We had the good fortune of connecting with Teresa Flores and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Teresa, the decisions we make often shape our story in profound ways. What was one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make?
Leaving the Central Valley for grad school in LA after spending most of my life there was incredibly difficult. I always felt like everything I needed was in the place where I grew up and the idea of wanting more seemed excessive. It’s a very practical mentality that goes with the agrarian roots of the Valley and a lot of other rural and suburban areas of the United States. I had an art studio in downtown Fresno at Broadway Studios, showed my art regularly at ArtHop, made whatever kind of work I wanted without the presence of the mainstream art market or contemporary art world criticism. I taught studio art classes and joined the boards of local arts organizations, Fresno Filmworks and Arte Américas, and helped them engage with younger audiences and organize events. I loved my life in Fresno but I knew that I would need to leave there to learn new skills and gain the experience I would need in order to return and do the work that I really wanted to do.
After much heartache and introspection, I moved from Fresno to Los Angeles to pursue my MFA in Public Practice at Otis College of Art and Design. An MFA is the terminal degree in the academic field of art and at the time there were no MFA art programs available in the entire Central Valley. Pursuing my vision meant moving away from home, even though home was only four hours away.
There were two reasons I chose to move to Los Angeles. I found peace of mind in being able to visit with my grandpa in San Gabriel Valley in his final years– my family is originally from Southern California. Also, the Public Practice MFA program was founded by Suzanne Lacy, a distinguished artist and original member of Judy Chicago’s Feminist Art Program at Fresno State. As a graduate of Fresno State’s art program I liked the idea of continuing my studies within this unique academic lineage.
As I learned about the connection between Fresno, Los Angeles, feminist art and social practice at Otis, I would visit my grandpa in La Puente on the weekends. We would watch Dodger games together and he would tell me stories about growing up in Colton and traveling the Old Road over the Grapevine up to Sonoma, where he also lived as a child. I learned about his mother’s lineage as a Californio and where all of our family recipes came from. I came to understand that although I felt far from home, the roads and the lineages all seemed to converge within my life experience and my ideas about home and place began to expand beyond the roots of what I had established in Fresno.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m an interdisciplinary artist working in drawing, painting, video and social practice. I’m interested in the ways art can create spaces of resistance and culture and how ideas of wellness, identity and accessibility converge with them. My projects, Experimental Quesadilla Lab and FresnYoga are some examples of how I use the lens of my Chicana identity and Californio roots to examine these ideas.
I have learned through my practice that drawing from my own identity and experiences can reveal larger scale issues that I can address through my work. Much of my early work focused on food, like a series of drawings of colorful decaying apple cores and a video of a tortilla burning on a stove for twenty minutes. Each work helped me connect the dots to the larger issues that I’m interested in today, such as quality of life, and how colonization and assimilation have affected multiple generations of communities of color.
Between health and finances, getting to where I am today wasn’t easy. I worked in retail full-time until I could transition into teaching art and from there I felt compelled to use art to call for resistance and elevate culture. I enjoy teaching art, facilitating conversations and workshops and holding space for people to recognize their own creative capacities. When we express our creativity and honor the creativity in others then we are able to imagine new worlds and possibilities together and move toward change.
This year, I am excited to merge my projects, Experimental Quesadilla Lab and FresnYoga into a socially-engaged art and wellness program through the city of Santa Monica’s Art of Recovery program. I’m also looking forward to working with students in South LA as an Artist-in-Residence for the city of Los Angeles. And I will return to Fresno to build a Community Digital Archive with my collaborators at Greñuda Productions through a grant funded by the California Arts Council.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The entire week would be dedicated to eating at places recommended by L.A. Taco. Birria Smashburgers and Oaxaca black bean falafel. All of it. Everything.
As for places, I’m just getting started crafting my LA bucket list and I’m being intentional about it. I would start with my neighborhood in East LA and watch the lowriders on Whittier Blvd. Then we would go to Boyle Heights and Little Tokyo and visit the sites where my great-grandfather lived and spent time with his community. We would stop at Olvera Street to admire the work of the local indigenous community in tearing down the plaza’s Junipero Serra statue. Then we would visit the local hiking trails and take in the view among LA’s coolest residents- the wildlife bunnies, coyotes, raccoons and hawks.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Shoutout to my grandparents and their funny storytelling skills, to my parents for believing in Fresno as the best place to raise their kids, to my art communities in Fresno, LA and beyond. Shoutout to the Grapevine, Spanish Sin Pena and anybody crossing manmade boundaries and borders.
Arlene Mejorado, Fernanda Ezabella, Mercedes Zapata, Pete Galindo