Rolando Rodriguez’s Solo exhibition Ropa Sucia in the Jean Deleage Art Gallery at Casa 0101 Theater (February – April 2018) in Los Angeles is a two part theatrical exposure influenced by magical realism. It is a play between words, ideas and objects. His trident exhibit consists of video, a clothe line installation and photography. It is a multiple conceptual approach to his creative process. Ropa Sucia (dirty laundry) journeys into Rodriguez’s rite of passage which through the language of clothes and vernacular Salvadoran expressions he examines his Latino identity and traces his family’s history. Rodriguez is a contemporary Los Angeles based artist, filmmaker and writer. He’s earned a degree in architecture from Columbia University in New York City. His directorial short films have debuted at the Outfest LGBT Film festival in Los Angeles.
The fictional character in his photography is Rodriguez himself. The invention of these characters is Rodriguez’s way of mediating between the real and the magical. In this series of self portraits he shares his desires, dreams and struggles. The installing for this exhibit is chronological. He starts with what can be interpreted as images of the self displaying subliminal colorful messages of breaking away, of his childhood in South Central Los Angeles, and what it means to be a young Latino queer. A glamorous red glitter Dorothy shoe filled with green grass is Rodriguez’s special hint to the world he belongs too and cares for. He unfolds his sexuality like a delicate free flowing spring breeze.
There is a quest in his work that seeks clues to many of his unanswered questions. Balloons a constant element in his photography has come to symbolize flight and voyage can best be visualized in The Great Escape, 2013 color print. South Central Los Angeles is his backdrop playground for much of his photography. Rodriguez brings out the color of a community who for the most part has been underserved. In his 2013 image ‘The Apparation of the South Central Angel’ Rodriguez addresses the duplicity between human and angel and, “how early on in our communities we learn from adults, particularly from teachers who live outside our neighborhoods and institutions that we have to leave in order to be saved.”
The suspended clothe line installation with bright intricate organic patterns not only does it accompany his photography, but speaks of his duality between his male femininity as a dimensional branch to his otherness. In the Council of Rolando and Malte (2014) the use of flower pattern shirts is Rodriguez’s queer exclamation mark. Through clothing Rodriguez makes a poignant statement: the language of clothes conveys social, gender, cultural, and political connotations. For writer Alison Lurie the language of clothes is a way to converse.
His video installation of two TV monitors play two of his short films, one is a playful examination of the self throughout the streets of New York titled ‘Surrender.’ The second short ‘Malte Mara Mathe II’ reveals a mystery when all is unknown and unchartered. The experimental film’s background sound of wind, of loose leaves whirling between each step Rodriguez takes capture an unfolding drama tuned to the beat of his quest.
Rodriguez guides the viewer among the interchange of meaning between dirty laundry (Ropa Sucia) and guerra sucia (dirty war). It is an explosive two word title that swivels and airs out secrets, truths and lies meant to not be known. His last act encompasses the role of memory as a referential recall that unites both past and present as constant historical cycles of tugs and pulls.
The transitional phase between the first and second act of his solo exhibition, cherishes the diversity of friendships and the intimacy around family gatherings. He invites the viewer to a visual walk thru with images that bloom with all that is close and dear to him in the midst of his rite of passage. This transition is a step away for Rodriquez as the main subject leads him towards the other as an extension of I. This coming of conscious is expressed in his image titled, The Day he Saw Himself in Others (2013).
What begins to unravel in the final act is a turning point for El Salvador’s history: the dirty war known as the Matanza of 1932 (The 1932 Massacre/Rebelion) against Indigenous communities and peasants. This tragic incident would resonate with a personal link written on shredded white cloth pinned onto a clothes line with red stains and red letters:
Thousands upon thousands of indigenous people rose up and rebelled against inequality.
It was 1932 and the government killed them.
In a few years, my grandmother would be born but already “there were no Indians left in El Salvador.”
Those who survived threw away their clothes and no one would know THEY EXISTED.
Within six days over 30,000 peasants and Indigenous were killed by the Salvadoran government. The low and high intensity reactions by the Salvadoran elite towards the popular insurrection would be contested with bullets. The ruling Hacendados (land owners) would have it no other way except eliminate those protesting for land reform and social justice.
Clothes as a social and cultural marker again played a determining role for survivors of the massacre. After the 1932 incident anyone wearing traditional indigenous vestimentary ran the risk of persecution and possible death. Survival now depended on the lexicon of clothing. Rodriguez’s cloth line is charged with a pulsing note that unveils the bleaching out of history from El Pulgarcito (AKA El Salvador); its native indigenous roots.
On Sale in America, 2018 a light blue fabric softener plastic container alludes to the hard wiring U.S policy of intervention in El Salvador’s struggle for self determination (Revolution) of the early 1980s. The fine print advertisement label on the container reads: Made in El Salvador, exported by bulk since the 1980s with terror funded by the United States. The selected font size of the label is intentionally small enough to go unnoticed. This surprising and subtle addition to Rodriquez’s art piece reminds the viewer and consumer of images, how western media and the entertainment industry function as the social fabric softener of public opinion/outrage to tie it to the desired outcome of U.S political and military agenda. The forced exiles including his family from El Salvador to the United States was not out of free will seekers of the American Dream but victims of American aggression and dreams of conquering markets with exporting one way models that create economic dependency. For U.S Scholar Juan Gonzales the sudden exodus due to the civil conflict:
Did not originate with some newfound collective desire for the material benefits of U.S Society […] they were a direct result of military and economic intervention by our own government.
Next to this piece is the second component to On Sale in America, 2018 a bleach container made in Los Angeles. Adding bleach to history as a form of erasure to bleach out cultural singularities, to remove color, to keep white (code for privilege and access) has marked colonization for the past five centuries. Stamped to the bleach product is a warning label that spells: keep out of reach from children, and slang words that make reference to popular vernacular Salvadoran expressions such as: cipote (child), guanaco (slang for Salvadoran), salvatrucha, and mara (Posse). What is it about a bleaching process that Rodriguez points out? Is Rodriguez addressing; to be visible, one must become invisible at the same time? And why is he emphasizing Made in Los Angeles?
What is hidden and often overlooked is the birth of Maras as gangs started in Los Angeles, California. Some Salvadoran children and teenagers facing retaliation from local gangs were forced to create and start their own groups as a form of protection and compensate the want of belonging. There would be no warm welcoming for refugees seeking sanctuary from war back at home.
The installation of the fabric softener and the bleach combination best describes a method of deleting memory and the subjection of people to the demands of a dominant culture; first soften then bleach. The question of identity via assimilation is tangible to race, class, gender and origins.
Rodriguez’s hanging of crucial vignettes of history on the galleries walls are stubborn revelations that refuse to be forgotten. His invented characters, his photography bring magic to his real world and the real to the magic.
Artist website: www.voglerbrigge.com
 Gonzales, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.