Interview with Johnny Correa
interviewed by Dante Zuniga-West
Can you give us a brief explanation of who you are and what you do?
The shape of my experiences as a fat, Latino-Native-Queer man greatly informs my work as an artist. I am committed to exploring the social and political contexts and surveillance that have over-determined my experiences and the experiences of so many others. To this extent, I concern myself with the Other, which I understand as all those persons and experiences that lie outside the hegemonic mainstream (e.g., the queer, the feminine, the ethnic, the fat, the ugly, the poor, our planets environmental demise and so on). Also, to a certain extent, the body itself is the Other in a culture in which intellect and rationality are valued over and above the fully sensual, embodied experience.
What Goals do you have with your work and its impact on the world?
My intention is to bring to light social hegemony, especially as it pertains to the effects of hegemony on the body, socially, emotionally and physically; how our ideas and thoughts are socially constructed; representations and constructions of “value”; and magic and spirituality, especially transcendence, the view “outward” from the body and its social restrictions and into the spiritual realm. I also intend to connect all of these concerns with the larger question of our relationship with our environment.
Ideally, what experience or impact would an audience member take away from your work? What message or messages are you trying to instill in your audience?
One of my favorite teachers of art told me once that you cannot change the world with a single piece of art, but that maybe—just maybe—a piece of art can sneak under the observer’s radar and expose them to a new way of thinking about or relating to the subject of the piece. This is what I hope to achieve in my own work: I want people who interact with my work to experience a new emotional or intellectual response to the subject at hand. This goal is important to me because I have a deep-seated need to share my perspective as someone who has often faced extreme discrimination due to differences of racial, sexual, and class identities as well as bodily size and disabilities.
What do you see as a connection between art and social change, and more specifically, your work and activism?
My practice is heavily informed by cultural and social theory, which—apart from the work of other artists—is the most passionate source of new ideas and perspectives, the driving engine of social activism. Without theory, the most radical of activists would not know which window to smash—or why. (Theory and action are mutually engaged and inform one another.) Of course, theory comes in many forms, some written, and some representational or artistic. This is the real joy of my work as a socially engaged artist: I get to create works that contribute to some of the most important discussions around social and political issues. I get to create change, quite literally, on canvas, in performance, and otherwise, one radar-sneak at a time.
As a person of color in this country at this point in time, how does your work/the making of your work reflect this, or does it?
I feel my work is always informed by my identity. The social, political, and environmental contentions are far too important—influencing for it not to be present in my artwork. I try to use my brush and other tools to give a voice to those experiences of difference. In a way, I feel that these tools are my weapons in a battle against all forms of hegemony.
Could you talk a bit about Bill O’Reilly and his condemnation of your work?
Bill O’Reilly decided to attack the publication The Insurgent for putting out an issue that was direct commentary about the publication of images that came out about the Islam comics in the Oregon Commentator at the University of Oregon. I had created a painting of Jesus right off the cross having an erection, and making out with the devil who as well was erect and fingering Jesus’ side wound. The Insurgent had caught wind of this and asked me if I would let them use it as there centerfold for the issue.
It created a big stir, and O’Rielly aired the issue and my artwork for three days on the O’Reilly factor. It was an intense and wonderful time for me; I received a lot of death threats and hate mail from ‘Christian’ people. Someone even carved a cross on my front door.
My intent originally from the piece was to comment on the eroticism inherent in the traditional imagery of the Crucifixion of Chris, Second, I also wanted to challenge the homophobia of Christian doctrine. I knew—of course—that depicting Christ in an erotic encounter with another male figure would offend many people. But not all forms of offense are a personal attack. My third task in the painting: to challenge the very good/evil dichotomy on which Christianity has built its immense social (and political) power. Christianity, like certain other of the world's major religions, draws fairly absolute distinctions between "good" and "evil," as if the human experience were a series of clearly discernable choices, and not the confused mess of ethical, personal, social, cultural and political dilemmas that it is. For god sakes Bill O’Reilly was the anchor for Inside Edition, how can he be taken seriously?
Do you have advice for other writers, musicians, or artists who are creating politically focused art?
Just keep on challenging the hegemonic structures of power, which also means the ideas of what ‘good’ art, is. Most of all piss people off, it generates a direct response from a culture that has become vapid in its politics’. See you at the barricades.
Learn more about Johnny and see his artwork here:
Learn more about Johnny and see his artwork here: