Rafa Esparza

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Rafa Esparza
Born1981 Age 39
Alma materUCLA School of Arts and Architecture
Known forPerformance Art
Notable work
Staring at the Sun, de la Calle

Rafael Esparza (born in 1981) is an American performance artist who lives and works in Los Angeles.[1] His work includes physically exhaustive performances and installations constructed out of adobe bricks. Esparza often works with collaborators, including members of his family.[2][3][4]

Esparza has shown his work in several public parks, nightclubs, sidewalks, galleries, and museums around the globe.[5][6][7]

Early life and education[edit]

Esparza was born and raised in Pasadena, California, and is the son of Mexican immigrants from Durango, Mexico.[1][8][9] His father, Ramón Esparza, had worked in construction for over 30 years and used to make adobe bricks back in Mexico.[9] Later on his father would teach him how to make adobe brick as a way to reconcile their relationship after Esparza came out as queer.[1][3][9]

Esparza grew up interested in art, but it was not until he attended East Los Angeles College during his early twenties that he began to focus on performance art.[1] There, he was introduced to installation and performance art through the Latino art collective Asco.[1] His interest in performance art was further solidified when he attended UCLA, where he marked the campus with different art pieces.[1][9] He graduated UCLA with a bachelor's degree in fine arts.[1]

Work and career[edit]

Esparza's work reflects various themes such a politics, the environment, ethnicity and gender studies.[1] Inspired by his personal life, some of his work reflects issues with Chicano and queer histories like colonization, male sexuality, freedom, home and family.[1][3] Oftentimes Esparza attempts to critique social and racial issues within mainstream art and society by using his art as a way of "browning the white cube", and embodying working immigrant labor and bodies that pushed pass the narratives of traditional art spaces.[10] Esparza's projects typically involve collaborative projects about laboring and land, especially in his use of adobe brick-making.[11]

Esparza's Staring at the Sun was an solo exhibition at MASS MoCA'a gallery, where he covered the white gallery space with adobe bricks and features a series of new paintings on the surface of the adobe, which included portraiture, landscape, and abstraction.[11] It was an effort to represent a brown space and create and narrative on the importance of land.[11]

In 2013, Esparza performed chino, indio, negro with Sebastian Hernandez at Perform Chinatown 2013.[4] chino, indio, negro was performed near the site of the Chinese Massacre of 1871 and was performed in response to that event.[4] Also in 2013, Esparza performed El Hoyo with his brother, Beto Esparza, and fellow artist Nick Duran.[4] El Hoyo was performed at Human Resources and reflected Esparza's identity as a queer, working-class son of immigrants.[4]

Esparza performed in Dorian Wood's "O" video.[12] In August 2013, Esparza and Wood performed "CONFUSION IS SEX #3" at the Sepulveda Wildlife Basin. The piece was the third installment of a performance art series organized by Dawn Kasper, Oscar Santos, and Dino Dinco.[4] The Sepulveda Wildlife Basin, the location of "CONFUSION IS SEX #3," has in the past been used as a homeless encampment and a location for gay men to cruise for sex, and in 2012 part of it was bulldozed by the US Corps of Army Engineers.[4]

For his participation in the 2016 Made in LA Biennial at the Hammer Museum, Esparza created "Tierra," a field of adobe bricks created from dirt from Los Angeles. The artist's sculptures and objects were buried and unearthed in Elysian Park a historical site of displacement of early Latinx communities, Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bushop awhile creating the bricks were exhibited on the expanse of adobe bricks.[13][14][15][11]

Esparza has been awarded several grants. In 2014 he received an Art Matters grant and a California Community Fund Artist Fellowship and in 2015 he was the recipient of a Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant.[11][16][17] Esparza was included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial.[18] For the exhibition he created "Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field"; a gallery made of adobe bricks inside the museum.[5] The adobe room, which was made with dirt from Los Angeles River, was used as an exhibition space by other LA-based Latino artists that Esparza invited to participate.[19] In 2018, Esparza's collaborative exhibition and performance event de la calle was his first solo museum presentation at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.[20] Esparza used the museum's gallery for exhibition, production, and collaboration, where selected local artists and nightlife personalities worked collaboratively to produce works to display at the museum and for a performance.[20] The performance, *a la calle*, took place in the Fashion district of downtown Los Angeles Santee Alley.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Artist Rafa Esparza is using 5,000 adobe bricks to make a building-inside-a-building in Hollywood". LA Times. 2015-07-23. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  2. ^ Solis, Nathan (2015-03-04). "Con/Safos: Rafa Esparza's Outdoor Art Space | Los Angeles | Artbound". KCET. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  3. ^ a b c https://manpodcast.com/portfolio/no-247-rafa-esparza-william-pope-l/
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Albidrez, Chris (2013-08-07). "Rafa Esparza Transforms Audiences into Communities". KCET. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  5. ^ a b Tewksbury, Drew (2017-05-03). "Performance Artist Rafa Esparza Is Fighting Invisibility, One Brick at a Time". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  6. ^ "Art review: At MexiCali Biennial, cannibalism is consuming theme". Los Angeles Times. 2013-01-28. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  7. ^ "Whitney Biennial 2017: Rafa Esparza on His Work". whitney.org. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  8. ^ "Sound file" (MP3). Archive.kchungradfio.org. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  9. ^ a b c d "Rituals & Congregations Winter 2012" (PDF). Native Strategies.
  10. ^ "LA Artists and Nightlife Personalities Make Garments that Sparkle with Ingenuity". Hyperallergic. 2018-07-10. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  11. ^ a b c d e "Rafa Esparza staring at the sun". MASS MoCA. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  12. ^ Dorian Wood, Queer Artist, Premieres 'O' (Video), The Huffington Post.
  13. ^ Knight, Christopher. "'Made in L.A. 2016': Hammer Museum biennial proves a thoughtful place to ponder the possibilities". LA Times. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  14. ^ Radio, Southern California Public (2016-06-09). "Artist Rafa Esparza moves a load of earth for 'Made in LA' exhibition". Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  15. ^ Esparza, Erin Christovale and Rafa (2016-07-11). "Things Left Behind: Black Screen 16:9". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  16. ^ "Art Matters Announces 2014 Grantees". Art Forum. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  17. ^ "Fellowship for Visual Artists". California Community Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  18. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (2016-11-17). "Here Comes the Whitney Biennial, Reflecting the Tumult of the Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  19. ^ Quade, Kirstin Valdez (2017-08-17). "The Other Side of the Wall: A New Generation of Latino Art". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  20. ^ a b "Rafa Esparza De La Calle". Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  21. ^ Miranda, Carolina A. "Why artist Rafa Esparza led a surreal art parade through the heart of L.A.'s fashion district". latimes.com. Retrieved 2019-04-01.

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