El Brillo en Sus Ojos: Vani Aguilar & Juan Arango Palacios

Opening Friday, June 9th 5–9pm

El Brillo en Sus Ojos is a duo exhibition featuring paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Chicago-based artists Vani Aguilar and Juan Arango Palacios. This figurative body of work re-establishes queer imagery from a tradition of voyerism to intimate moments of care, heartbreak, and cultural reclamation. Both being brought up in Latinx cultures, which can simultaneously be machista and homophobic, the two artists constantly work to re-contextualize how they navigate heritage with their peers. Upholding the love and gratitude of being a part of such abundant cultures, with a sense of self reflectiveness, the gleaming images created by both artists show a type of refinery. Kisses, hugs, clouds, and fires summon fever dreams that retell the artist’s realities in a surrealist narrative not unlike the ones sung about in the music they listened to as children.

The desire to reorient their position in the spaces they take up will be heightened by challenging the ways their paintings and drawings are displayed. Rather than simply hanging on nails or using magnets, these objects are uplifted by ornamental metallic and ceramic supports also made by the artists. Chains, arrows, and other illustrative hardware activate the work further into a realm of fantasy. The ambiance created by the artists’ vision of their community transports the viewer into a fictional landscape– the gallery is morphed into a space that is welcoming to queer folks who also have a convoluted relationship with the culture in which they were raised.

Vani Aguilar is a visual artist born and raised in Pasadena, California. As a 2nd generation American, with a father who immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico and a mother born in East Los Angeles, Vani constantly finds themselves in tension between the multifaceted parts of their cultural identity. The complexities became more evident when they moved from the west coast to the midwest to attend the School of the Art Institute, where they later received their BFA. Vani pulls from these experiences of being closely connected to their heritage in Mexico, the Chicano culture of Southern California while dealing with the ways they are an outsider in their own communities. As a queer gender non-conforming Chicanx, they explore themes of gender, queerness and work against stereo-types of what it means to be a Chicano. Vani has received several awards including Ox-Bows‘ Latinx Visibility grant, SAICs’ IDEA grant and Watersheds’ Zenobia award. They are currently an educator to the youth on the south side of Chicago, working with the non-profit Enlace.

Juan Arango Palacios was born in Pereira, Colombia in 1997. A traditional Catholic upbringing was cut short by a series of migrations that Juan’s family took seeking a better future. Juan’s family moved from Colombia to the American South where Juan’s sense of identity and belonging began to be skewed by their lack of knowledge of the English language, their unfamiliarity with American culture, and their internal struggle with a queer identity. Juan graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2020, and has developed an interdisciplinary artistic practice exploring drawing, painting, textile-making, and sculpture.