Milwaukee Mijas

Unite, Create, Rise

By - Jun 6th, 2011 04:00 am

All photos courtesy The Milwaukee Mijas

What is really unique about the Milwaukee Mijas is their ability to speak without a trace of haughtiness about what they do.

A three-member Milwaukee female artist collective steeped in Latina culture, the Mijas’ work and group dynamic is influenced by what shapes their individual and collective identities. When asked what they’re about, the Mijas largely skip the theoretical talk about the convergence of their identities or their lofty goals of promoting visibility for female artists and cultural understanding. Instead, they will matter-of-factly and, with an eager smile, explain the genesis of their group.

Nicole Acosta said that she and fellow founding member Celesté Contreras “felt there was a need for Latina artists to be able to display and sell artwork, but to also give that same outlet to other ambitious females not limited to Latinas…and harmonize la comunidad thru culture and art.” It is this playful blend of languages, high-falutin’-art talk and a down-to-earth, community-minded vibe that makes their group extremely likeable.

The Milwaukee Mijas mix culture, attitude, language, art and an effervescent approach to such heavy topics as racial and gender identity to create a collective that’s as capable of promoting change and visibility as it is having fun. These ladies are refreshingly unpretentious.

The Mijas, from left to right: Contreras, Acosta and Nanet.

Contreras and Acosta  met at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts while studying visual arts. High school friends who had fallen out of contact, they reunited years later faced with a similar problem: how to showcase the unique experience of Latina artists living and working in Milwaukee. Enter the Mijas.

In 2010 Pam Nanét rounded out the crew, bringing her silk-screening knowledge to an already diverse duo of artists. Their talents and passions range from photography, crafting, painting, graphic design and even fashion. They pretty much do it all, and they do it with an infectious exuberance.

The Mijas were born of the need for “artists who feel overlooked by society due to their race or ethnicity” to gain exposure and experience. “We do feel there is a lack of visibility for Hispanic women artists, but we hope to change that and open the eyes of our community. We want everyone to know that there are so many talented, beautiful, educated and ambitious Latina women determined to be accepted in this industry,” Acosta says.

To further their motto of unite-create-rise, the Mijas created the first annual Mariposa Scholarship. Spanish for butterfly, the award is available for any female undertaking fine arts study at the university level, which their website describes as “one of the many ways we give back to the community by encouraging women to further engage in their creative studies, grow strong, independent and flutter their wings to reach unimaginable heights.” The winner will receive the scholarship as well as exposure and recognition at the group’s upcoming Hecho en Milwaukee event.

A riff on the already popular Made in Milwaukee, Hecho en Milwaukee is a gathering that’s meant to create a space for local artists, creators and performers. It will be held on June 11 at Mitchell Park on Milwaukee’s South Side and will feature a bevy of local DJs, singers, rappers and artists, along with live graffiti, Latin cardio, silk-screening, homemade crafts for sale and community outreach from the 16th Street clinic. There’s even going to be a freaking kissing booth.

“We hope that [Hecho en Milwaukee] will be more culturally aware and diverse… Made in Milwaukee represents some really great talent and we can only hope to achieve such success, but we are definitely setting ourselves apart in many aspects,” says Acosta. “I have participated in Made in Milwaukee since the beginning and I love the idea but still felt there was something missing. Right now we are concentrating on defining and carving a space in Milwaukee with this cultured event.”

From the 2010 Dia de los Muertos Parade. Photo by Anahi Sanchez

Past Mijas projects include the successful 2010 Dia de los Muertos Parade in Walker’s Point, in honor of the Mexican holiday which celebrates deceased loved ones. Emblematic of the Mijas’ general belief in the power of art to unify communities, the parade is a colorful and brazen display which chooses to celebrate life and remember those who have passed rather than focus on grief. Everyone was welcome to make their own extravagant costumes and march in the procession. The same will be true for this year’s parade.

“The Milwaukee Public Theater is letting us use the old Linens and Things at Grand Avenue for parade-building space. It’s going to be so great!” says Contreras, with an excitement that made her words pile up one after the other.

It is from this culturally specific place that the Mijas want to branch out to include everybody.

“Yes, we are Hispanic women but that doesn’t mean we only identify with Hispanic women. There are many other qualifiers that we relate to. [For us] race isn’t an issue; we welcome all walks of life.”  says Acosta. Contreras clarifies when she bluntly and sincerely offers, “We never want to hurt or offend anybody. That’d be lame and against our entire philosophy.”

Hecho en Milwaukee takes place on June 11 (1-5 p.m.) in Mitchell Park. For more information, click here.

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