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Faculty Spotlight: Delilah Montoya

Q&A with School of Art professor of photography and digital media, Delilah Montoya

"In the Photography Digital Media Program at the School of Art, I have enjoyed learning about and from my students whose ideas are as diverse as the cultures that they come from.  The School of Art staff has been incredibly supportive, with lifers like Andrea Johnson who keep the school together.  I am impressed by the direction that the McGovern College of the Arts has taken through the leadership of Andrew Davis. His vision is to bring parity to our community.  The University of Houston is where I found the Latinx community. That said, the medium I teach, photography/ digital media, continually shifts and the learning is constant.  The digital technology that we teach today will be gone by tomorrow so the artist must be ready to be a continual learner.  With this in mind, I have developed the readiness to face constant change by finding the balance to stand steady on shifting sand." - Delilah Montoya

Q: Please provide your educational history.

A: I received a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of New Mexico in 1994 with emphasis in studio practice.  This is the same university where I completed my undergraduate work in photographic printmaking.   While there I was influenced by photographers Patrick Nagatoni, Tom Barrow and Betty Hahn as well as printmakers Lydia Madrid, John Sommers and Jim Kraft.  The mentors who provided conceptual fuel for my work were the Chicano/a Artists of El Movimiento like Yolanda Lopez, Judy Baca, Amalia Mesa-Baines, Santa Barraza, Ester Hernandez, Laura Aquilar, and Barbara Carrasco.  Also the poets were important to my esthetic growth such as Alurista and Cecilio Garcia - Camarillo.

Q: What are some fond memories from your journey in the arts?

A: Getting on a plane for the first time to pull a print at Self-Help Graphic in Los Angeles for the National Chicano Atelier in 1988 and then in 2018 attending an opening in New York City at MoMA PS1, where my photographs of  Female Boxer were featured in “Body Armor “, an exhibition curated by Jocelyn Miller.

Q: Describe one thing that has surprised you during your career in higher education.

A:  When I began teaching at University of Houston the student body was majority white and now it is majority minority and I am teaching to my peers.  What a beautiful surprise!

Q: What accomplishments in your career do you feel most proud of?

A:  Surviving in the Arts.  My goal has always been very simple. I wanted to be a maker for my entire life.  This is a simple statement with a complex process.  I must say the journey is interesting. 

Q: What specific skills or ideas, which you have cultivated in your area of expertise, do you find valuable in your career now?

A: My practice explores the nuances of cultural syncretism.  This is the product of cultures clashing and the emergence of new realities that are never engulfed by the other rather it is its own creation.   As a cultural worker, my work takes on the issues that are relevant to the Latinx community.  Contemporary Casta Portraiture: Nuestra Calidad is that sort of project where the colonial body of the Americas is DNA tested to demonstrate how culturally and genetically integrated our community is and has been throughout the centuries.  The inspiration of this body of photographs was the Mexican Casta Painting Tradition.

Q: What do you think are the most important attributes of a good instructor?

A: Being a good listener, so a student can learn to trust their own instincts and develop strategies to problem solve.  Knowing how to problem solving is an artist’s life skill.

Q: What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments?

A: Being a University of Houston Professor and having my work in major collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Smithsonian and the Julia J. Norrell Collection along with a PHD Dissertation written about my practice. 

In addition, being a founding member of MantecaHTX, a Latinx Artist Registry Directory that brings the Latinx Art community together through a virtual platform.  This was done with the effort of former students, Tina Hernandez and Moe Penders, as well as community members, Gabriel Martinez, Julia Barbosa Landios, Theresa Escobedo and Tony Diaz.  All these listed Houston Latinx community members either taught or were former students at the University of Houston.

Q: What is coming up for you in the future that we should watch for?

A:  As the lead artists of the collective, “Sin Huellas”, we will be producing an online iteration of Detention Nationalongside Hostile Terrain debuting this spring at the Blaffer Museum. 

Q: What advice would you have for incoming students who are focusing on a career in the arts?

A: Art as a career is a life choice, it is the long game and the first steps as an incoming student are exciting and meaningful. This is where you learn if you have the stamina to stay the course.