Karla Diaz, Trenzas (Braids), My Alter Ego, 2021, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Sarah Cain, © Karla Diaz, courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA 

LACMA Favorites: Karla Diaz's Trenzas (Braids), My Alter Ego

March 18, 2024
Claudine Dixon, Assistant Curator, Prints and Drawings
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the contributions of women throughout art history, including artworks by women from LACMA’s collection.
The Los Angeles–based artist Karla Diaz, who is active as both a visual and performance artist and is on the art department faculty at the California State University, Long Beach, grew up in Southern California and Mexico. Together with her husband, artist Mario Ybarra, Jr., and their colleague Juan Capistan, Diaz founded the local artist collective Slanguage in 2002, headquartered in Wilmington near the port of Los Angeles, which provides an environment for artists, historians, and curators to combine “education, community-building, and interactive exhibitions.”

In this vibrant watercolor from 2021 entitled Trenzas (Braids), My Alter Ego, Diaz pays homage to her Mexican heritage and the symbolic import of her ancestry through the attributes of her forefathers and foremothers. Diaz inserts her own image on the figure who wears her long hair that mimics the style worn by Diaz’s grandmother. The thick braids are piled upon her head, becoming a metaphor for resilience, strength, and hereditary continuity, the tightly woven hair morphing into a strong rope-like anchor that envelops her body. As she places the hair across her face and under her nose, Diaz exudes power and masculinity in her female body. The hair across her face suggests a man’s mustache, while the hair below her chin resonates as a thick and lengthy beard. Placed in front of the forms of desert cacti behind her, the individual sections of each cactus protrude from the sides of the figure’s head, intimating a sort of elaborate headdress, which is further detailed by the tattoo of an ancient Mesoamerican warrior on her shoulder that completes this transformation of the artist into a totem of invincibility. Complementing the strong outlines of the forms in the drawing, Diaz has employed a vibrantly saturated spectrum of rainbow colors through the watercolor medium, complementing the rich panoply of the hallmarks of her ancestors and suggestive of the palette of western landscapes that typify both Mexico and California.