Renaissance woman marries mythology, modern culture through art

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Former Northwest Vista student Daniela Riojas shows off samples of her performance art, “The Indictment of Cora Montgomery,” in Room 122 of Gonzales Hall. The exhibit has a laptop playing a video of her performance art and minimalistic art photos of her as Aztec and Mayan goddesses.  Photo by Kyle R. Cotton

Former Northwest Vista student Daniela Riojas shows off samples of her performance art, “The Indictment of Cora Montgomery,” in Room 122 of Gonzales Hall. The exhibit has a laptop playing a video of her performance art and minimalistic art photos of her as Aztec and Mayan goddesses. Photo by Kyle R. Cotton

Independent artist, performance artist, photographer and videographer premieres first art exhibit at this college.

By Hannah Norman

At only 25 years old, Northwe

st Vista College graduate Daniela Riojas is the lead singer in a band, a business owner and a multimedia visual artist who specializes in photography, videography and performance art.

And now she has her first art exhibition at this college.

“Primitiva” lasts through April 25 in the English learning lab, Rooms 118 and 122 of Gonzales Hall.

The exhibit includes art from her live performance, “The Indictment of Cora Montgomery,” and self-portraits embodying the spirit of ancient Latin American goddesses.

English Professor Claudio San Miguel invited Riojas to showcase her work at this college to offer students an inspiring success story.

“I’ve known her for several years and knew that she had a recent exhibit at Lone Star. I own a lot of her work as well, and have invited her before to give brief lectures and perform at the college,” San Miguel said. “I told her we had space available, and after she came by to check out the space she agreed to do it.”

San Miguel wanted students to see artwork they normally would only see by visiting a gallery.

“I wanted them to feel her energy — her drive and challenge them to find their own passions,” San Miguel said. “I wanted them to meet the person behind the work and see what goes on behind the work.”

Riojas received an associate degree from Northwest Vista College in 2009, studied English and creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio and attended the Vermont Studio Center residency program in 2013. She is the owner of ZaaZaa Productions, her local photography and media business.

While attending UTSA from 2010 to 2013, Riojas discovered photography, and it quickly took over her school life. She began taking pictures of anything and everything, but when she turned the camera on herself, she realized she could tell her own story.

“I grew a lot as an artist in the beginning — learning about being really truthful about what you’re saying and putting yourself in a vulnerable position,” Riojas said.

In some of her pieces she is nude because she feels it’s the most vulnerable form of expression.

“I don’t mind being naked in my art,” Riojas said. “Being naked and being completely natural, I don’t care. I think people try to use it as a weapon against me and they think it’s a cop-out.”

Through that honesty, Riojas said people can experience something genuine, rather than look at something that was fabricated digitally.

Riojas realized art was becoming her passion and traveled to Johnson, Vermont, in the fall of 2013 to participate in VSC’s residency program. She knew it would be expensive, but she received financial support from other fellow artists and musicians.

At the Vermont Studio Center, she created 14 to 16 works in the stark and barren studio. Riojas spent time thinking about what she had wanted to do in the closed, secluded setting.

With so much time for research, she discovered psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who understood the psyche through dreams, art, mythology, world religions and philosophy.

That led her to another muse — mythologist, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell, who researches the human experience and works in comparative mythology and religion.

Both Jung and Campbell were prominent explorers in their work on psychoanalytic and mythological origins. Riojas found both researchers interesting and began reading Campbell’s book, “The Power of Myth.”

“His main lens that he goes through is myth, and what myth represents for people. It’s a great book because it’s basically a conversation,” Riojas said. “He uses humanity as a metaphor. He reflects on the human condition.”

She was particularly interested in the Jungian concept of individuation. By confronting different parts of one’s psyche, a person can achieve wholeness or enlightenment.

People must embrace the darkness inside of them, Riojas said. Once they do that, they can achieve more ‘lightnesses’ or levels of enlightenment.

“Growing up, I knew something was wrong. I didn’t believe anything that they told me in church,” Riojas said. “When I started on the path of finding my own way, my own rituals, it sort of consumed me.”

She also credits Latin American goddesses like Tlazoteotl and La Loba who specialized in ceremonies about life, death and rebirth.

“By knowing their dualities, their uses for purification, I researched more on purification rituals and how it all connected with Jungian philosophy,” Riojas said.

The art for her “Primitiva” exhibit was a combination of Jung’s modern philosophy and an exploration of the worship of Aztec and Mayan goddesses.

“Being and Becoming: Tlazoteotl” is a self-portrait of her on Ultraboard, a foam board ideal for screen-printing. In the photo, she is bare from her neck to her navel, covered in black paint, some of which oozes down her chin. A cloud of smoke hovers over her breast.

Tlazoteotl is commonly known as “The Filth Eater,” a goddess of purification, midwives, steam bath and adultery that ingested the sins of men and women and would then turn it into pure energy, Riojas said.

She also has another exhibition called “Rio Abajo Rio (River Beneath the River),” which opens Dec. 18 and runs through Feb. 20 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, where Riojas serves as an artist-in-residence through the Artist Lab program.

She recently celebrated with her electronic rock band, Femina-X, which released a new music video on YouTube called “Frida’s Heart” Nov. 23. They filmed the video at Brackenridge Park and in the Guadalupe River. Riojas produced, filmed and edited the video with the help of her bandmates and ZaaZaa Productions.

Riojas launched ZaaZaa in 2012. She mainly works alone, but contracts out for specific jobs depending on the needs of her client.

Femina-X is performing Dec. 31 with Lonely Horse and Pop Pistol at Hi Tones, 621 E. Dewey Place.

For more information, call Riojas at 830-776-1883.


1 Comment

  1. Buffalo Thunder, Shaman, public speaker, San Antonio, TX. on

    Wow,this renaissance woman is amazing! A great inspiration to people, not just women, about following your passion , and that it may be more than one. Not that it matters, but she’s very attractive as well! Definately someone to watch , and a great role model.

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