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Toria Maldonado

What does your artwork represent? Does your art represent something about you?

I use my work to represent the things I don’t always know how to articulate, and to reflect upon my experiences. So it’s really a push and pull between me representing myself and the life around me. Currently, I’ve been focusing a lot on my relationship with my queer identity and gender expression, and how that relates to my Mexican-Asian American culture. Some of my most recent portraits reference specific family members to represent these different layers of identity.

Who are your biggest influences?

My parents have an enormous influence on me. I reference them a lot in my work, especially my late father. I find it difficult to talk about myself without talking about my parents. The circumstances that brought them together and the aftermath of my father’s death left a tremendous impact on the way I was raised and ultimately how I view the world. Sometimes, it made it that much more difficult for me to relate to others without talking about things like addiction, trauma, or death. In light of this, however, both my mother and father were incredibly encouraging when it came to my art-making growing up, which made the transition to a professional career much more natural to pursue.

When we looked at your social media it was clear to us at Latinx 4 Social Movement that you’re a staunch advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights, why are you drawn to this subject?

Being queer, trans, and a non-binary person of color, I learned quickly how much our community is left out of the conversation. It’s a constant struggle to keep repeating “we’re here, we exist, why won’t you see me?” We are grossly underrepresented, mistreated, and disproportionately affected when it comes to adequate housing, healthcare, and job employment. Because I’m constantly challenging anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric and engaging folks with questions, I make it a point to show that in my work. For example, when other people in the community don’t know the history of the Gay Rights movement, that prompts my motivation to create works that speak on LGBTQIA issues and the figures who paved the way.

You’ve been involved in art professionally for years, what was your biggest challenge in your endeavors? What was your biggest success? What do you hope to achieve?

My biggest challenge has been navigating a professional art career in a way that’s sustainable and self-sufficient. School teaches artists how to make art, but not the necessary steps in sustaining an art career/business. Unfortunately, because I am learning how to run my business, it takes so much time away from my art practice. So, it’s been a struggle learning how to balance those things together. As an independent artist, you learn early on that having multiple avenues of income is a requirement.

My biggest success has been gradually connecting with folks and organizations that align with my values and convictions as an artist. One of my fears in working in this field was accepting that I may take on a job or position I didn’t care for or wasn’t passionate about in order to make a living. But lately I’ve been connecting more with people who actually care about the same things I do, which is a big relief. It makes me more excited to work on projects.

I hope to eventually open an artist-run collective space in my neighborhood in Long Beach, CA. Ideally, it would be a hub to create, plan, and provide resources to working artists, especially for QTBIPOC. That’s the dream, anyway.

Tell us about any current projects or causes you want our readers to know about.

I haven’t been able to work on personal projects lately because I’ve been focusing on my mental health. This pandemic exposed an incredible need for more mental wellness, so much that all of my other priorities have become secondary. As far as specific causes, though, I do my best to stay updated with Black and POC-led initiatives and collectives that focus on Queer and Trans community mutual aid resources, such as For The Gworls and Trans Lifeline. However, if you’re curious, you can find a small collection of my work on my Instagram @toughandtender

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