Installation image from the exhibition Amor de mis Amores. In focus is a drawing of two orange male figures surrounded by fire on a blue background. The drawing is held into the wall by two arrows.
Above: Installation of Amor de mis Amores

Juan Arango Palacios

Charlie Kang

It’s easy to shy away from talking about or admitting love. It’s challenging to question ourselves about who we love. Sometimes, looking at ourselves in past relationship-struggles make us feel more vulnerable than ever. Amor de mis Amores is a solo show of Juan Arango Palacios at Jude Gallery Chicago. Palacios sources their own queer metaphors from influcence they grew up with—Latin American music (Cumbia and Bachata), Magical Realist literature, and female Latin Amerian surrealist portraits—as well as their own relationship experiences.

The figures in their images are expressed with supernatural effects, exuding burning temptations and embodying the emotions of love. Horns bulge out from a pink-glowing forehead. A body embraced by a lover bursts into flames. There is no hiding how tumultuous love can be. Immediately, I am able to confront and sympathize through my own experiences of romantic relationships. However, it is the unreserved generosity and honesty to unveil both the romantic gratifications and grief that shape our lives that I was struck by during my fortunate opportunity to interview Juan. In this intimate gallery space, Palacios and I were able to discuss romantic complexities within queer communities as well as reflect on the idea of safety as it relates to questions of care and pleasure.

The following Interview is between writer Charlie Kang and artist Juan Arango Palacios.


Juan Arango Palacios was born in Pereira, Colombia in 1997. Juan’s family moved from Colombia to the American South where Juan’s sense of identity and belonging began to be skewed by their lack of knowledge of the English language, their unfamiliarity with American culture, and their internal struggle with a queer identity. Juan graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2020, and has developed an interdisciplinary artistic practice exploring drawing, painting, textile-making, and ceramic sculpture.


Charlie Kang: Let’s first talk about where these images are from.

Juan Arango Palacios: There are multiple sources of inspiration for this entire exhibition. First and foremost, Latin music such as Cumbia, Reggaeton, and Bachata. The title of every single one of the works in this space stem from lyrics in Cumbia and Reggaeton music. I’m engaging with these lyrics in the context of my other inspiration, Latin American Magical Realism. It is a form of literature that I grew up reading. Iconic Colombian authors like Gabriel García Márquez would describe fictional stories in a very matter of fact manner. Supernatural phenomena or fantastical aspects of the stories are told as if it happened in a historical context. There are also Latin American Female Surrealists, such as Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo. The visual source of inspiration from them is about taking a look at myself, and identity in general. Very much exploring narratives in a very honest way. I wanted to take all of these images, words, stories, and metaphors I grew up with and put them into my own context, queering them to tell my own stories.

My own personal experience also became a source of inspiration for this show. I started making this show after a breakup with somebody. [We started talking about our past relationship nightmares and exchanged a hug] It’s all in the past. But going through the heartbreak, I found good company in Latin American music—most of which talks about sex, love, and break-ups—and a lot of the lyrics of these songs are magical. When something supernatural caught my ear, I would write it down and see what image I could come up with.

For example, this piece over here is titled Tiene Fuego en la Boca, Que Quema y me Provoca, which literally translates to “he has fire in his mouth and it burns, and it provokes me.” It’s about someone being tempted by an extremely attractive person. This lyric is from the song called Diablo, devil. This person is tempting me. Temptation. This person has a fire in their mouth from how attractive they are. As you can see, I’m quite literally translating the lyrics into an image, and as a result, the image aligns with the approach of magical realism.

Also, by having all of the pieces be so intimate to my own love life, I want to stray away from the oversexualized narratives or representation of queer people and more towards emotional, tender, and intimate narrative of queerness.

Some pieces, for example of Aquel Arbolito, “that tree over there,” are a mixture of memory and people. Some parts of the drawing happened, and some didn’t. I’m putting different memories together to create my own narration of joy. I feel like a lot of queer people can relate to the fact that we kind of have a late start in the game. Scrambling to figure out our sexuality and romantic interest later in our life than most people. This is why it’s important for me to visualize these perfect scenarios that didn’t actually happen. I wish they happened. Again, this makeshift narrative—something that didn’t actually and naturally happen, but could have happened—goes along with the fantastical aspect of magical realism.

CK: Because I often work in art installations, I’m noticing and appreciating different hanging hardware in the space. I also feel like they are one of your intentions to make this space coherent and welcoming. Could we talk more about them?

JP: The arrowheads are made out of ceramics at GnarWare Workshop in Chicago. These are terracotta clay which turns into this dark brown, almost black color after firing. The arrows have a few meanings. There is a reference to St. Sebastian, who was executed by arrows for coming out as Christian in the era of Diocletian. He is depicted by many artists including Caravaggio who is also believed to be gay and queer and took this historical subject as a queer metaphor. Most recreated images of St. Sebastian usually depict a man in a very sexy pose, roped on a tree with arrows sticking out. Even though the original story describes that St. Sebastian resembled a porcupine from how many arrows he withstood with his body, Caravaggio’s rendering of St. Sebastian is a sexy man with only two or three arrows. It’s a very candid and sexualized image. I feel like that was the only way to express the artist’s sexuality. So, I’m using the same arrows as a metaphorical act of penetration, something to literally penetrate drawings.

At the same time, all of these drawings come from love and heartbreak songs. Many people describe these songs and my work as honest, and I would describe them as borderline corny. I embrace this bluntness. Very direct. The arrows communicate that aspect of Cupid’s arrows as well. Cupid is part of Greek mythology, but has been part of pop culture as a Looney Tunes character. It became a symbol for love.

I would not have thought about this form of installation if I had not taken a weaving class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My textile class often talked about installation. It’s easy to just pin the textiles on the wall, but how can you install them with more intention? So, basically I wanted all the hanging mechanisms to be well-considered and relatable to the exhibition’s theme.

[Looking at the Demonio Rojo] These are devil’s horns. Two little horns coming out to hold the work about the devil’s story.

CK: They are definitely better than just using magnets.

JP: And then there are also other considerations. For example, the pieces that are framed, I made these in this specific size of the pre-made frames. Framing bigger pieces would have been inaccessible for me. So, I’m thinking in a more practical sense.

CK: You often mention the idea of safe space, and, especially, this exhibition space being one. Could you elaborate on this?

JP: The first time I ever thought about an exhibition space being a safe space is when I saw an exhibition I strongly believe out right to be frivolous in 2018 at the Art Institute of Chicago. This was a solo show of a Syrian artist Mounira Al Solh. It’s the show with multiple drawings all on yellow legal paper pads. I got a chance to do a walkthrough with the curator of the exhibition. Some of them were straight up portraiture drawings, some had texts written, all in Arabic. And all of these texts in the works were translated into a single book that was placed in the middle of the exhibition space. But the translations were all randomly compiled on the book, so that only the audiences who spoke Arabic could truly understand the context of each drawing. I found this strategy beautiful. This is why I titled all my works here in Spanish. Also, the titles directly being from the lyrics of Cumbia and Reggaeton music, made it so only people from that specific background, who grew up listening to this music could get it without having a conversation like this with me. During the night of the opening, six or seven people came up to me, all Latinxs from different backgrounds, and thanked me for creating these works and a space where they felt welcomed, seen, and heard. They mentioned how they used to hear these songs at their parents’ parties, quinceañeras, birthday parties, and more. That really did it for me. I feel like this really solidified the idea of this space being safe. It was a gratifying experience to know that my strategy which I derived from Al Solh worked.

Also, the local DJ Blesstonio, who shares Latin background, was DJ-ing Cumbia and Reggaeton during the night of the opening. I felt like the music existing within this space activated these pieces. The lyrics were literally being sung by visitors in the space. In the hallway, people were dancing, just enjoying themselves. Even though a lot of these songs were about break-ups and heartbreaks, they are played at parties. Regardless of the sad content of these songs, we can dance to them. The joyfulness, the celebratory aspect of this music is what I found comfort in when I was sad.

CK: When we talk about the idea of safe space, there’s a binary of safe and unsafe. I’m struggling to push the boundary of this binary. Mainly because I understand this safety as a must-existing premise. Like you often mentioned in your previous discussions of your works, we cannot feel how and what we want to feel without a sense of safety. However, I want to see if we can push the boundaries of this idea.

JP: I have not thought of this idea of a binary before, but I can definitely understand it. Especially thinking about the context in which most of these songs I used are made; they are very heteronormative. Some of the lyrics that I used are even homophobic, misogynistic, and conservative in the way they are written and sung. I don’t know a single Colombian song that talks about queer love. I do know Colombian songs that talk about gay men, but making fun of them. I’m guessing that what I’m doing here is trying to flip these binaries. But still in a binary sense. Like turning things that are perhaps considered unsafe for queer people into being safe for them.

I also feel like I’m stepping out of the binary through a form of reclamation. I’m reclaiming, queering, materials that are not necessarily pro-queer by creating these images. For Aquel Arbolito, I used a song about a straight couple who kiss under a tree. I’m acknowledging that I crave that narrative. I’m bringing that narrative back into my realm and of other queer Latin folks. We might have heard that song and not been able to relate to it, but maybe now we can.

I’m not just creating a safe space, but I do believe that creating a safe space brings forth comfort and joy, and the ability to just enjoy ourselves as we exist. In a space where we don’t feel safe, we have to watch how we talk, walk, and act. We have to second-guess the way we present ourselves. Therefore, I think safety is important. Without it, you just don’t feel comfortable, happy, or able to enjoy yourself.

CK: I’m actually going through an interesting learning moment right now. Hearing you is helping me understand this idea of further understanding the binary of safe and unsafe space. Your process of utilizing the existing binary reminds me that something that feels safe to us could feel unsafe for others. I’m beginning to notice that binaries applied in our society are intertwined, complex, and, actually, hard to untangle.

JP: Yes! Many queer theories are about getting rid of the binary. As a gender non-conforming person, I fully understand the desire and intention to destroy the binary. In my practice, I want to be realistic with the way I was raised as well. I was raised in a completely binary world, especially speaking Spanish.

I also like how you phrased it. I do utilize the binary. Angels vs. demons. Hot vs. cold. I utilize these binaries in my works. Masculinity vs. feminine. I have works centered on hyperfemininity, on hypermasculinity, in between, or questioning both while being neither. I notice myself thinking in a binary way because that’s how I was raised. So, as opposed to trying to destroy, I’m utilizing it to create my own narrative.

CK: I see many drawings from 2022 and they are quite different from your usual oil paintings. Did you get to try something new for this exhibition?

JP: Yes, absolutely. I would consider this entire show an experiment. An experiment that was actually born with this gigantic piece at The Macedonia Institute of NY, which is the residency I participated in last February. When I’m at my studio, I’m usually comfortable doing what I have been doing. So, I take a residency program as a space and resource to try something new. During my time at the Macedonia Institute, I only had one month there during the snowy winter. With oil painting, I usually paint with lots of layers, and it didn’t make sense considering the short duration of the program. I decided to make it a drawing residency for myself and tried out using pastels.

Birds Among Bushes might not have much to do with this show conceptually, but it’s the starting piece for this exhibition. Every drawing here came after this one. It’s a replica of one of the rugs they had in the place I stayed for the residency. It’s where my co-resident Nicholas (Zedpeda, another awesome artist to look at), and I would spend time together, living with this rug. I also took interest in this one bird, as a protagonist, and replicating the design aspect of the rug felt like I am making a strong art historical reference to a more romantic time.

CK: What’s next? How are you feeling?

JP: Most of these drawings we are seeing here were made within the last two months. I am now feeling that these drawings helped me to discover a form of storytelling that I didn’t know I enjoyed so much. Making a figure into a composition that I find a personal and imaginative narrative that could also be culturally significant. I think I’ll continue making images with a similar process, the same type, but in oil paint. Also, just because now I actually have time to do it (Juan is starting to become a full-time artist!).
A drawing of a pink male figure with two small horns on his head, with his mouth open breathing fire and sticking out his tongue. The drawing is on a black background.
Tiene Fuego en la Boca, Que Quema y me Provoca (2022)

A drawing of two brown skin figures kissing each other. They both wear green t-shirts. One figure cradles the other figure’s head in their right arm. They are lying in the grass in front of a tree trunk with a sky blue background. The drawing is installed onto the wall using two arrows stuck into the top right and left corners.
Aquel Arbolito (2022)

An installation shot of the exhibition Amor de mis Amores. Four smaller drawings are on the left wall and three larger drawings are on the right. One drawing is hanging on the back center wall.
Installation of Amor de mis Amores

An installation shot of the exhibition Amor de mis Amores. In focus is a large drawing that is mostly in shades of pink, with yellow and blue flowers, and mimics a large tapestry. On the left wall beside it is a small drawing of an orange figure with horns on their head, surrounded by flames.
Installation of Amor de mis Amores


This interview transcription has been edited and altered by the writer for readability.

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Charlie Kang (she/her) has been painting and drawing but also working for various art spaces in Chicago as an art preparator/exhibition technician. Moving forward, she is hoping to write more about her labor experience and how it affects the framings for artworks displayed in institutions. Her interests range from maintenance and operational labor in local cultural institutions, to East Asian and global contemporary art and politics.

RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY