Yvette Mayorga thinks there’s something violent about cake. For every birthday of her life, someone has smashed her face into one after chanting “Que le muerda!” — “Bite it!” — a Mexican American tradition. “When I was young, it made me mad, but it toughens you up and teaches you not to cry,” says Mayorga, 27, a Pilsen artist whose sculptures bear a distorted resemblance to those cakes. She slathers grotesque amounts of icing, glitter, and tinsel onto foam blocks stacked into teetering confections sometimes six feet tall. These “monuments,” as she calls them, often incorporate political imagery and phrases. “U.S. Funds Drug War,” reads one.
Ditching conventional materials in favor of frosting, Mayorga says, “was one of the most liberating moments I had experienced.” And it gave her the freedom to address the complexities of being a first-generation Mexican American. Her father worked at a meat factory, a job that provided Mayorga and her siblings a good life and access to college. “That was a privilege,” Mayorga says, “but there comes a lot of guilt in not having an experience of struggle.”
These days, Mayorga is piping frosting onto canvases and even directly onto gallery walls. Her flamboyantly decorated booth was a big hit at Expo Chicago last year. And this fall at Roman Susan, she’ll create fluorescent frescoes that allude to border crossings. Another shift: To prevent her work from decaying, she has turned to acrylics that mimic the look of icing. “In the current political moment, I feel an urgency to make artwork about the Mexican American experience that will continue to be shared over time.”