Delilah Montoya

Woman Boxers: The New Warriors

Exhibit Dates: December 15, 2006 - January 15, 2007

"A social understanding has always been that a woman is not to witness, demonstrate or indulge in acts of violence. But these women, determined to box, turn their backs on these opinions." Delilah Montoya

The Andrew Smith Gallery hosts a book signing for photographer Delilah Montoya on Friday, December 15, 2006 from 5 to 7 p.m. Her new book "Women Boxers: The New Warriors" (Arte Público Press: University of Houston, 2006) depicts the first generation of women in the Southwest on their way to becoming championship boxers. Many of the women portrayed in Montoya's book train in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Espanola.

Professional boxers Stephanie "Golden Girl" Jaramillo and Jackie Chavez from Albuquerque and Mónica Lovato of Espanola will be in the gallery signing books, along with María Teresa Márquez who wrote the introduction. Ten of Montoya's photographs from the boxer series will be on exhibit. Montoya's project was funded in part by the University of Houston Small Grants Program and the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County.

In her introduction to Montoya's book Albuquerque scholar, María Teresa Márquez writes: "Women's boxing intersects race, class, gender, and ethnicity in American culture and society. Chicanas, Whites, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans in female boxing come from diverse socioeconomic levels. Some are teachers, professors, and social workers. Others are military reservists, bank tellers, and bus drivers. Women boxers fight because they can.
Their willingness to break social barriers and -- for some even to confront discrimination because of their sexual orientation -- only strengthens their determination."

Montoya has long been fascinated by the malcriadas of Hispanic culture. "My interpretation of malcriadas, she has said, "is that of an 'ill-mannered servant' or 'bad girl.' A malcriada is a woman who will not behave and is determined to do what she wants, regardless of what society rules or even good sense dictates. . . . in the end, the family learns to accept her and even become proud of her accomplishments."

Today's young women boxers epitomize the spirit of malcriadas. Marching to their own drum they have infiltrated the boxing ring; the very bastion of manliness. Interest in women's boxing has not only been growing, but women boxers have actually breathed new life into a sport which was waning. Currently, boxing authorities are modifying the rules of the game to fit the needs of women. The 2012 Olympic Games will feature women's boxing for the first time. Many of the women Montoya photographed are training for that moment.

Montoya's photographs take us deep into the rigors and rewards of women's boxing. "Christy "Coalminer's Daughter" Martin" drips sweat while fighting her opponent. "Mia "The Knockout" St. John" is carried out of the ring on her fan's shoulders after winning a championship at the Ohkay Casino, San Juan Pueblo, NM. Several photographs show a surprisingly feminine side of the boxers, such as "Holly Holm, Albuquerque, New Mexico" sitting ringside, arranging her blond hair above rippling back muscles.

Ring girls represent an entirely different side of the boxing arena. They are the provocateurs, wearing scanty clothing, stiletto heels, and heavy make up. Their job, besides titillation, is to strut around the ring holding cards that announce the rounds, as in the photograph of the skimpily dressed, "Ring Girl; Melissa Borzachillo, 2003 Sandia Casino, Albuquerque, New Mexico."

According to María Teresa Márquez, "Female boxers are courageous; by stepping into the ring they challenge the social, cultural, and political barriers established to maintain male dominance in society. Women boxers do not just fight one another; they fight against the belief that it is unnatural for a woman to be athletic, strong, aggressive, and confident in a sport historically dominated by males. Yet, many female boxers are mothers. Some are single parents with extended families to support. They are nurturing, loving, and want the best for their families, friends, and aspiring female boxers." This is reflected in the photograph of smiling "Elisha Olivas" hugging two small children in a hotel room. Olivas is a senior airman reservist who recently left for a six-month deployment in Southwest Asia.

Instincts of aggression and violence can easily overflow in boxing matches. In the photograph, "Terri with her Trainer," Terri "Lil' Loca, Lynn Cruz gets an earful of advice from a bald, furious coach. Montoya has observed that women boxers are viewed as the property of the gym. On one occasion when she tried to talk directly to a boxer the girl's coach and the owner of the gym intruded, saying they would decide if Montoya could talk to their boxer. For Montoya this attitude of "ownership" in the world of boxing raises questions about the treatment of women and their bodies.

According to Montoya, most of the girls she photographed had sweet, open natures. "Mónica Lovato" looks like an ordinary teenager as she gazes back at the camera. But as Montoya's book tells us, "Pound for pound, Mónica holds her ground and proves to be an overwhelming adversary to anyone she fights."

As Montoya photographed at various casinos, gyms and other locations in New Mexico, southern Colorado, and Houston, Texas she noticed that audiences varied from place to place. In small towns the sport tended to attract couples with children and grandparents in tow. Casino audiences consisted mostly of men. The Houston fights pitted different neighborhood champions, often separated by race, against each other.

Inspired by fantasy role models like Xena Warrior Princess, the PowderPuff Girls and Cat Woman, girls as young as fifteen are coming to the sport these days. In the photograph "2005 Houston, Texas" four self-assured teenagers from Ray's Boxing Club pose for the camera with their gloved fists raised. Many don't view boxing as an act of violence but they do see themselves as serious athletes.

Delilah Montoya was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1955. Art is synonymous with her quest to define herself as a Chicana living the perpetual tensions of a minority woman in the United States. Committed to exploring her Hispanic roots, Montoya has explored the icons of New Mexico, including the religious heritage of her "penitente" grandfather from the Las Vegas area. Her art weaves together her spiritual, political and emotional visions. Many of her images are intriguing assemblages comprised of painting, printmaking and photography.

Montoya has lectured at the Museum of Fine Art in Santa Fe, The Albuquerque Museum, The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and the Wight Gallery at the University of California in Los Angeles. Her work has been exhibited throughout New Mexico, Texas, New York, California, Georgia and Mexico. Several of her pieces were in the monumental traveling exhibit "Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation."

Liz Kay

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