Jenelle Esparza is interested in the landscape, the interconnected identities tied to it and the stories it can tell us. She studies the ancestry and identity of a people through landmasses and other organic forms as they relate to culture and community, with a focus on the untold and lesser-known histories of a place and what was left behind.
Esparza utilizes cotton as a root source material and inspiration. At least three generations of her family have picked cotton in Texas, which connects her to other Latino families who share the same history and also to the larger story of cotton in America. Her work explores the personal and cultural aspects of cotton, including the effects of hard labor on the body and the resiliency and resourcefulness it instills.
In It Could Only Be Lived, Esparza employs a variety of techniques and processes to give voice to the landscapes and landmarks of South Texas. In the seemingly mundane and commonplace rocks, hills, trees, soil, and brush are hidden characters, holders, and receivers. Inspired by a grouping of family heirlooms and farming tools from her grandmother’s garage, she pairs cotton fiber with old cast iron tools and hardware that are repurposed into representations of cultivation and survival, of place, memory, and family. In the works are stories of struggle, strife, and tenderness, translated through the distinct language of the land that is a living witness to an overlooked history.
About the Artist
Jenelle Esparza is an interdisciplinary artist who was born in the coastal city of Corpus Christi and currently lives in San Antonio. She received her BFA in photography from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Esparza has exhibited nationally in institutions such as The DePaul Art Museum in Chicago, IL and was selected for the State of the Art II 2020 survey of American Art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary in Bentonville, AR. She is the recipient of numerous honors including 2015 National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) Artist Grant and the summer 2018 Artpace International Artist Residency. Through photography and textiles, she incorporates concepts of body movement, history, gender, identity, culture, and race.