Bella Maria Varela
@Border_becky is a mixed media installation that combines photography and video with fleece blanket assemblages to explore the intersection of immigration and gender identity through the lens of contemporary pop culture and mass media. I cut and reconfigure iconic material to skewer mainstream anti-immigration rhetoric, subvert the appropriation of latinx culture, and queer mythologies of Americanness.
The installation @border_becky includes two videos, @border_becky and Triathlon. The video @Border_becky follows a social media controversy in which two students, Becky and Kyle, are caught in the middle of a protest while engaging in site-based research at the US-Mexico border. While in the midst of this chaos, the couple navigates the drama of their evolving romantic relationship. As they confront their own queer and class identities Becky and Kyle must rethink their understanding of the gender binary parallel within the context of the temporal binaries of the U.S./Mexico border. The video layers performative digital activism with the trauma that haunts those whose identity is not an optional performance. The video, Triathlon, invites the audience to explore the personal story behind the Becky persona. Inspired by Bella’s family's competitive sporting spirit, Triathlon tracks the rhythms and terrains of American immigration and confronts the absurd constructs of US patriotism and exceptionalism.
The reconstructed blanket installation creates an environment similar to walking through commercial shopping district at border towns, where icons of American idealism clash with the harsh realities of border crossing. The gaps in the assemblages create a space where hybrid identities exist within the downfalls of neoliberal capitalism. Becky the Explorer is an ode to the resourceful immigrant hustlers, a prayer to asylum seekers, and an offering of much needed comedic relief in a time of high anxiety.
Bella Maria Varela is an artist based in El Paso, Texas whose work collapses her personal history within the broader history of the United States to question the American dream. Bella was born and raised in inner-city Washington D.C and is the proud daughter of Guatemalan immigrants. By pulling from her personal archive of iPhone video footage, discarded ink-jet prints, thrifted souvenirs, and San Marcos blankets; she cuts and reconfigures them to create physical gaps where new meanings can be interpreted - creating spaces where hybrid identities exist and thrive. Her work creates a new iconography that embodies her experience as a first-generation Guatemalan American woman.
Bella recently completed an artist residency at the Border Art Residency (BAR) in El Paso. During her time as a resident, she collaborated with local paper-mache artist, Xingaderas, to exhibit a three-part installation at local galleries. Bella is currently working with the Philosophic Systems Institute (PSI) to establish a new arts and philosophy program, Transformative Learning Communities, in el Chamizal -- a barrio on the US/Mexico Border. Her teaching focuses on bringing found objects, green screen, and experimental video into in-person and virtual classrooms to guide students to explore their feelings/emotions, identity, and communities.
Bella graduated from the Photo | Video I Imaging Master’s program at the University of Arizona School of Art. While at the University of Arizona, she served as an Arts Facilitator with the QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) and as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. In 2020, she received 1st place in the 5 Minute Film Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Tucson for her work titled, Triathlon. During Spring 2021, she was accepted into the Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellowship Program and exhibited her work @border_becky at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. Bella has an upcoming exhibition at the CAV Gallery in Las Cruces, New Mexico.