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Bridging Gaps: Exploration of Gender and Sexuality by Cochiti Pueblo Artist Virgil Ortiz

by Garcia, Cristina Rene


"The Pueblo Revolt – the First American Revolution - had never been taught in American schools nor is it in our history books. My mission is, and has been for nearly two decades, to continue to create a narrative of the revolt by utilizing the various mediums I work with, and make it more interesting and relevant to the next generation. It reflects the impact I want to have on the world around me through art and education."- Virgil Ortiz This quote from Virgil is one of my favorites because I believe it represents two dominant themes we see being portrayed throughout his work time and time again: Strength and Resistance, which are critical to an Indigenous way of being and they are certainly represented within Virgil’s art and Virgil himself. I was attracted to Virgil’s work for a variety of reasons. I first met Virgil at a reception for Native American/Indigenous Students and Faculty. At this reception we were all given the time to get to know Virgil and to learn about his artwork. Virgil was amazingly kind and generous with his time making sure to give each person at the event his attention. When he came to meet the students, he notified us about his open studio hours and invited us into the home where he was staying during his residency for a home-cooked meal. I and several other students were able to attend and have one on one time with Virgil and Rob, another artist who was helping Virgil. During that dinner I learned a lot about Virgil and his background. He showed us his unique brand of hospitality while simultaneously giving us the opportunity to be vulnerable and connect with him as individuals. I knew then that Virgil was one of the most kind-hearted people I had ever met and that by knowing him I would learn and grow as a person. After speaking to Virgil, I realized that another way to get to know him would be getting to know his art, and the story of his connection to the art. In a presentation Virgil gave for a Southwest Studies class, he explained his background as an artist: his family is one of the few left at Cochiti Pueblo that still practices the traditional pottery making. Virgil learned the practice 3 at a young age. Virgil’s female relatives were a big part of his education teaching him more than the art of crafting clay. They taught him respect for his people’s traditions, an Indigenous worldview, respect for all creations, and perhaps most importantly, the value of continuing these teachings and making them more accessible to the next generations. Learning all of this about Virgil made me respect him more and it gave me a deeper understanding of how beautiful and meaningful his artwork truly is. It is not something that should be admired for its purely aesthetic beauty, but rather for the story it tells, and the ways in which art is able to build bridges in an accessible format for all people. For example, as an Indigenous/Chicana woman I was able to find many connections and inspirations in Virgil, and his artwork. During one of Virgil’s open studio sessions, I was able to do some painting on his character Translator. When I first started painting, I had no idea what the final image would look like - I was simply following Virgil’s directions. I could feel the power radiating from the image even though it was unfinished. This feeling let me know that Translator was much more than a painting. They have their own power and influence. After a bit of painting, Virgil showed me a picture of what the finished product would look like. I was simply in awe. Virgil explained that the reason we were working on Translator first was that it is was crucial for Translator to be the first part of the exhibit that was finished. My understanding of Translator in this moment was huge because I realized the impact that taking part in his studio hours had on me. Translator was a gender queer omniscient being tasked with telling the story of the Pueblo Revolt. In that moment I realized that I was now a part of and invested in that story as well. As a woman who identifies as Gay, I found power in the knowledge that the story teller was also queer. I had the rare opportunity of finding not only a character that reflected part of my racial identity, but also a character that represented aspects of my queer personality. Seeing this representation motivated and encouraged me to learn more about sexuality and gender representations within pre-colonial Native America and the ways in which their stories have been shared and told. I believe that by sharing the knowledge of these stories and the ways in which they connect to Virgil’s work will help general audiences and experts alike understand the full impact and breadth of Virgil’s work. Further, his work reveals the amazing hope and revitalization Virgil has brought to past, present, and future Indigenous peoples.


The author has given permission for this work to be deposited in the Digital Archive of Colorado College.

Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Includes bibliographical references.

Administrative Notes

The author has given permission for this work to be deposited in the Digital Archive of Colorado College.

Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Copyright restrictions apply.
Colorado College Tutt Library
Digital Origin
born digital
29 pages : illustrations
Senior Thesis -- Colorado College
Thesis Advisor
Karen Roybal
Southwest Studies
Degree Name
Bachelor of Arts
Degree Type
Degree Grantor
Colorado College Tutt Library
Date Issued