With a commitment and passion for creating art that spurs conversations, University of New Mexico graphic design professor Martín Wannam educates “through a brown, queer lens” and broaches an ongoing dialogue on how queer individuals experience social and political systems in Guatemala.
The experiences, as well as his identity of growing up in Guatemala and being an immigrant, are critical components in informing Wannam’s art and teaching at UNM. Wannam said queerness and brownness are core themes in his art.
“It’s rare that you can really detach the artist from their own identity,” Wannam said. “It’s impossible to say that my art or my teaching doesn’t revolve around the way that I am.”
Wannam said he identities as marica, which is a similar but not direct Spanish translation from “gay” in English.
“I identity with marica because there’s such a construct for gay,” Wannam said. “Gay (implies) whiteness and specific stereotypical phenotype and structures of gender expression. Marica (implies) brown and not rich. So, it comes with different structures (and) identifies a different community.”
Existing as such and educating through the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of color and queer individuals are important pieces of Wannam’s teaching.
“It’s interesting to think about white, cis(gender), gay men because they’re so in touch with white supremacy,” Wannam said. “It comes with blue eyes, buff, really beautiful western features. So, that’s where when folks do think about gayness or that spectrum of queerness, it goes back to this idea that … we have to fit that stereotype.”
Wannam said it isn’t exclusively the responsibility of queer, BIPOC individuals to inform people on conversations which directly pertain to LGBTQ+ issues or language, and greater education is needed.
“(Wannam) entered our program making photographs of his community in Guatemala City, examining how queer youth there resist the bigotry of both state and church,” associate professor of photography Meggan Gould said via e-mail. “Martín has an acute ability to make artwork that is simultaneously sharp cultural criticism and poignant reflection.”
Wannam said he intentionally asks students for the name and pronouns that they identify with to foster a safe, comfortable space in his classes.
“My queerness, for sure, affects the way that I teach, the way that I see my students,” Wannam said.
Wannam said he takes up space on campus by intentionally teaching through contemporary examples of queerness and people of color, and said that “modern (examples) are … most of the time through whiteness because they’re the ones that had access to all the knowledge and tools.”
“(Wannam’s) just a brave person in the themes that he tackles,” former student Marlene Tafoya said. “The work speaks for itself and … his character comes out in his work.”
Wannam said that, as a lecturer, he advocates for non-perfectionism from students in his courses, which is one way he deviates from perfectionist practices that are rooted in colonialism.
“It’s important to teach (students) that everything is okay; it’s valid,” Wannam said. “We should not be teaching ‘this is wrong or right’ … Nothing is wrong; maybe it’s just not communicating enough of what you want to put out there.”
Wannam is also part of Fronteristxs Collective, which seeks to address campaigns and coalitions in New Mexico, including issues centric to incarceration and private prisons, through art and education.
This collective is composed of four artists total and Wannam said it operates through the framework of “the system doesn’t work (and) reform doesn’t really function.”
He said that while there isn’t a singular solution to undertaking these critical issues, Fronteristxs Collective encourages a collective input.
Wannam said he identifies with Regina Galindo and Sandra Monterroso, who are both Guatemalan artists.
“I go back to history, to movements of resistance, what my own peers in the community back home are doing,” Wannam said. “Mostly now, I’m paying attention to who’s my audience … and how I can speak really directly to people.”
According to Wannam, his art functions as a protest to U.S. imperialism in Guatemala and the erasure of history from Guatemalan perspectives.
“I’m not an activist,” Wannam said. “I might be a little bit of an activist through my collective work but I don’t claim that title because I am an artist and I create conceptual thinking and try to (create) an aesthetic way for people to think about issues.”
Wannam is currently showing an exhibition at the Harwood Art Center called “La Furia en contra de la Máquina” with Tafoya, which Tafoya said addresses systems of oppression including religion and capitalism.
“I create questions and I create conversations, but I do not create solutions,” Wannam said.