For many, the pandemic has been a driver of creativity. If history has taught us anything is that life-altering events usually bring about artistic waves in society.
As we speak, there are probably novels, poetry, paintings, and plenty of other art being concocted, as it is in our human nature to want to document our experiences. This is true for Dr. Alfredo Ponce, also known as Pholkgiant in the interwebs.
Dr. Ponce or Pholkgiant is a Mexican-American who taught himself how to graphic design. Many of his designs are inspired by his desire to make others smile. He focuses on highlighting communities who need their voice to be heard now more than ever.
For example, the Latino and Black communities.
He even created Loteria kits to promote a positive narrative for these communities. However, his journey to becoming an artist wasn’t linear.
Recently, BELatina News had the opportunity to speak to Pholkgiant to understand him and his art further. This is what he had to say:
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Trying to achieve that American Dream is something that has been a significant part of my life.
My family moved back to the United States when I was nine, and we never missed a beat to work. In fact, my parents and I worked the fields. We did everything — from picking grapes to picking tomatoes. This is how I was able to get through school and college to chase my dreams. Eventually, I was able to acquire my degree as an educational psychologist.
As a psychologist, my emphasis was to help students with disabilities and who were at-risk. I wanted to make sure that these students received the right placement and intervention in order to get them into educational programs that would allow them to be successful.
I pursued this career for over 15 years but have now happily switched over to being a school principal in Central California. I delve into art only to satisfy the passion I have for it. More than anything, I’m an artist by desire.
How did you get into art?
Although I was born in Los Angeles, California, I lived in Mexico from the time I was two months old. While in Mexico, we lived in the mountains, meaning there was no electricity, gas, or any of the basic amenities many of us now enjoy.
Since there was not much to do, I spent a lot of time playing with literal sticks and stones for part of my childhood. Playtime would always get better when it would rain. This is when we were awarded some mud from Mother Nature.
This resource would allow me and my brothers to use our creativity to design our mud houses and characters.
I, alongside my twin brother, are the youngest of six brothers. I will say that my oldest brother is the one with talent. He would use the mud to make these beautiful and elaborate pieces, while the only thing that seemed to be working for me was my dirty hands and face. I’d still try, though.
The thing is that I never really gave up on my art. Even while in graduate school, I knew I wanted art to be part of my life. That’s when I found my interest in technology and taught myself how to do photoshop and things of that nature. It was through that interest that I was able to stumble across illustration. I was fascinated. It took me back to my childhood. Thanks to this amazing tool I was able to revive las ganas of becoming an artist.
What’s the story behind the name Pholkgiant?
I started by looking at the phonetic pronunciation of “ph.” I used that as a play on sounds just like others have done in the past. So, the “pholk” part of the word stands for “folklore,” something that is important in every culture.
I really want to transmit tomorrow’s history through my images. I’m definitely fond of the arts and being able to show the future our cultures, habits, and experiences.
What’s the most important thing for you as a self-made artist?
The narrative. Our farm workers, essential workers, and those keeping us fed are the ones running this country. Many of them are immigrants, and that’s the beauty of it.
I don’t understand why immigrants are often criticized in this nation, because it’s evident many are just looking for a fair chance to obtain that American Dream. Yet, immigrants continue to be demonized and many are silenced due to their fear of losing whatever they may be cultivating.
It is up to us to be the voice of these folks. I think we have to control the narratives around migrant workers and let people know that these are the people that are coming to contribute to this country and not to take from anyone. We need to make sure that they shine in a light that gives them the respect that they’ve earned. At least, that’s what I try to do.
Earlier, you mentioned that you are now a school principal. Has your art helped you as an educator?
Absolutely. If you look at my door and walls, they’re plastered with images that I created of my students. I’m also very fond of the Loteria game, and I use it in the school as well. I draw the students in a Loteria form, which has definitely given me the ability to creating really strong relationships with the students.
At the end of the day, they get to take it home to their families where they can show them a picture that depicts how special they truly are.
Speaking of the Loteria game, can you tell us a bit about your version?
One night I was playing Loteria, and I came to the realization that I could recreate some of my artwork into Loteria cards.
The first one I did was actually Mexican folklore. Mexico has 32 states and every state has its own subculture. I was able to digitize some of those things in the cards. My second Loteria was for the comedian George Lopez. I did his Loteria, and he actually gave me a call. I gave him his own Loteria of 54 different images, so that was really fun.
But one of the sets that have gotten a lot of recognition is the essential worker Loteria piece, which I created during the first wave of the pandemic.
It all started with my wife. I drew a picture of my wife, and I put her in a Loteria form, and, you know, health care providers are going through a lot of stress at the moment. Their stress is different than ours because many are not living it. My wife would come home stressed, and I wondered how I could make her smile. That’s when I decided to do a Loteria card for her. She’s La Doctora in my first card of the essential workers Loteria kit. When I showed it to her, she smiled. Right then, I had an epiphany. I thought, if I could make her smile for a second, I could make others smile, too.
Throughout this, as the nation knows, we had another tragic event happen in our history as people were rightfully outraged towards George Floyd’s death. After seeing the demonstrations of the Black Lives Matter movement, I decided to do an African-American Loteria.
Ironically and sadly, education doesn’t do a good job pointing out the heroes of underserved communities. So, I wanted to do a Loteria that really emphasized that. If the Latino community and other communities were going to join our African-American brothers and sisters in the struggle, we had to educate ourselves and not by adapting to someone else’s rhetoric. They built this country, and it’s important that we honor them and give them the respect they deserve.
Any final words for BELatina?
I come from a circle where strong women surround me. I have a very hardworking mother and two older sisters, a wife who works harder than me, and two daughters. I’m going to tell you all what I tell my daughters:
Whatever you’re going to do, do it. You don’t give up. You keep pushin; youu keep fighting. But you have to earn it yourself. If you have a dream, pursue it. Keep going because there are so many people rooting for you that you can’t even imagine.
Pholkgiant has been able to capture the essence of the importance of representation through his art. His art lives on his social media and website. Seven of his art pieces are also featured in The Library of Congress. They’ll be available for many generations to come.