I FIRST SAW José Villalobos’ work in Houston at a performance art festival, Experimental Action. His performance, in which he stained a solid white, western-style suit with the vibrant magenta juice of prickly pear cactus fruit, was spellbinding. I continue to be fascinated by his exploration of Southwestern culture, queerness, and masculinity. His work has been shown extensively throughout Texas, but he has also had installations and performances in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, and Atlanta, among other places.
Villalobos grew up in the Texas border city of El Paso. He made regular trips with his family across the border into Ciudad Juarez, where they had extended family. It was a very traditional and religiously conservative family, with strict expectations of gender roles. His father died when he was ten, and from then on the instructions in masculinity came from his uncles and brothers-in-law. He was also a gay little boy, trying to navigate the border between the expectation of machismo and his queer desires. When he came of age, he left El Paso and attended college at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he fell in love with contemporary art and performance.
This interview was conducted in April via Zoom.
Neil Ellis Orts is the author of the novella Cary and John (2020).