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Spotlight: Discovering Oaxaca, As a Mexican-American

By David Schonauer   Monday September 24, 2018


Julie Cabral discovered Oaxaca, Mexico in 2016.

Cabral, a recent graduate of California Institute of the Arts who is based in Los Angeles, had been to been to Oaxaca many times, but it was only when she went to visit her grandparent there two years ago that she truly saw the place.

“I’d never seen how beautiful and politically charged the landscape is,” she says. “I began to feel that there are stories to be told about Oaxaca — stories that are tangible and intangible.”

As an artist, Cabral works in a number of mediums, including clay, textiles and photography, which she took up at age 16 during an after-school youth program. “I loved it because it was a way to communicate with my subconscious,” she says. “Subjects became visible to me after looking at my contact sheets.” Her current work, she says, often focuses on family relationships and cultural identity.

Cabral says that on her trip to Oaxaca in 2016 she “came to realize how important it is to capture my culture without exoticizing it through an outsider gaze.” The result is her series “How to Kill a Chicken,” which earned her a spot among the winners of the Latin American Fotografía 6 competition.

The project in full takes the form of an 11x14-inch handmade book that includes painting and text as well as photographs. Below are some of the images from the series.

“‘How To Kill A Chicken’ is a documentation of my family,” explains Cabral. “The work addresses my role there and in the U.S.A. As a first generation Mexican-American, I became aware of my unique status in Oaxaca. “How to Kill A Chicken” is an exploration of known and connected but distant worlds.”

The photographs in the series were shot with a Mamiya 7 rangefinder and Kodak Portra 400 film. “I took the camera everywhere with me,” Cabral says. “These moments I capture are seconds that happen — some are predictable and others aren’t. Sometimes it's intuition that leads me to take a photograph. I prefer those images because they feel more honest. The moments I remember are the conversations I had with people. They taught me a lot of life. I learned about agriculture and about el maguey, an agave plant.”

Go here to see more of Julie Cabral’s work.

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Dispatches from Latin America