Photography Exhibit Celebrates Legacy of Selena

Large scale images of the Queen of Tejano music will be on display through January.

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez posing in front of a red curtain
John Dyer (American, born 1947), Selena, 1992, Digital print on panel, 58 x 59 x 1 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Few musicians are so iconic that they go by a single name.

Cher. Beyoncé. Selena.

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was a Grammy-winning, international pop singer who performed in the 1980s and ‘90s. She was shot and killed two weeks before her 24th birthday, but the Texas musician’s legacy has lived on through various media including a biographical film starring Jennifer Lopez, a Netflix series and now a photography exhibition called Selena Forever/Siempre Selena that debuts Saturday at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. 

“I grew up in Texas in the ‘90s. I think it’s impossible not to be at least somewhat of a Selena fan,” associate curator of contemporary art Alejo Benedetti says. “So yes, I did know about Selena and I think that I have certainly learned more about Selena in doing this exhibition.”

The exhibit features the work of photographer John Dyer who captured images of the “Queen of Tejano music” during a Más Magazine photoshoot in 1992 and a shoot for Texas Monthly two years later. The nine photos included in the exhibition show the singer as a famous performer, but also as a regular person.

“Part of what I love about the show is that you see moments where it is Selena as the star…the whole presence she would bring on stage, but then you also have these moments where it’s like oh, she’s being a little goofy,” Benedetti says.

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez laughing
John Dyer (American, born 1947), Selena, 1992, Digital print on panel, 58 x 59 x 1 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The original exhibit was organized for the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio and included five photos. Because of the difference in space, Crystal Bridges has expanded the show to include seven images that are 5 feet wide and 5 feet tall, and two photos that measure 2 feet by 2 feet.

Benedetti worked with Dyer to select the four additional photos. When Dyer was asked to photograph Selena in 1992, he told Benedetti he didn’t really know who she was and recalls her showing up with a red hatchback packed full of clothes. Two years later, the photoshoot had a very different feel to it as Selena was then a Grammy winner and had just wrapped two days of filming Coca-Cola ads.

“He has great reverence for her, but I also think that he’s also candid about the fact that he met her twice,” Benedetti says. “It was a very interesting conversation to have with him.”

One of the images captured by Dyer features Selena posing in an embellished black bustier and high-waisted pants in front of a red curtain that drapes down to a black and white checkered floor. That space has been replicated within the exhibition so guests can recreate the photo themselves. The show also includes an engagement that highlights Selena’s influences as well as the artists she’s impacted. 

The exhibition is located in a little gallery near the We The People section of the museum’s permanent collection. A playlist featuring Selena’s music will be playing, “beckoning folks into the exhibition” which demonstrates the influence the late Tejano star still has today.

“It’s been 26 years since she was murdered, but her impact is still there,” Benedetti says. “When you see people with the bright red lipstick or you hear crossover albums…that impact is still there and so I think that’s part of what’s so cool.”

Selena Forever/Siempre Selena is on view at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Sept. 4 through Jan. 10, 2022. Admission is free. John Dyer will also discuss his work during a special event Oct. 21.

More information is available on the museum’s website.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.