From Hollywood Nanny to "Non-Confrontational" Protest Artist

Artist Ramiro Gomez highlights racial and economic inequalities in his work.

March 20, 2013, 5:29 PM

March 22, 2013 — -- Last month, Ramiro Gomez, 26, approached the White House gates to prop up a cardboard cutout of a life-sized Latino family peering in on the American Dream. After allowing the cut out to stand for nearly 25 minutes, a Secret Service agent warned Gomez that he'd have to take it down, or risk being arrested.

True to his "non-confrontational" form of protest art (which could surely be considered an oxymoron) Gomez took down the cardboard cutouts and thanked the Secret Service agent, who in turn complimented Gomez's work.

It wasn't quite the scene that a Washington Post reporter had hoped for, Gomez said.

"I think the reporter I was with was a little disappointed that I didn't get arrested," he said. "But if I would have been arrested, that would have been the only story and people would stop listening. No one would think about my art, they'd only care about my arrest."

With his work, Gomez hopes to interrupt spaces of the "white and affluent," but in a "pacifistic" way. While Gomez still sees himself as part of a growing family of immigration-minded artists, his own work is surely a distant cousin from the bold posters of artists like Melanie Cervantes, Cesar Maxit, Jesus Barraza, Ernesto Yerena, Julio Salgado and Favianna Rodriguez.

You won't find Ramiro screenprinting bold phrases like "Undocumented and Unafraid" or "Brown and Proud" onto rally signs, like other artists in the movement. Rather, most of Gomez's art involves placing the figures of Latino housekeepers, gardeners, and pool-cleaners in lavish settings, to serve as a constant reminder of the individuals who maintain America's spaces.

Gomez says he's drawn to telling the story of the people behind the scenes, in part because of his own background -- his mother, a school janitor, his father, a truck driver, and he himself a former a nanny for children in the Hollywood Hills. At his first job as a nanny, Gomez started collecting architectural and interior design magazines that the family threw away, and painting in figures of caretakers over the images.

At first Gomez "found irony and humor" in the act of inserting, for example, a maid into an elaborate living room setting. But after friends and family members praised his work, Gomez realized his art also carried an important message. Although that message doesn't take aim at specific policy points, or explicitly call for change, his works serve as a subtler reminder of constant and on-going racial and economic inequalities.

Inspired in large part by Banksy, Gomez also began to create public art in the last two years. With scraps of cardboard, Gomez constructed life-size cutouts of landscapers trimming hedges and gardeners pulling weeds. After real-life workers have left a location, he often places their likenesses in form of cardboard cutouts .

"It's a hard job maintaining these tall hedges, but once the gardener is done trimming them all you see is this huge hedge, and not the person," Gomez said. "So I'm trying to capture that moment and make it last."

Gomez says he's trying to disrupt the daily life of the privileged by calling attention to the simple images they see all the time.

"I'm hitting them when they don't expect it, with an image they know well," he said.

"No Splash", Ramiro Gomez

The young artist has also taken to disrupting images the educated art consumer would be familiar with. For example, Gomez painted a pool cleaner in painter David Hockney's piece "A Bigger Splash." Last month, the young artist held a show at UCLA called "Luxury Interrupted," which included the Hockney-inspired piece called "No Splash."

Gomez's work isn't just meant to preach to the Latino or immigration reform choir. Rather, he hopes to affect those who don't think about the issues his art addresses.

When a Secret Service agent allowed Gomez to keep up his art for nearly half an hour, he took it as a small victory.

"I usually don't allow anybody to do that, but I saw your family, and I liked it," the Secret Service agent told him, according to Gomez.

"The fact that I could get this agent, whose job it is to stifle that expression, to acknowledge the humanity in my piece, that was a victory to me," Gomez said. "I'm pushing an art form that helps this poisonous debate and promotes the pacifistic resistance that I really believe in."

CORRECTION: A prior version of this article incorrectly stated that Gomez no longer worked as a babysitter.

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