Friday, November 17, 2017 | Updated at 11:23 PM ET


Jorge Cruz: An Artist Unafraid

First Posted: Dec 02, 2013 01:49 PM EST
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No, snapshots isn't the term to describe it; and photographs doesn't quite fit either. Portraits, in nature, are most similar to what transgender artist Jorge Cruz captures with his camera...yet, there still seems to be something greater occurring. There's the vibrant subject(s); the engaged photographer; but, also, the enlivened photos, which wake and writhe whenever they gain an audience -becoming a personality independent of the artist and the subject. Cruz's prints, like his music, his writing, his creative directioning, his... ongoing list of artistic occupation, is created in the avant-garde realm of ambiguity, analysis, experimentation and counter-culture.

Cruz, 24, is one in a wave of first generation children in his family to be born in this country. Born to Mexican parents -a father of native lineage and a mother of Spanish/Arabic/French descent, he had to independently learn to wade through the ways of this country -with little direction, particularly as the oldest child. He's begun to feel the pressure that comes along with being the oldest while witnessing his own ambitions, hopes and actions that mirror back at him.

"It's only daunting though if I don't do anything about it, but I want to be a crusader of sorts for all my family, to at the very least, let them know that they can and should dream. We've been given such an amazing gift from our parents, and we should do something with it," Cruz said.

Matured in Palatine, IL, a northern suburb of Chicago, Cruz grew up in a predominantly white environment that only recently became more ethnically diverse. Because of this, Cruz often felt obligated to "act the part."

"I remember being in elementary school and disliking to acknowledge that I spoke Spanish and just wanting really to blend in," said Cruz.  "I was also usually the one Hispanic kid in most of my classes. Because I had spoken and written English so well, by the time that I was in kindergarten they ended up removing me from bilingual classes. And, at that time, most of the Hispanic kids were still in bilingual classes so I ended up growing up mainly around white kids, with a pepper of one ethnic kid here and there."

Cruz's former denial and later acknowledgement of language, culture and history, helps to direct his art, though it doesn't stylistically influence it. His artwork is provoked by a need to create; demanded by his body, which tells him to do so -and he does it in every form possible, although he's most fond of photography.

"I came to the realization that I'm an artist like a year ago. Because, originally, I would just refer to myself as a photographer; but here I was painting, and designing, and making tiny films ...where by the time anyone would ask me: "What do you do?" I would be like, 'omg, here, I have to tell them like the whole speech. So, really, I'm just an all around artist who works/expresses themselves through different mediums - because honestly I am too interested in other ways of working that just one medium,'" said Cruz, who attended Colombia Chicago for his undergraduate degree.

In 2009, Cruz employed a familiar method when creating his book, "The Story of Eva," using digital collages -a technique he's enjoyed since he was a teenager. Cruz used this method to construct a series of images which uses the face of Eva Longoria, and attaches it to the immigrant experience.

"The collages are all strung together to tell the story of an immigrant coming into this country, and detailing some of the main aspects of an immigrants day-to-day story from who they were in their country; a portrait of the city they came to; and, then, them years later with their kids," Cruz said.  "It's a very simple and literal book because I wanted the audience to automatically relate or understand with the subject. I used Eva Longoria in some ways out of commentary that some people believe that all people who look Hispanic are automatically undocumented, but also because Eva Longoria is like the 'whitest' Hispanic celebrity out there."

On the inner fold of the book, just beyond the first page of "The Story of Eva," it states, "The best way to make someone understand anything is to familiarize it." Upon further explanation, Cruz clarified that this statement addresses gay/undocumented/Hispanic/etc. individuals being categorized as "the other," and how being declared something outside of "normal" instigates scrutiny and maltreatment.

"Not many people wish malice or harm onto others unless they misunderstand the 'other.' If you are someone who is constantly hearing that the 'other' is taking your jobs; raping your children; and a burden to your country, it only makes sense that those people have no sense of compassion for the 'other.' But, once they see that [the 'other'] is just as human as they are, they'll begin to lose compassion for laws that negate these people's inalienable rights," Cruz stated.

Cruz admitted that he feels that he's one of the only artists to point his lens on the Hispanic community with the interest of sharing the foreign native experience and his own narrative. He explained that whites often show other communities, and create dialogue about what they see and what they think, but often, people of color aren't doing that within their own community. While he takes no issues with whites engaging Latino American culture or the experience, he believes that they shouldn't be the only ones doing it.

"What I strive for is to have my voice be included in American art history, because I was going to museums and either only seeing white people on the walls or white people telling me about colored people. I know, as so many other people know, there are more than just white people living in America," Cruz said.

Cruz, who constantly works to share his craft, has also lent his perspective and talent to music, creating a series of mixtapes, producing albums that were praised and featured in Spin, XLR8R, Notion Magazine, and The Wired; and, he's also acting as ½ of WEARE18, which earned a great deal of attention from Gawker writer Rich Juzwiak, and Diplo, a Los Angeles-based American DJ, music producer, rapper, and songwriter. 

"We've gotten mad amounts of attention for everything that we've done. Like, when we did our first song and video, a lot of industry people had nothing but great things to say. Then, we did a remix of Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe,' and that was in places like Elektro Magazine and was chosen as one of the music videos of the week for Electronic Beats," Cruz shared with Latin Post. "We just released our EP, actually, in October. Of course as a band we're naturally very avant-garde and I love it."

Beyond photographs, digital collages, music and Cruz's general artistic stride, Cruz has also contributed greatly to the redirectioning of house music record label, Trax Records, acting as Creative Director, and essentially doing what "Tom Ford did for Gucci." Singularly, Cruz is credited for rebranding the company and for launching the company's 25th anniversary mixtape, mixed by Joe Smooth, producer and house music DJ.

"I took a historic record label that was mainly inactive for over five years, during the time before anyone was caring about dance music, and I made it completely a 21st century label. I put together four historical and very well received albums, as well as signing music from different musicians. I archived a ton of music; made available some historical artifacts; and, later on, having a strong visual identity being placed with the label again," said Cruz, who later left because of creative differences, but remains to have love and respect for the label.

When working at Trax, Cruz also contributed to URB Magazine, where he reviewed and photographed concerts. He shot shows for Alicia Keys, Tegan And Sara, Gorillaz, Sufijan Stevens and a number of others.

Cruz continues to create dynamic works of art, and has aspirations to be a DJ, host his own radio show, and complete his book, RBL. For any additional information on Jorge Cruz or his work, feel free to explore his website, his Facebook or his Twitter.

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