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Meet El Ponk in El Sereno

Today we’d like to introduce you to El Ponk.

El Ponk, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in the Downtown, Rampart, and Pico Union districts of Los Angeles. Walking through different parts of Los Angeles, I was heavily influenced by the women in my family and surrounding neighborhoods. I began re-purposing vintage accessories and selling my work at different stores, car shows, festivals, and large events. My work matured from referencing iconography and images heavily influenced by “Teen Angel” and pano art into illustrating a woman’s unyielding sexuality, strength, and gender nonconformity.

Adopting the moniker El Ponk has enabled me create art as a separate individual. I define El Ponk as a play on words symbolizing the melding of languages, subcultures, and genders. The mix of languages, narratives, and cultures gives way to interpret what it means to be an Angelino in the ever-changing landscape of the city of Los Angeles.

As my artwork matured, my professional career expanded from teaching art for ten years to becoming an Arts Administrator for Los Angeles schools. I take part in the development and support of arts programming for K-12 students and teachers throughout Los Angeles. Finding a balance between two worlds has been challenging, but vital in the matters of representation. I keep both worlds separate but they find each other as need each other’s voice from time to time.

Has it been a smooth road?
It definitely hasn’t. I was left to make my own decisions at 15, began work at 16, and found my way unprepared through college. Coming out of my neighborhood and learning to ask questions and surround myself with the right people has been a crucial step in finding my place. I did not have an elder for guidance in the matters of leadership and professional growth early on in my life, but I did have a Central American group of mothers that showed me to survive. Being raised by a single mother with two jobs forced her to hand me over to multiple family members. What people do not understand is that the examples of violence, prostitution, teen pregnancy, addiction, and racism were at my doorstep every day. Not being connected or bonded forced me to be observant and adapt to my surroundings by becoming invisible. Coming out alive was the goal. To become visible and thrive today has been nothing short of a miracle.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with El Ponk – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
El Ponk was born out of my need to create artwork that was functional, but it has grown to be more personal and narrative. Being an art teacher for many years has taught me to not limit myself to one type of media. My work is concept-based, and installation plays an important role in exhibitions. What I am most proud in my work is its development throughout the years, like in my current series “War Paint”. It is based on the idea of our learned behavior as women of color. My portraits attempt to break through the invisible wall with their glowing eyes and ebony eyeliner. I referenced our ancestors having to prepare for ceremony and war, as they used marks on the faces and bodies as a type of mental preparation. The women in my portrait will not defer their gaze to the ground. What sets me apart is my experience coming from a Mexican father and El Salvadorian mother living in Downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a tremendous city with many pockets of people and lived experiences. I am able to meld my experiences by referencing my collected ephemera to create a time and space that is quintessentially female and Angeleno.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
What I like best about our city is that it has a pulse and it thrives due to its diversity. You can be in many parts of the city and find yourself in a completely different part of the world. I see beauty and find inspiration in all these parts of the city whether they be desolate or thriving. But what I am disappointed by is the current development and its erasure of the rich history we have. It is breaking down families and pushing native people out.

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