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Powerful portraiture changes perceptions

Xavier Tavera says living in Minnesota for the past 25 years has had a big impact on his photography.

“I was photographing completely differently before coming to the United States,” he said. “It was not until I came here that I started to realize who I am in this environment; being an immigrant, being a person of color, being Hispanic, Chicano, Latino, you name it, right? All these labels to grapple with. I felt my camera should go to the community that I belong to.”

Tavera says he wasn’t seeing any positive representation of his community in the news, or in the media in general.

“It is always murders, drug cartels, gangs, and all that stuff,” said Tavera. “I wanted to change the narrative, to portray my people in the community that are doing great things, people that have history here. I want people to see who we are. Don't be afraid of us - respect us.”

Tavera says the whole point of portraiture is to seek out and reveal the humanity in other people.

Leslie Barlow, a Minneapolis native, says she understood from an early age that images have power.

“And that the stories that are shared with us and reflected back to us are not always the true story or the stories that resonate,” she said.

Barlow says her paintings are a form of social advocacy, making space for stories that feel familiar and true to her own experiences.

“In my paintings, you do see a lot of Black and brown folks and a lot of queer relationships,” she explained. “Women are often centered, adults and children - just different kinds of ideas of love, connection, belonging, but also the complexities that go along with that.”

Xavier Tavera and Leslie Barlow’s portraits are part of “Art Speaks” at the Minnesota History Center. The exhibition runs through July 31.

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