Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro have one thing in common: They are both owners of a Nora Chapa Mendoza. The Detroitbased artist is expressing her history and identity — spanning four decades and many mediums — in a new exhibit at Casa de Rosado.

“I don’t like to follow rules very well, as if someone gets to decide you should be a certain way. If I did that, I’d choose another profession like a doctor or a lawyer, or something,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza earned the Governor’s Arts Award: “Michigan Artist of the Year” in 1999, toured internationally and is an active member in the Detroit community, teaching artwork to residents.

She said her love for art started at eightyears-old.

“One of my cousins came over with coloring book and crayons — I was just thrilled to death.”

At 13-years-old, her father brought home paintbrushes one day and a picture of a bullfighter to paint, she said.

“It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be an artist, because I knew I just had to get paints and a brush and go for it.”

The exhibit at Casa de Rosado sports 56 pieces of her original work. It will not be the first time Mendoza’s exhibited in Greater Lansing. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, Mendoza had art displayed in Old Town and Okemos.

“A friend of mine worked for MSU and she would invite me to the conferences to bring my work. A lot of conferences were in Lansing, because it has always been very gung-ho into the Hispanic movement.”

Casa de Rosado owner Theresa Rosado said she visited Mendoza’s home studio and had the privilege to hand select works from throughout her career.

“I look at her work in two ways: a civil rights perspective and the Chicano identity,” Rosado said. “Drawing on the creative force among Chicano women is strong in her work, and she represents marginalized women with strong determination.”

One piece in the exhibit showcases a gunman in black next to a woman with a passport and geographical map of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in the background.

Rosado said she sees it as emblematic of the struggle of migration and violence in Central America.

“I did this piece quite a few years ago, but it has never gone out of fashion and I don’t know if this is ever going to change,” Mendoza said. “I like to paint what I feel strongly about, otherwise I would get really depressed. I can let it go in this way.”

Looking close at her works, some contain intricate Aztec designs poking out beneath the paint.

This is symbolic of the modern Chicano identity, Rosado said.

“We come often not understanding our full identity. It is not taught in history. Even in our own communities, we don’t find ourselves in places that encourage the expression of our culture. As the years go by, there is a scratching process we have to peel back to see us identify and understand who we are.”

For more information on Mendoza visit www.norachapamendoza.com

Nora Chapa Mendoza Exhibit Free

Open Saturdays & Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. Casa de Rosado 204 E. Mt Hope Ave., Lansing (517) 402-0282