Reinas Del Azucar is a collaborative series of photographs by Chicago artist Helen Maurene Cooper, known for her photographic tableaux and portraits of Chi-town’s Nail Art Culture, and Miami Artist & Nail Tech Rosemarie Romero of Porn Nail$, known for her mobile nail salon installations, camp performances, and colorful nail designs.
With images of manicured hands against pastel backgrounds, featuring candy-themed nail art inspired by the flamboyant colors, swirls, and textures of sweets from Mexico, Latin America and the United States, Cooper and Romero draw parallels between dulces and lacquered nails. Azúcar!, Celia Cruz’s most famous catchphrase inspired by her beloved cafecito, is both a battle cry for Latinx POC and the pursuit of pleasure. These colorful and bold nails celebrate and reclaim chusmeria- a derogatory term of ‘being too loud, too sexual, too latinx, too queer,’ as a model of resistance against conformity, machismo, cultural puritanism.
Reinas Del Azucar is a tribute to Nail Art as symbols of feminine excess, exotic-otherness, pleasure, and cultural exchange combined with the fierce attitude of those who wear it by embracing Miami Rococo Aesthetics and the embodiment of radical chusmeria. The exhibit also highlights the deep friendships created by nail artists and their patrons. Both give and receive pleasure, and share their triumphs and darkest secrets. Nail art functions as an escape from the harsh realities of life. The role of the nail artist is to sweeten the world with sugar and heal psychic wounds.
Accompanying the photographs is the installation of the Porn Nail$ Salon by artist Rosemarie Romero, which embodies the spirit of radical chusmeria. A Porn Nail$ Salon will be open for the duration of the exhibit. Porn Nail$ is a mobile queer-feminist nail salon that infiltrates public space with spectacles of latinx excess. Clients are provided with manicures and friendship in exchange for gossip about love, sex, and work. Employing camp performances and Miami kitsch aesthetics, Romero constructs humorous social encounters and cultural exchanges that critically celebrates latinx identity and sexuality, while exploring the aesthetic politics of gender, race, and class by wielding humor, nail polish, glitter, and flamboyant color. As an artist and licensed manicurist, she uses the healing powers of touch, beauty, laughter, and empathy as tools for human connection. Porn Nail$ is a political-aesthetic expression of radical chusmeria, as a model for pleasure, empowerment, and feminist resistance.
Helen Maurene Cooper
Helen Maurene Cooper’s work is driven by personal connection and building relationships with community. She is an artist who uses numerous photographic processes along with installation and publication to connect and build relationships, explore feminism, entrepreneurship, small economies, the power of adornment, and intimacy.
Since 2008, her worked has been focused on place- based exploration, specifically within beauty- centered communities in Chicago. Subjects have included custom made prom dresses, drag queen culture, and the specialty minority-owned nail businesses of Chicago’s west side.
She has received funding for exhibitions through the University of Chicago, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Council of Eindhoven, Netherlands. Her work has been reviewed by the Chicago Tribune, New City, International Forum for Contemporary Visual Arts, New York Photo review, Temporary Art Review and Bust.com.
Her monograph, Paint & Polish, Cultural Economy and Visual Culture from the West Side, Onomatopee, Eindhoven Netherlands, debuts in 2017 with an accompanying exhibition in the Netherlands in May.
Rosemarie Romero fuses tropi-camp performances, Miami kitsch, and performative paintings to critically celebrate Latinx identity, gender fluidity, sexuality, and feminine excess. Her current project, Porn Nail$™, is an interactive installation & performance project that functions as a mobile queer-feminist nail salon.. She constructs interactive spectacles and cultural exchanges that explore the aesthetic politics of gender, race, class, women’s work and sexuality by wielding humor, nail polish, glitter, and flamboyant color. Clients are provided with manicures, gossip, intimacy, and friendship in exchange for juicy conversations about sex, love, and work specific to their locality. Using nail lacquer, embellishments, and collage elements, these nails function as a code for flaunting exotic-otherness, cultural hybridity, and shared assimilation into queerness through flamboyant color. Porn Nail$™ is a political-aesthetic expression of radical chusmeria – being too loud, too sexual, too queer – as a model for pleasure, empowerment, and feminist resistance.
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