Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Artist Isabella Mellado illuminates the masks within community
By Jess Savage

This article shared 3199 times since Thu Jun 15, 2023
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Chicago-based artist Isabella Mellado's paintings and sculptures are vibrant, colorful and larger than life. Her work represents autobiographical and allegorical scenes, nearly all of it featuring characters inspired by the tarot.

Mellado (she/they, pronouns she alternates between) designs elaborate physical sets with hand-made props to generate reference photos, which are further rendered in Photoshop to create fantastical images that more closely match her expressive vision for her paintings. The shining stars of Mellado's prop-making, however, are the papier mÀ˘ché masks she creates to represent tarot characters, like the Sun, Moon or Death cards.

"Queering the tarot" is a common sentiment in various queer discourses. Many in the LGBTQ+ community have woven the tarot into their dating apps, their belief systems, and their core identities.

"Tarot is a symbolic framework that allows me to insert myself because it's made for that," said Mellado. "It's about identity."

They just completed their final semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and earned their MFA from its painting and drawing department in May. Growing up in Puerto Rico and completing their undergraduate degree at the Rhode Island School of Design, Mellado has had plenty of experience moving between different cultural spaces.

But it wasn't until Mellado came to Chicago that she finally found an ideal mix of Latinx and queer communities: "Because my work engages with being part of the diaspora … I decided to go with SAIC, and I'm very happy that I did."

A supportive community is vital for most artists and creatives, and Mellado is no different; they keep community at the core of their work. Switching between communities—returning to their family in Puerto Rico, moving about their neighborhood (Pilsen), engaging with various Latinx and queer spaces—for Mellado is indeed almost like donning different masks.

Her work started exploring what it meant to be a queer artist relating to her community, how queerness is a part of social dynamics, and her core identity as an artist. The city allowed her to find ways to express themselves authentically. She took on a role, as many artists do, as a recorder of history.

"We are capturing what the culture is around us, and that's intuitively what I'm doing and what I'm still doing—just capturing the world around me," Mellado said.

She initially combined this experience of masking and code-switching with their original inspiration, the vejigante, a Puerto Rican folkloric character that teases the audience during parades and festivals. These are jesters, whose name directly translates to "liver giant." They carry dried cow livers with seeds rattling inside like a maraca. Learning about and engaging with the vejigante, a deeply rooted aspect of Puerto Rican culture, was the beginning of Mellado's deep interest in mythology and folklore.

Mellado's first mask, used as a prop in the painting called "Interview with a Gargoyle," drew from folklore about a local Puerto Rican town that couldn't get rid of a gargoyle attacking their livestock. Inspired by this story, Mellado created a mask with chicken wire and beads; their sibling posed as the gargoyle being interrogated by the town, and the years-long series began.

Mellado then started making masks and paintings that reflected their life experiences, and how and where they aligned with the teachings from the tarot.

"I was using the tarot as a framework, thematically, for what I wanted to say that related back to me, personally," she said.

Rather than the deity-like characters from the tarot, Mellado paints human characters donning masks. Their characters are vulnerable; they have flaws, they experience hardship.

Over time, the meaning of the masks have changed and deepened. Mellado explores their multiple meanings, employing the traditional background of tarot characters, but applying the metaphor of using masks as protection for moving through cultural and community spaces.

Mellado's identity has transformed since their arrival to Chicago in 2021. She wasn't as 'out' before she moved, but said that "moving [to Chicago] emboldened me, because I was able to move from conservative spaces, where I was afraid that I wasn't going to be accepted, to a space where I'm in art school, surrounded by other queer people. I felt safer to explore making work about being queer."

Indeed, Mellado feels safest within the queer community: "When I'm here in Chicago … and I'm in queer community, I'm masking less; I know I'm safe there." On the multiple masks she wears, she explained, "They're different aspects of my identity, and they all belong to me."

In the last few months, they have had works in Heaven Gallery, The Martin, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Blind Barber and Art in Common. They believe that Chicago's ability to convene artists and creatives in such a powerful way allowed them to explore their impact as an artist who seeks to connect directly to their audience.

Mellado said, "I want my audience to look at my paintings and see themselves in it. As a Puerto Rican artist, as a queer person, I want to provide that representation, and I want to open doors for other people who are like me…I just want them to feel seen; that's the point. I want you to feel seen, I want you to feel held; that is the core value."

This article shared 3199 times since Thu Jun 15, 2023
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Out and Aging
Presented By


Gay News

Bring Chicago Home: Guess who's saying no again
Commentary by Bob Palmer and Mark Swartz - Chicago is ushering in an era of change with a new progressive mayor with a vision to invest in communities long ignored and a significant increase in like-minded city council members. We are excited to see ...

Gay News

GLAAD marks World AIDS Day with launch of global resource hub, new HIV report
--From a press release - New York, New York — Friday, Dec. 1 — GLAAD marked World AIDS Day this year by sharing the results of its fourth annual State of HIV Stigma Report, a national survey among U.S. adults measuring ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Tenn. law, banned books, rainbow complex, journalists quit
Under pressure from a lawsuit over an anti-LGBTQ+ city ordinance, officials in Murfreesboro, Tennessee removed language that banned homosexuality in public, MSNBC noted. Passed in June, Murfreesboro's "public decency" ordinance ...

Gay News

Wrightwood 659 to present 'Daniel Goldstein: The Marks We Leave Behind' on World AIDS Day
(CHICAGO, Nov. 29, 2023) —Alphawood Exhibitions will present Daniel Goldstein: The Marks We Leave Behind, an exhibition of works from the San Francisco-based artist & HIV/AIDS activist's iconic "Icarian Series," ...

Gay News

Fla. students walk out after school board's anti-trans actions
In Florida, hundreds of students at Coconut Creek's Monarch High School held a walkout on Nov. 28 after their principal and several other school officials were reportedly reassigned over a transgender student's participation on the girls ...

Gay News

OPINION For LGBTQ+ children, the holidays are often the most challenging time of the year
Holiday time for most of us is a time to spend more time with family and loved ones, but for many children, it is a harsh reminder of their non-acceptance and thus, is all the more difficult as well. ...

Gay News

YEPP 'rises' to occasion at fall fundraiser
Members and guests of Youth Empowerment Performance Project (YEPP) gathered Nov. 17 at Chicago Theater Works, 1113 W. Belmont Ave., for the organization's fall fundraiser, Rise Up: Our Celebration of Resistance. The evening marked both the ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Bishop removed, business news, Jezebel shutting down, MAP head
Pope Francis removed the bishop of Tyler, Texas—a conservative prelate active on social media who has been a fierce critic of the pontiff, PBS reported. A one-line statement from the Vatican said the pope had "relieved" ...

Gay News

Illinois attorney general part of effort against Oklahoma anti-trans youth law
--From a press release - Chicago — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is opposing a state law in Oklahoma that severely limits the ability of transgender youth to access critical, lifesaving gender-affirming care. Raoul, along with a coalition of attorneys general, ...

Gay News

'Jersey Boys' stars reunite as Midtown Men on Dec. 2 in Glen Ellyn
The original stars of the Broadway hit Jersey Boys—Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer—will reunite as Midtown Men on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at McAninch Arts Center's Belushi Performance Hall ...

Gay News

IDHS head Dulce Quintero reflects on making history, being an advocate
Dulce Quintero has always believed in helping people—and decades of doing so has resulted in an especially noteworthy achievement. Recently, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker appointed Quintero, a member of the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, as ...

Gay News

Black Excellence Awards winners named, inaugural Chicago Black Arts Hall of Fame inductees honored
--From a press release - CHICAGO (Nov. 7, 2023)—The nonprofit Black Arts & Culture Alliance of Chicago is proud to announce the winners of its 23rd Annual Black Excellence Awards, honored last night in a festive celebration at Black Ensemble Theater. ...

Gay News

PASSAGES Avid ceramicist Don Heggemann remembered for 'dedicated,' lively presence
Ceramics instructor Dubhe Carreño first met Don Heggemann when he took her Saturday general ceramics class at Northeastern Illinois University in 2010. He took every one of her classes after that. Heggemann eventually joined the staff ...

Gay News

Kwame Raoul backs Maryland school board's efforts for LGBTQ+ safety, inclusion
--From a press release - Chicago — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a coalition of 19 attorneys general, supported a Maryland board of education's efforts to create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ children and students. The ...

Gay News

Chicago Gay Men's Chorus celebrates 40 years of holiday music in 'The Big 4-0, ho, ho'
--From a press release - CHICAGO, November 1, 2023 — Chicago Gay Men's Chorus celebrates its 40th Anniversary with The Big 4-0, ho, ho!, a celebration of CGMC's holiday favorites over the last 40 years. Featuring festive arrangements from current Artistic ...


Copyright © 2023 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.

All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.