Olivia Barrionuevo’s heart is often in Mexico even though today her home is in Los Angeles. Growing up as a young child in a border town, she found herself living in Mexico while going to school in the United States. Mexico will always be in her heart but today, she feels she is of two cultures; blending the structures of living in the US with the casual environmental background of being from Mexico. As opposed to ever feeling torn, Olivia always believed she was made up of two cultures, so she adopted the best of both.
Beginning her university studies in Guadalajara, Olivia’s education focused upon communications and media, but she found herself drifting away from writing as she became more involved with telling visual stories and toward photojournalism. She felt it was more satisfying to make a statement with her camera than by writing narratives. Simultaneously, she experienced a transition when leaving the small town to live in the big city. It was there that she discovered a part of Mexico that she had never really known or experienced prior. She began her study of the Mexican culture in earnest at this point, resulting in a deep and lasting connection with the ancients and the Meso-American culture.
Given the opportunity to study in Europe, once again Olivia’s world and her identity expanded. She became even more aware of her American/Mexican viewpoint while also was becoming a citizen of the world. While studying languages and art history, she began to truly expand her portrait photography exploration. She was inspired by the faces of the European people who surrounded her, their similarities to Mexicans, as well as their differences and the unique stories that each of them had etched into their faces.
When Olivia had the opportunity to return home, instead of Mexico, she emigrated to Los Angeles. Being away from her birth-country and integrating herself to a multicultural city, and being inspired by reading Octavio Paz in LA, she began to appreciate living where she was surrounded by many cultures.
It was at this point that Olivia’s work began to explore subcultural movements and historical traditions, often in pursuit of inspiring critical, cross-cultural dialog. She convinced herself that she just had to stay true to her art and her heart as an artist. She knew that this was the right place to continue her growth; she knew that Los Angeles would remain her permanent home.
“View From My Car” was Ms. Barrionuevo’s first important photo essay, where she captured the place of origin where so many of our stories are seen when each and every day. It was this work that was selected for exhibition at The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. It was at that point that she realized she could be both a photojournalist for the Los Angeles Times, but she could also create and share stories that were more conceptual and close to her heart. Olivia drafted her own manifesto written in her journal and never previously shared with anyone. She wrote, “I would honor my past, cherish my present and nourish future generations, my daughter’s generation.”
“I like working with symbols, faces, history, in my portraits and in my studies. I think of culture as history in the making. “The Ancient Mexicans” was born from this quest, and I was able to create imagery that captured the earliest of Americans while continuing a search of what my role might be, as an artist living in LA.” This solo exhibition was well received at the General Consulate of Mexico in Los Angeles, and was later viewed at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park.
Often life answers our questions, and Olivia had the privilege to witness living a privileged life by working as a portrait photographer with families. “Children” was brought to life. In this project, she focused on the concept of predisposition: to be born into a certain family, a way of life, and where they had to map out a future of what was expected of them. Working in this project allowed Olivia to reflect upon her own childhood. The project “Childhood Memories” was born during this period. It was then that Olivia began to explore childhood memories in relation to the human spirit. Photography allowed her to freeze a moment, giving her the opportunity to observe her character from the outside, by contemplating the visual objects in the piece, and creating a conceptual reference to memory, loss and time.
Ms. Barrionuevo’s work has been honored by the Museum of Tolerance, The Lucie Foundation, University of Judaism, Ave 50 Studio, Los Angeles General Consulate of Mexico, University of Sonora, The Neutra Institute Museum and Gallery, Basel, Switzerland, El Ahuahuete, Mexico, City, to name a few.
“I strive to be true to my own generation and the world that surrounds me. This is our time, our present, our future, and it will be our past.”