Performing Arts

Performance artist Christian Cruz creates ‘Living Portraits’ at West Dallas’ Ex Ovo gallery

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A performer faces the corner of the gallery with plastic laundry baskets stacked on her head. Above her hangs a large sculpture made from cloth. The performer stands still as tension builds in anticipation of the makeshift tower’s collapse. Looking on are socially distanced, masked and mostly quiet viewers who absorb the work, titled Blue Collar // White Linen, one of the four installations that make up “Christian Cruz: Living Portraits of Abstract Rituals,” the multimedia artist’s first solo exhibition, at Ex Ovo in West Dallas.

Moments later, the baskets fall to the floor and the performer resets them on her head and resumes the performance in a Sisyphean fashion.

Dallas artist Christian Cruz’s “Blue Collar // White Linen” performed by Paloma Salas at Ex Ovo in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

In March, Cruz was preparing this show to be exhibited at Eastfield Community College when the city went on lockdown because of COVID-19, prompting the show’s cancellation.

As the pandemic has effectively stalled many artists, Cruz has persevered. In May, she created the “Artist Mama Fund,” which awarded three micro-grants to working-artist mothers. And in September, she produced “Anger as Currency,” a Zoom performance lecture that allowed viewers to bid on her artwork, not with money but with anger and vulnerability as the currency. Over the summer, Cruz was awarded a Culture of Value Grant from the city of Dallas, which has helped to fund the upcoming show at Ex Ovo.

A constant in Cruz’s work is the desire to dignify labor of all kinds. In Piñata Dance, a meditation on emotional labor, a woman is tethered to a tree branch via thick rope as she is pushed around by an invisible force. Sometimes the performer smacks against the wall, other times they lay on the floor just breathing before they’re interrupted by the invisible force. Piñata Dance makes visible a ferocious experience that we cannot see in day-to-day life.

When asked about what pulls her focus to labor, Cruz, a first-generation American born to Mexican parents, says, “Being brought up by farmers and workers and people who didn’t have anything, who really believe that working hard is going to move them forward. I think a lot about unsaid stories and what I haven’t seen, and this is the path that I chose. There are several stories that are still untold in art, but this is the one I connect with that’s genuine to me, that has a lot of ways to unfold.”

Viewers watch Dallas artist Christian Cruz's 'Piñata Dance' performed by Amy Zapien at Ex Ovo in Dallas.
Viewers watch Dallas artist Christian Cruz’s ‘Piñata Dance’ performed by Amy Zapien at Ex Ovo in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

After attending Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, she went to Columbia College in Chicago, where she first experienced performance art and began to create performance art of her own. Now, after a decade of creative output, Cruz says that she has “started to connect with forms of labor that are more abstract.

“Instead of the blue-collar worker and the domestic laborer, I started to think more metaphysically,” she says.

This shift in thought is reflected in They Tried to Bury Us Proverb, in which a performer sits buried in dirt as they read a spiritual or cultural text, their face intricately speckled with gems and fantastical makeup. The performer sits lost in the text, and the viewer is a witness to another’s internal search. Scattered across the dirt are grass trimmings. The everyday materials that Cruz employs enable an accessibility by those who may not be familiar with performance art but who recognize the materials at play.

Dallas artist Christian Cruz poses for a photo in front of her piece, 'Piñata Dance' performed by Amy Zapien, at Ex-Ovo in Dallas.
Dallas artist Christian Cruz poses for a photo in front of her piece, ‘Piñata Dance’ performed by Amy Zapien, at Ex-Ovo in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Tucked away in an offshoot room at Ex Ovo is a video piece created with Sophia Haid titled I don’t dream of labor, made of precisely composed images of Cruz doing nothing but waiting, while the editing suggests the internal work happening in the mind of the artist as she reflects on the happenings of her life.

As a whole, the exhibition showcases the work of an artist not only sensitive to the forces of labor as it manifests in people, but to the inner work that awaits us in our most private moments.

Or, as Cruz’s art suggests, even when we’re working on nothing, we’re working on something.


“Christian Cruz: Living Portraits of Abstract Rituals” will be Dec. 6 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Ex Ovo, 414 Fabrication St., Dallas. Free. Ten guests will be allowed at a time, and masks are required. There will be a livestream via the artist’s Instagram @tejanastories.

The exterior of Ex Ovo during Dallas artist Christian Cruz's show in Dallas.
The exterior of Ex Ovo during Dallas artist Christian Cruz’s show in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

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