By francisco aviles pino
Sometimes I feel like I’ve always known or talked to this artist. This is not my first time talking to Jesus Cortez and I know there will be more conversations as he prepares to embark on another journey into his work. The unofficial but official poet laureate of Anaheim, Jesus Cortez has a multidisciplinary show set to premiere at Crear Studio on September 16th titled: ¿Ya Mero Compa?
Photography-led, the solo exhibition explores the immigrant body and how it is shaped or reshaped by labor. Mostly in photographs of his family at work, and through self-portraits, the show seeks to also force a conversation about voyeurism and how we see immigrants.
Here's the kicker, however, Jesus isn’t just photographing immigrant workers though, its his own life and the process of his work has always been about reclaiming.
“For me it’s about being creative — it encourages me to keep creating,” explains Jesus Cortez, award-winning poet and artist from Anaheim.
Back in 2018, Cortez published his first collection of work with Sarah Rafael García’s LibroMobile, who has become a longtime collaborator and friend of Jesus. In that time, as Gabriel San Roman put, his first chapbook came at a turning point of Jesus’ life when he was realizing his mom would pass away soon. I also spoke with Jesus later in that same year to document what this chapbook meant to him. His chapbook whispering to god and the city was both an ode to his late mother but also a bitter medicine to an immigrant life in the City of Anaheim.
Now over five years later, Sarah, Jesus and I all sit in her living room discussing how this time, Jesus’ vision for honoring his family and remembering the city is only set to grow wider. His first multimedia gallery show ¿Ya Mero Compa?, from the decks and conversation’s I’ve had with Jesus is a mere extension of what his first poetry collection sought to do, it is just another form of doing it. "Jesus is not raw talent, he meticulously curates words and images to express his emotions and portray his society," says García. "Always challenging the rest of us to see beyond skin color, citizenship, and socioeconomic status."
From documenting himself and his brother and nephew getting ready to work to replicating forms of worker advertisements, this collection work seeks to either start or end conversations of immigrant labor. The photographs however in the show aren’t merely documentary as Jesus intervenes in the act making the photograph at times to hold his tools, and place them around a larger message. This isn’t a collection of photos of workers, this is a photographer and artist who also works.
He tells me that the process for this show came both naturally and out of necessity. It wasn’t the chase of a grant or the mere sake of making art to try and even be a political voice, he tells me that his work is one that is needed for him to breathe. “For me it’s about being creative —- it encourages me to keep creating.”
Every time we talk, its as if he’s surprised that I’m trying to maybe intellectualize his work. But come on, Jesus’ work has always been a sharp sword in the theory based poetry of the immigrants, the brown bodies and even now in the academic forms of Latino political art.
Jesus Cortez will always be a compass for me, as an immigrant, who must dare to not give a fuck but to care about who and how people see the work.
¿Ya Mero Compa?, a multimedia solo exhibition by local artist Jesus Cortez, is scheduled to open at Crear Studio from September 16th through November 18th, 2023, with a special evening reception and artist talk on Saturday, September 16th from 6-8pm. For more information follow Crear Studio on Instagram and/or our events page.
Jesus Cortez is an award-winning undocumented writer, poet and photographer from West Anaheim. His work is inspired by his undocumented reality. Through his artistic expressions, he brings forth counter narratives to those presented in the mainstream. In addition, he hopes to use his voice in contrast to those who tend to speak for his community. Follow his work via IG: @staytrue_ahm.
Francisco Aviles Pino is a Mexican writer whose work has appeared in Vogue, The Intercept, The Nation, Netflix, and HarperCollins. They are alum of the Macondo Writers Workshop, the NALAC Leadership Institute, The Poetry Foundation's Incubator Fellowship, the Center for Cultural Power's Disruptors Fellowship in Screenwriting, and UCLA where they are currently a Senior Fellow for the UCLA Center for Art and Global Health and also teach creative writing and theatre in the UCLA School of Art.
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