After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established abortion as a constitutional right, Sanger resident Alfredo Ponce picked up his iPad and started drawing.
One of the colorful images he created features Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez surrounded by pro-choice slogans such as “keep abortion safe and legal.” Another shows a woman with a palace (bandana) around her neck, holding a sign in Spanish proclaiming a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
Ponce then posted the images to Instagram, where his 9,500 followers know him as Pholk Giant. They are among some 10,000 images he has posted on the platform over the past decade. His work, which is often tied to current events in the San Joaquin Valley and nationally, captures the joys as well as the struggles of the Latino community.
“I think the goal (of my art) is ultimately to understand, to better understand who we are,” Ponce said. “Deep down inside, there’s a lot of things that really connect us, and all I’m trying to do is get people to dig deep.”
Born in the small town of Yahualica in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Ponce attributes his creativity to his humble upbringing shared between Yahualica and the mountains of Jalisco. He immigrated with his parents and five older siblings to Fresno when he was 9 years old and grew up picking grapes with his family.
In high school, Ponce wrestled, played soccer and danced folklore, traditional Mexican dances, from which derives its artistic name, Pholk Giant. He graduated from Fresno State and the University of Southern California and now works as the principal of Sanger’s Community Day School.
He also found success as a self-taught vector graphic artist. The US Library of Congress acquired four of his images. Comedian and actor George Lopez has commissioned his work and other Latin American celebrities have shared his images over the years.
The Fresno Bee interviewed Ponce on July 6 to learn more about what inspires his works. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What subjects or ideas inspire your art?
I focus on the Latino community as a whole, we are so diverse. I’m Mexican, but I try to focus on issues that arise in Latin American countries. We come in all sizes, shapes and colors, but there are a lot of stereotypes. It is important for us to break them.
I try not to limit myself. I do a lot of artwork that portrays our culture in a positive light and movements for social change. When Black Lives Matter started I created tons of pieces and I actually created a lottery with social justice leaders and African American icons.
Immigration issues are important to me. As a former farm worker, it is important to show our diversity and possibilities. Our people, our kindlygo to the Moon and go to Mars, so I like to show the full range of who we are and how complex we actually are.
And the pandemic too. My wife is a doctor by profession. One of the things I wanted to do was focus on essential workers and the lack of attention they have received throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I developed a lottery together and some (additional artwork) focusing specifically on essential workers.
How does your work engage the Latino community?
I think the ultimate goal is to understand. Better understand who we are. I can put a work of art there and sometimes it rubs people the wrong way.
For me, that’s the whole point: to enable people to think critically. Some people might be offended, but deep down inside of us there are a lot of things that connect us. Really, all I’m trying to do is get people to dig deep, and I don’t mind disagreeing.
I like disagreements. As long as they are respectful and polite, I will commit. If they’re mean then I leave them alone, but it’s really to allow and start conversations about how we’re more alike than we’re not. In the end, we are all human.
There are tons of differences, but the world is small these days, especially with social media. I contacted people from all over the world: different countries in Latin America, Germany, India and Nepal.
What was it like creating art for George Lopez?
George Lopez is very kind. I uploaded an image of George Lopez as lottery picture, and he private messaged me and his phone number, and he told me to call him!
I was driving and I was like “oh my god, just let me park because I don’t know what to say” and he was very professional, very nice.
I did a whole lottery set for him. At the time I was just getting started, and he wanted other products and I just couldn’t make them for him, but I designed his lottery together with images of him as Professor Jaime “Kemosabe” Escalante from the movie “Stand and Deliver”, as Fernando Valenzuela, superhero, engineer, his joke “tan taran”, el Chicharito, Día de los Muertos ( Day of the Dead), Emiliano Zapata, other Mexican artists and icons.
When he came to Fresno a few years ago he invited me to one of his shows and I got to meet him and I had about 10 posters that he signed for me, autographed, that I donated to charity.
Why do your images of farm workers often feature skulls?
If you look at some of campesino (farm worker), if they are picking fruit, it is actually not fruit. If you actually look at the baskets they’re holding, some of them actually have skulls. As we look to our agricultural workers who have enabled us to survive this pandemic and feed us regularly, they are exposing themselves to the elements and to many of the pesticides that exist.
Constant exposure to the elements and pesticides causes a lot of damage and it is important that people are aware of this. The purpose of these images is to be more respectful and attentive, to take care of the people who take care of us.
One of the images I have is of a farm worker working and there’s a plane flying around, spraying things like pesticides. Previously, it was quite common for workers to work and the plane to fly over them, spraying them as well.
What is your goal for Pholk Giant on Instagram?
I hope this initiates the dialogue. We are at this stage where, if we belong to different political parties or if we have different political opinions, we cannot even talk to each other.
Part of the concept of showing my artwork is that it creates a conversation that initiates a dialogue so that we can at least agree to disagree on some points.
If I manage to initiate understanding and conversations with my artwork, I think I’ve done my job.