Earth’s Altar

Artist Statement

I have always wanted to create images that are unique to my personal experience. My life has been full of travel and study of art, history, and culture in many countries. Over the past decade I began combining my “Latino” aesthetic and international travel encounters with my knowledge of indigenous philosophy to create “the unfamiliar” art image and experience.

It began when I was four years old and visited the castle of King Ludwig II in Germany with my parents. I still have distinct memories of the gold guilt Rococo art and architecture of the immense palace and grounds. This was my first experience in studying the classical edifices of Europe.

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Over the years this reverence has been compounded with an awareness of cultural hegemony. I have visited hundreds of museums to find traditional ancient cultural treasures placed in Plexiglas boxes. Today there are law suits demanding return of these “ancient and sacred” items to their rightful owners. In the international indigenous community there is much talk of “appropriating” cultural objects and images. Just a few years ago I visited Rome and toured the Pantheon where I found enclaves that once housed images of the Roman gods. Now these niches are populated by Catholic iconography. As I stood in the Pantheon I imagined it restored to its original state with Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Venus- presented in all their glory. You can find the Roman gods in all the stores surrounding the Pantheon, but you will not find them in their temple. It made me think of the removal, appropriation, and commercialization of the indigenous gods of the Americas. As an act of defiance and reconciliation I appropriated European Gothic altars to create the “earth altar” returning it to its original “pagan / indigenous” state as a place to worship the gods and the earth goddess specifically. She may be called Mother Earth, or to the Greeks and Romans she is called Gaea or Fauna. In the Lakota Nation she is known as Paha Sapa and in the Mexican indigenous world she is called Tonantzin.

Anna Meliksetian, art historian, curator and critic 

Vallejo’s altars are magnificently rich three-dimensional sculptures. Aesthetically exquisite, they surprise the viewer with an important issue – the destruction of our planet. Vallejo recycles her paintings incorporating reproductions to adorn the altars with beautiful vibrant representations of nature juxtaposed with images of destruction.

The Gold Altar is a scaled down replica of a three part Gothic altar covered with an opulent gold leaf pattern. Above the altar is a reproduced detail of Vallejo’s painting of a brilliant sky hovering over images of her “electric oaks” which connect to the altar. In the center of the altar stands a woman covered in mud, emerging from behind a broken classical column. Behind her is an image of Vallejo’s painting Golden Yucca, whose graceful verticality accentuates and mimics the pose of the mud woman, our modern day Madonna. The altar is decorated with reproductions of Vallejo’s vibrant powerful paintings of nature. Brilliant skies, trees, and landscapes reinforce the mud woman’s connection to nature. However, a closer look reveals that she holds an image of the earth, one which is on fire. The contrast of majestic nature with the destruction of the earth is startling. On the back of the altar are photographs, transferred on Mylar, of indigenous people from different parts of the world, who wear masks or have painted faces indicating that they are partaking in ritual celebrations.

“What is disturbing is that they are superimposed over images of trash, polluted cityscapes, and gridlock. In this body of work, Vallejo refers to both the Classical Greek and Gothic periods. The mud woman stands behind the ruins of a Greek column. Is this a reminder that the Greek conception of the privileging and supremacy of culture over nature has led to the destruction of the planet? Does the Gothic altar refer to Western ideals that are set up in the biblical injunction that gives man dominion over nature, animals, and women?