Chicana feminist art collective Más Rudas have created art installations in San Antonio since 2009. Their name, Más Rudas, means many things. “Más expresses exaggeration, encompassing our multiple voices, and places an emphasis on Rudas,” the women state. “Rudas challenges the view of women as subordinate, passive, inferior, dainty, and polite. “
The collective, made up of San Antonio residents Mari Hernandez, Kristin Gamez, Sarah Castillo, and Ruth Leonela Buentello, met while working together in arts communities like San Anto Cultural Arts and ArtPace in San Antonio. After holding a wildly successful all-female art show together in a friend’s living room, the group decided to continue to make art together and formed Más Rudas.
Más Rudas designs their fully-collaborative, multi-media installations to promote dialogue and foster a space to discuss personal and social identities. They use video, photography, painting, sculpture, fiber, performance, audio, and text to present work inspired by each of their bicultural experiences, all rooted in DIY and rasquache (doing a lot with a little) philosophies.
Their mission is “to be tough, to be defiant, and without apology.” Más Rudas fully embraces their Chicana identity, using it along with their hometown influences, to set them apart. The group knows that calling yourself a Chicana in the art world—let alone at all—is an act of protest.
I sat down (and ate some amazing brisket tacos) with three of the group’s members, Mari, Kristen, and Sarah, to discuss finding their place in the “art world” and why they adore San Antonio.
How did you decide how to collaborate?
Mari: We got a lot of attention from our first show and realized that this was something people wanted to see, so we decided to stay together and continue having shows. It was a domino effect.
Kristin: We were all sort of in the arts already. I was exposed to art at a young age, and learned about contemporary art in high school, and at that time, media art wasn’t really something that was valued. I went to college at The University of Texas in Austin and when I came back, there was a real lack of representation of brown women and brown artists. Those people were there and making art, but we never really could see it. So that was a big motivation for us to come together and to do that show in the first place. And then it naturally just fell into place. Doing installations was the most natural way to combine all of our mediums.
Mari: We each kind of specialize in our own mediums. Once combined, it was like, Wow, we can all really make an installation work. Even if none of us were technically trained in how to make an installation, it just made sense.
What is the hardest part about making art?
Sarah: There was always this question of, do we know what we’re doing? But people were asking us to do shows and we were still doing it, and people had feedback and encouragement and support for us. That was all there, so our struggle was in challenging our own ability. Are we as knowledgable as so-and-so? Are we doing this right? That was a question we faced a lot.
Kristin: I came from an activist background at U.T. Austin. I was in MEChA and other Chicana organizations, so that was something where being aware of the lack of not only my version of Chicana was apparent from the get go. I wasn’t raised with Spanish, which are traditionally the writers or people from the movimiento. With my generation, there just wasn’t anything out there that was talking about pop culture and feminism and Chicanas and meshing all those ideas together.
The only writer doing that for me was Michelle Serros and her book How to be a Chicana Role Model. Once I found that book, it was a real growing point. I knew there was a value immediately because I had grown up with people like me and saw all the people coming after me. There was something when we got together where it was like, this is definitely a voice that needs to be heard, and it’s valued. It’s not only being a woman of color, it’s being a woman, or it’s being working class, so it’s all levels of connection with that.
Why is San Antonio a city you continuously feed off of?
Sarah: I was born and raised here, my family’s here, and all of my major experiences have happened here. It’s connecting my history to what I’m doing now and how I feel about myself.
Kristin: San Antonio is a cultural hub for Latinos and our Mexican-American history. Just like Los Angeles, Colorado, or Arizona, San Antonio is a big landmark, especially because of the colonization that has happened here. Being born and raised here and being within the neighborhoods that are culturally very Mexican-American centered, you’re around it all the time.
People grow up wanting to leave San Antonio and then later on they realize what a gem this city is.
We’ve got Market Square, Fiesta, Tejano. Here, we’re surrounded by our culture all the time. Whenever you go anywhere else, you’re reminded of how much of you is in that. I’ve valued the working class neighborhoods that I came from. Just walking in the street or going to the convenience store, or listening to cumbias or hip hop, there’s something so loving and familiar and makes for a good community. This city is beautiful. It inspires me all the time.
Mari: Understanding where you came from, or growing up and reading about what you are, having that sense of awareness or identifying as a Chicana or Chicano, you realize how lucky you are to be in this space where it started. You are what they are talking about. In creating Mas Rudas, in identifying a certain way, or just the work we create, is to be proud of it. I think a lot of people grow up wanting to leave San Antonio and then later on they realize what a gem this city is. Our work is a way to embrace something I’ve always been really proud of. In terms of culture and space, San Antonio is a hidden gem.
Who inspires you?
Mari: It’s changed over the years. My work is based in self portraiture and photography, and I got into photography because of Cindy Sherman. I also became and identified as a Chicana because of Gloria Anzaldúa. Reading her books in college really changed my life.
Kristin: I went to film school, so a lot of mine are history based. A lot of men, surprisingly—or not surprisingly.
Sarah: I’m in school right now, and I’m in a program with a Bicultural Studies concentration. Right now we’re learning about embodiment. I feel that’s what Mas Rudas does. Auto ethnography, those concepts, even just becoming more informed about what political identity is. Trying to break down what we’ve done and what I do with my work so I know how to talk about it. Another class I’m taking focuses on the artist and how they’re using their body. We’re all using our bodies because we’re using our mind, our memories, and our experiences in our artwork.
In one of your pieces, Mas Triste San Antonio, in which you dressed as icons The Mariachi, The Donkey Lady, La Virgen, and an Aztec Princess and recorded a trip around tourist destinations in downtown San Antonio, your costuming got you in some trouble. Do you think people are threatened or afraid of the way you present and insert yourselves within the art world in general?
Mari: We learned early on that we’re always going to hit a wall. We’re always going to meet someone who doesn’t like what we’re doing and gets angry about it. There’s these assumptions of what you can or can’t do. We’ve had an incident in almost every space. There’s this lack of understanding. What we do is very different from what’s out there and being shown.
Sarah: There are certain people who are comfortable with women of color being in a certain position in society and that’s it. That’s where they want them to stay. As soon as we start coming into their vision, it begins to make them uncomfortable. That’s where we run into a lot of our conflicts. No one ever sits down with us to negotiate or talk about it. You have these institutions, and who sits on the board? It’s just another sign of oppression.
Kristin: Spatiality exists. No one’s talking about it, but it does. Even here. It’s a really weird situation. You’re semi-thankful that there is a voice you can identify with, but then it’s like, this space is still exclusionary, it’s not even mine or theirs. You’re just playing to whatever they feel is playacting their needs. It’s upsetting that we’re still fighting for an equal space, or to be viewed even if we’re talking about identity, as being accepted as a valid form of creativity and artwork. We’re a growing minority group, and being included in the history of this nation and the cultural landscape and history of contemporary art. It would be nice to be viewed as equal and that’s just not the case. I don’t care how many people say it. It’s not.
Sarah: Even if there was a Mexican-American or a Chicano in a group exhibition, more than likely it’s a man.
Just the fact that we identify as Chicana is a form of protest.
Mari: And then you have this macro and micro view of Latino art in general on a national level. You have these major exhibitions like Our America at the Smithsonian, but the first critique to come out of it was dismissive, like what is Latino art? Is it necessary? Even when we get a chance to come together and create this body of work that does identify as Latino art, it’s dismissed. The only time I’ve felt 100% comfortable was when we were doing our own thing, but it’s important for us to insert ourselves into these spaces. Our voice needs to be heard. That’s what we said in our statement. Just the fact that we identify as Chicana is a form of protest. Solidarity is big for us. People have always told us that individually we’re strong, but when we come together and form this collective, it’s so much stronger.
Sarah: Just the fact that it’s a collective means it’s community oriented. Everyone works together from the beginning to the end. It’s not an easy process. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.
What’s next for Más Rudas?
Kristin: Right now, we’re in a reflective period in the collective. We’re taking the time to look at our own practice and seeing what that is and what it means. We’re working on our website
and keeping good archives of our work. We are figuring out what our next step is and being very articulate in that. It’s a good space.
Check out more about Más Rudas on their website and take a closer look at their past art exhibits here:
DIY House Show (2009)
Operation Canis Familiaris (2010)
Chicanas Only (2011)
Mas Triste San Antonio (2011)
Brown Style (2012)
Ruda Phat (2013)