As both an artist and an individual, Marilyn Montufar is drawn to borderlands. Growing up Mexican American in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles instilled in her a fascination with outskirts, with the places in which stark contrasts dissolve and boundaries are not cleanly defined.
Montufar’s training is in photography and her work often focuses on portraits and landscapes that challenge cultural stereotypes with an empathetic but unyielding softness. Last year, she traveled throughout Mexico taking photographs to both better understand her personal background and to highlight a different side to the stories being portrayed in the media. As someone who grew up within the space between cultures, her lens holds a powerful perspective that is simultaneously intimate and outcast. Her images
are compassionate and incisive, quietly using the impact of their emotive connection to assert that neither borders nor identities are as clear cut as we might try to make them.
Her experience with photography began in after-hours programs. “Growing up in a community like mine,” she explained in a phone interview, “there wasn’t a lot of access to the arts.” She studied photography at East Los Angeles Community College, where she met her mentor, Mei Valenzuela, and participated in a photography partnership with the Getty Museum. “It broadened the list of what options felt possible,” she told me, and she went on to get her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Montufar’s journey to Seattle began on a road trip, where she figured she would stay until she stopped liking it: she thought that would take three months, and she’s now been here for six years. She found herself immediately pulled to the stories at the city’s fringes. “I fell in love with Georgetown the minute I saw it,” she recounted over email. “I was instantly drawn to the south side of Seattle- the food in the international district, the arts coming out of Georgetown, the history in Pioneer Square.”
She is also inspired by the cross-pollination of disciplines she has found in Seattle, where working at Pratt Fine Arts Center put her in close contact with artists who work in other mediums and “evolved and pushed [her practice] beyond traditional photography.”
Montufar’s growing interest in exploring the boundaries of genres is a natural extension of the way in which her work questions borders, and in addition to photography, her most recent solo show at 4Culture, Transcending Identity: Impressions of People, Community, and Landscapes, included two kiln glass pieces. The glass pieces referenced the ongoing story of women being were raped and murdered before having their mutilated bodies dumped in the desert near the border town of Juarez.
Montufar is quick to point out that while her work touches on and references political themes, it always begins with a moment of personal connection. She uses that first spark of intimacy to explore much larger, complex themes. “I put my own values behind the work,” she explained, “but feeling the connection is paramount.”
Connection is a vital thread in all elements of Montufar’s practice, and she has worked extensively as a teaching artist and educator. She has partnered with the Gage Academy with its youth programming and received a teaching fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. She also connections through collaboration, and draws inspiration in partnering with like-minded individuals. She recently worked with Enio Hernandez, who has been a creative peer since they were fifteen years old, to curate “Latinidad in Focus: Sin Fronteras” at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, CA.
As someone from a community where people often did not have the resources to pursue art, Montufar was thrilled to find a grant geared towards demographics that are underrepresented in the arts. “Being an artist is a long journey for everyone,” she told me, “but in the community I grew up in, there are just so many roadblocks. So I feel very appreciative and honored to have received an Art Lab grant. It feels good to be acknowledged and have my experiences be acknowledged.”