the children.

Montoya Studio Photography, Copyright 2020 by José Montoya, with permission by the artist.