Born in Washington Heights to Dominican immigrants, M. Tony Peralta has gone from a teenaged graphic designer selling his art on T-shirts to make some extra money to being a full-on creative force. His exhibits tackle the issue of race, identity, body image and culture, and are sure to get any viewer thinking. We had the chance to speak with Peralta, and get to know him and his artwork a little better. Now, we’re bringing that knowledge to you.
é: Your parents are Dominican – was there a lot of Dominican influence in your household growing up? How did your Dominican roots influence you and your art?
Peralta: The Dominican influence in my household was very strong growing up. My mom was an immigrant from DR who only lived in the US for a few years before I was born, so basically living at home was like living in the DR until I stepped out of my apartment and then I was in New York. My Dominican roots have definitely influenced me and my artwork, especially after raised by a single Dominican mom who didn’t speak English. My art has a strong Dominican root, but it has also been influenced from both growing up in New York and Hip Hop culture.
é: What artists were your greatest influences growing up? What’s your favorite piece of art?
Peralta: The artists that were my biggest influences growing up were Marvel Comics and graffiti. I would buy comic books and not read the story but look at the drawings and try drawing the super heroes. My older brother used to own a black book that was full of graffiti that his friends would do, and that fascinated me. Later on when I was in my teens, Keith Haring was my favorite. I don’t have a favorite art piece cause there are too many to pick just one.
é: In regards to your “Reconnected” project – what prompted this desire to reconnect, even after you felt isolated on past visits to the Dominican Republic?
Peralta: I don’t know what prompted my getting reconnected with the DR. I guess it might be my age and the fact that I’m getting older. I noticed I didn’t know much about my parents past and upbringing. So I made a conscious effort to know more about my family and that pretty much got the ball rolling.
é: Why is the idea of heritage important to you?
Peralta: Heritage is important because it’s important to know where you come from and to preserve your culture. I feel my heritage gives me a sense of identity, it feels great to be able to know where your origins come from.
é: Your “complejo” exhibit has been described as your most “personal work to date.” How did it feel to complete it and put it up at NoMAA?
Peralta: I felt relieved and scared at the same time. I was dealing with a subject matter that is not talked about in the Latino community, so I didn’t know how it was going to be received. I am proud of it though cause I feel like I opened and started the conversation about identity in the Latino community, which is still to be had.
é: I love that your art all seems to serve a purpose – there are some great messages there (my favorite being “Real Women Have Curves”). Do you always set out with a purpose when you start a new project, or does the message just come to you while you’re working?
Peralta: I usually start off with a purpose. I think of a theme or a message I’m trying to get across. Art is greater when it has a story behind it.
é: What advice do you have for young Latino American artists who are just getting started?
Peralta: My advice is to never stop learning, don’t compare your art or journey to others and find you voice/style as an artist.
é: What’s next for you this year?
Peralta: I’m not sure, looking to exhibit “Reconnected” somewhere else. I might be teaching a workshop in the DR this summer and applying for some residencies. I would love to do a artist residency in another country.