Political Notebook: 2022 Op-Art shines a light on transphobia

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022
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Illustration: Camilo Villa<br>
Illustration: Camilo Villa

This year's op-art shines a light on transphobia, which sadly has been on the rise across the country. The fifth submission in this end-of-year tradition for the Political Notebook column comes from East Bay artist Camilo Villa.

Originally from Bogota, Colombia, he moved to the Bay Area nine years ago to attend the California College of the Arts. Villa graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Villa, 27, who is gay, teaches Spanish at the San Francisco Friends School in the Mission district. He resides in Richmond with his husband, Sanmit "Sammy" Singh, a psychologist and mental health department manager at Kaiser Permanente.

For his art, Villa does oil painting portraits mainly of queer Latinx community members. He is particularly inspired by muxes, gender-nonconforming individuals from the Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

They often wear a crown of flowers, as Villa depicted the muxe in his two-panel artwork for the Bay Area Reporter. He first learned about muxes in a documentary he saw and afterward ordered a book about them that he found online.

"I had never heard about them, ever," said Villa, who plans to do a children's book about muxes. "They reflect the way Indigenous cultures recognize queerness and embrace it. It was only until the Spanish conquistadors erased all of these people who had been accepted, valued and worshiped."

That erasure of others inspired the theme of his op-art, which draws on the refusal of some people to honor people's preferred pronouns. It also touches upon Villa's own professional career, as he is one of many Spanish-language educators using more gender-inclusive words.

"I think it began maybe 15 years ago in Argentina. Feminist and queer linguists started to question how the Spanish language is very hetero-normative. For example, in the plural, the word is always masculine," said Villa. "Obviously, there is a backlash sometimes. Families will ask me, 'Why are you teaching my child this language?' But the Friends School supports me. It is very social justice oriented."

To learn more about Villa and his artwork, visit his website.

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, January 9.
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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected].

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