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Alumni Feature: Christina Patiño Sukhgian Houle

Portrait Towards A Charrette, Film Still 2017

Christina graduated from Texas State University in 2011 with BFA degrees in Drawing and Photography followed by an MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University and an EdM in Technology, Innovation and Education from the Harvard School of Education. She is one-third of the social practice artist collaborative, Las Imaginistas. The group was recently awarded an Artplace America Creative Placemaking Grant for their project Taller de Permiso. In 2018 she was the Interim Executive Director of the Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts and she currently works as the Network Weaver for the Equal Voice Network of the Rio Grande Valley, a coalition of nonprofits working to advocate for low-income and very low-income families in the region.  

What are you currently working on?

Las Imaginistas are in the first phase of launching Taller de Permiso. This is a 2-year initiative that is going to question the colonial framework of municipal permitting by creating a multimedia campaign to decode the permitting process in the City of Brownsville. The program will include the generation of a mobile community-led arts market in the Buena Vida Neighborhood, the development of a Yerberia Self-Healing Knowledge Library and a mobile negotiation space that will bring residents and business owners to city hall on Fridays during lunch to talk to elected officials over tea.  

I am also working with some folks here in Brownsville to develop a series of lectures and performances on the history of racism in the valley to inform how the city makes decisions about public space. This project is influenced by a local push from residents of Brownsville for the City to remove a confederate monument from a public park managed by the city. Their work began 5 years ago and had little buy-in from elected officials. In the last 8 months the initiative has received new attention from the City Commission after tape was leaked of an At-Large Commissioner using racial slurs and expletives to talk about city staff.  

And recently I have begun work on a project to build somatic and verbal languages for peacebuilding and equity. This is a new endeavor that is mostly in the research phase.  

You have extensive experience in socially engaged art and public education projects. Where do see the crossover between art and education and why has that been a valuable space for you to mine?

Art and culture play an incredible and often times seemingly invisible force in determining how we define our sense of self, how we relate to and connect with one another and what we deem as important. It is through our interaction with the aesthetic and material world around us that we construct the story of ourselves and the story of others. These are the spheres where we learn our expectations and the limitations of the world around us. As such it is also the sphere where we learn and perpetuate systems of oppression.  

By identifying, decoding and giving language to the ways that these systems communicate to us, and how we use them to communicate, we become better empowered to disrupt, dismantle and demystify these systems.  

Whether it is always labeled as such or not, living, breathing and walking in the world is an everyday experience in education. The radical act of the artist is to work to identify and illuminate the ways these systems influence us, to point out the patterns to those who observe and perpetuate them and to give viewers the tools to generate new patterns.  

Could you talk about how the border and issues around migration influence your practice?

The border is the ultimate space of Civic Art, influencing concrete historic outcomes that determine, life, death and the narratives of nations. It is a place where ideas, influenced by history, economic development, misunderstandings, culture wars and genocides have resulted in the construction of a line in the sand. The border and the policies around it have changed and shaped not just the built environment but the natural environment and cultural landscape. This line over hundreds of years transformed into actual infrastructure that influences, regulates and determines the lives of millions.

The border is a space of theatre and nonsense and nothingness and everythingness and nowhereness and nowness. It is in Brownsville, to cite the title of a show I co-curated, a space of “resistance, resilience and remembrance” all at once. It is the front line and battleground for how we understand our state, our country and global affairs. It is in many ways, the center of the universe.    

With experience as an artist, choreographer, curator, educator, and administrator you have a broad sense of what possibilities the art world holds. What should students in an undergraduate art program be thinking about?

Try to do everything as well as you can, even if it seems completely irrelevant to you and your interests, even if you can't anticipate the future application of the tools you are building in a given course. If you don’t like something work to change it, build a coalition, do the research, bother the teacher, just do something. You must be held accountable to your future self who will ask “Why didn’t you try this?”.

Be bold in all the disciplines you study. The critical thing is to try to find a way to make anything you do absolutely fascinating. If the connection isn’t happening in the class, look for ways outside the class to connect the content to something you can dive into. Find people who will support you to think through your ideas in your own way and use the structure of the degree to scaffold your own self-study. The more you put into your own personal research and interests while you are in school the more options you will have after graduation. Find what is exciting to you and run at it with full speed, all of your energy, even if it evolves, morphs, shifts or reappears in unexpected forms.  

See more of Christina's work on her website