Student explores family, sexuality in personal exhibition

English major senior Kiaya Rose Dilsner-Lopez exhibited her Edgar Fellows capstone, “Mezclar,” from March 8-10. A series of acrylic portraits, the exhibit is an exploration of Dilsner-Lopez’s family history and sexuality. (Ellayna Fredericks/Staff Photographer)

The Kinetic Gallery kicked off spring break with an eye-opening student exhibition, perfect for those going home to see their families. The gallery hosted English major senior Kiaya Rose Dilsner-Lopez’s exhibit “Mezclar” from March 8-10. As part of her completion of the Edgar Fellows program, Dilsner-Lopez presented a series of brightly colored acrylic portraits as a way to explore her “Chicana identity.” 

Dilsner-Lopez uses the Spanish term mezclar–which translates to “to mix”–to describe the combination of her “culture, ethnicity and sexuality.” The exhibition is comprised of portraits of the artist’s family members; each wall of the gallery coincides with a different section of her “mezclar,” with the families of her biological and adoptive mothers facing each other. Many of the portraits include flowers, which Dilsner-Lopez said she only paints when she “finds warmth.” Dilsner-Lopez affords her sperm donor a portrait as well, though his eyes are covered with a bandana, denoting her distance from him. 

Dilsner-Lopez is both an artist and a writer, as she finds a “potential energy” in language. Each portrait is accompanied by a short poem, except for the one for her donor. His likeness—which is painted behind bars—is paired with a letter from donor to daughter, as Dilsner-Lopez has recently reached out to her father, curious about her biological history. It is through words that she is able to maintain a growing friendship with yet another facet of her family. 

In the center of it all is a self-portrait, but not in the traditional sense. It is a deconstruction of body parts, painted in the same bold colors that make up the smaller surrounding works. This is an effort to recognize the influence of all the painted figures, which are manifested both physically and relationally. 

Dilsner-Lopez’s inspiration for this exhibition stems from a longing to understand her “identity, body and the complexity of my family history.” Growing up as the child of two gay parents took its toll, resulting in shame for her family and her own sexuality. Over time, however, she has grown to take pride in her differences and the differences of others, as she encourages her peers to do so as well. 

“I encourage you all to mix yourselves within the discourse of others,” Dilsner-Lopez said.  

The recent political atmosphere has also encouraged Dilsner-Lopez to view her exhibition as a protest. The mere celebration of ethnic and sexual differences is her “rallying call.” She finds it impossible to “unmix a mixed country,” just as it is fruitless to attempt to ignore one’s familial roots. 

Despite this progress in her journey to self-love and self-acceptance, Dilsner-Lopez knows that it’s not over. She continues to explore her own body and her identity. For this, she turns back to poetry, writing: “But there is beauty and freedom in the ways of the mix/In the ways my body holds histories/In the ways I create love/And in the ways I deconstruct!”