Boren Banner Series: Marilyn Montufar
October 10, 2020 – April 11, 2021
The Boren Banner Series is a new public art initiative by the Frye Art Museum that reflects the Museum’s commitment to showcasing artists of the Pacific Northwest. Presented biannually, the series gives local and regional artists the opportunity to create new site-specific work or show a previously unexhibited piece at monumental scale in the form of a 16 x 20 ft. vinyl banner. The billboard-size work is prominently sited on the Museum’s east facade, facing Boren Avenue: the Frye’s most visible and accessible physical interface.
The work selected to inaugurate the series is Ronnie and Cleveland (2006), a black-and-white double portrait by Seattle-based photographer, activist, and educator Marilyn Montufar. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Montufar is a first-generation Mexican American who uses photography to advocate for and inspire social change. She focuses particularly on individual narratives—those of women, immigrants, youth, and LGBTQIA communities—that are underrepresented in the arts. Her sensitive portraits explore identity in relation to intimate environments like the neighborhood, home, and bedroom, creating pathways for compassion and understanding that run counter to harmful stereotypes.
Ronnie and Cleveland pictures a (former) couple who Montufar met in Los Angeles in 2006. The photograph marked the beginning of a photographic collaboration with the subjects that has continued through the intervening fourteen years. The artist believes it was their “unique journeys of navigating self-expression, activism, and identity” that initially drew the three of them together. “I identify as Xicana, straddling two cultures but not fully belonging to either,” she says. “Likewise, Cleveland [now known as Chanel Lumiere] may have navigated similar experiences being born in Belize, raised in Los Angeles, and understanding her culture and identity in both places. And Ronnie Clark’s lived experiences being young, Black, and gay. I believe that there is a duality of not belonging to one identity, but the fluidity of transcending these identities that is a common thread between us.”
Montufar says that while this photograph—taken very early in her career—emerged from a personal story at a single moment in the time, she believes it captures a “shared human vulnerability, love, and care that transcends personal experience,” which is important to recall now. The youthful curiosity embedded in this formative image and the “desire to come to terms with who we are and will become,” as the artist says, is something Montufar and her subjects hope will resonate with and encourage those who see the photograph at such striking scale. Lumiere adds that, for her, “Reflecting on this photo and all its liberating elements, I now realize how important it is to live in the truth of who you are—I can look at a photo taken almost fifteen years ago and now say, ‘You are free.’”
Marilyn Montufar (b. 1985, Los Angeles) received a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 2009. Her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Centro de Investigaciones Artísticas Gerónimo Baqueiro Fóster, Mérida, Mexico (2019), Gallery 4Culture, Seattle (2018), Make.Shift Gallery, Bellingham (2017), and Feast Arts Center, Tacoma (2016), among others, and has been included in numerous group exhibitions since 2010. Montufar was a finalist for the 2020 Betty Bowen Award and has been an artist in residence at Centrum, Port Townsend, Washington; the Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, Vermont; and Primal Studio, Mexico City, where she created the photography youth project Beyond Borders/ Más allá de las fronteras, a visual collaboration and international exchange program. The project was featured at the FotoMéxico Festival and the Tamayo Art Museum’s Education Center in Mexico City in 2019. Montufar is a Mexican American dual citizen and resides in Seattle.