Twin Cities artist takes a curious portrait

Photographer Xavier Tavera stands in between two portraits he took of Latino families in the Twin Cities. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Xavier Tavera’s photos depicting Hispanic culture on display at Metro State

Xavier Tavera is standing beside a striking, 3-foot-square photo he took of a Hispanic family from Minneapolis. The patriarch is wearing a clown suit and makeup, surrounded by his family in their normal garb, in the family’s living room.

To Tavera, the photo depicts a scene that’s normal to him -- he knows the clown man, and it’s not out of the ordinary. But for people stopping by Tavera’s exhibition at Metro State University, he is hoping they come up with their own story to go along with the image.

Tavera is a Minneapolis-based photographer who photographs, among other things, the complexity of the Mexican diaspora in the Twin Cities. For his Metro State exhibit, “Dulce Maria and Other Stories,” he paired images of Twin Cities Hispanic families with photos of typists working the streets of Mexico City. The typists perform professional writing services in the streets, composing everything from a legal document to a love letter, Tavera said.

The paired photos can spark people’s imaginations as they think about the families, Tavera said.

“People can start making their own stories,” he said.

Douglas Padilla, who curated the exhibit, is hoping it will also get people thinking about Hispanic identity in the area.

He said Tavera’s portraits ride a line between surrealistic and straightforward.

“They’re mythic ... but they’re also very familial and familiar. ... They’re shot in somebody’s living room.”

The families depicted all live in the Twin Cities -- the cultural heritage of the family is displayed in the portraits through Aztec dance garb or Mexican wrestling masks, contrasting alongside family members wearing everyday clothing.

The stories behind the portraits “are hinted at, but not scribed ... like poems, poems don’t tell you the whole thing,” Padilla said.

Erica Rasmussen, who oversees the Gordon Parks Gallery at Metro State University, said Tavera’s work was chosen because it helps represent part of the school’s population -- the school has many Latino students, she said.

“(Metro State) is the most ethnically diverse of the four-year universities in Minnesota,” she added.

Tavera’s work also plays into the demographics of the East Side, Padilla said.

“Metro State is walking distance from a significant Mexican community,” he said. And “the rest of our culture needs to see images of Mexican culture and become familiar with it and learn to understand it,” he added.

Tavera’s work will be on display at the Gordon Parks Gallery through Friday, Oct. 4. The hours for the gallery are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is located on the third floor of  the Metro State library, which sits on the northwest side of East Seventh Street.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at

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