This Women’s History Month, the Southwest College Art Gallery will honor 11 artists who have spent their careers exploring Chicana identity, as well as elevating other women. Curated by Leticia Gomez Franco, Ni Solo Mujeres: Intersecting Chicana Identities features 11 Chicana and Latina artists. “The all women’s exhibition takes as its title Ni Solo Mujeres, in an effort to extoll intersectional identities within feminist struggles,” according to the press release. “It challenges the idea that oppressive dichotomies can only be defeated through homogenous unity and instead presents a collection of work that celebrates the diversity within Chicana identity, and the power that lies in that intersectionality.”
The exhibition debuts on Tuesday, March 7. And it will kick off with a panel on Intersectional Feminism featuring Gomez Franco and artists Rotmi Enciso and Patricia Aguayo from 11 a.m. to noon. The month-long exhibition will run in conjunction with Shoulders to Stand On: Remembering the Chicana Artist Narrative, a traveling exhibition that made its debut in 2016.
The Southwestern College Art Gallery will feature Ni Solo Mujeres and Shoulders to Stand On between March 7, 2017 and April 6, 2017. The gallery is open Monday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 900 Otay lakes Road, Chula Vista 91910.
Throughout her career, San Diego-born Yolanda Lopez has created art that challenges stereotypical depictions of Mexicans while also speaking on feminism, immigration, and Chicano identity. Her Virgen de Guadalupe series is among her most recognizable work. Here, she transformed la Virgen to represent different aspects of Chicana womanhood. Historian Moira Roth describes Lopez as an “ardent activist,” “devoted feminist,” and “one of the most original and interesting contemporary artists in the country.”
Lopez describes her motivations very simply. “I make art in response to whatever I am going through,” she told SF Gate. “Women must exercise citizenship; it’s all molded together politically, emotionally, intellectually, and artistically.”
Shizu Saldamando – the daughter of a Mexican-American father and a Japanese-American mother – grew up in San Francisco, but currently lives in Los Angeles. A lot of her work features her friends, and she uses anything from wood to bedsheets as her canvas.
“My work tries to find the ways in which everyday living is somehow revolutionary or somehow politically radical,” she told Latino USA. “All my work is based off photos that I take pretty much. I kind of take a lot of time and meticulously render the person that’s depicted in the photo.”
Colombian-American Carolyn Castaño’s work often includes glitter, rhinestones, and metallic colors. One of Castaño’s most recognizable works – Narco Venus – explores the role of women in the male-dominated drug trade. “What I found is that there’s a high degree of beauty queens and very, models, actresses, and journalists who get involved with these kind of dark personas,” she said.
Castaño’s a 2011 California Community Foundation Getty Fellow and she received the prestigious C.O.L.A. Individual Artist Fellowship in 2011.
Berenice Badillo is a clinical and family therapist who uses art as a way to provide an outlet for the youth she works with. She launched programs Elemental and Streetscape, which helps young people embrace the art world.
A few years ago she participated in Chicana: A Conscious Choice – an art show centered around Chicana women. “Women have been historically overlooked while men celebrated, you can see this in literature, the arts, and scholars,” Badillo said, according to La Prensa San Diego. “It’s a double-edged sword being a woman of color.”
In eighth grade, Patricia Aguayo met her first Mexican-American teacher, who taught her what it meant to be Chicana. “She, that person, who was leading by example and sharing her love and knowledge for Chicano culture redirected my life into a path of wanting to contribute to something bigger than myself,” Aguayo said. “I looked beyond history lessons and began to uncover massive roots.” This helped her stop feeling like an outsider, which led her to art. She couldn’t find herself in art, so she created it for herself.
Alessandra Moctezuma saw herself becoming a filmmaker, just like her father. But he persuaded her to turn to the world of art. “He thought that this way you had control over what you produced,” she told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “He was influenced by seeing how commerce affected his films.” Fortunately, switching to art ended up being the best decision she could make. Once she took her first painting class, she fell in love. She currently serves as a gallery director and professor at San Diego Mesa College.
Angélica Becerra spent the first 10 years of her life in Jalisco, Mexico. She credits her aunt with inspiring her love of art, though she explains on her bio that she comes from a family of makers. She began working on portraits after someone asked her to create a flier for a talk for Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA.
“The first portrait was done in haste an event flier that an organization needed and I lent my creative skills to help them promote their event,” she wrote on her website. “Soon after that, I realized that those of us who identified as queer and of color, lacked images of our own queer and or activist of color elders…
“I decided to paint the fierce womxn I didn’t grow up hearing about in the hopes that they would help my queer siblings grow into loving themselves whole. Most of my portraits begin with research, learning about the activist I’m painting influences which colors I choose. Then, I sketch and paint a watercolor portrait, scan it and add a quote that I feel best represents their vision of social justice. I wholeheartedly believe in my work as a healing salve and self-care practice, as well as a way to preserve queer activist politics alive.”
Crystal Galindo prominently features chicanas, chongas, and cholas through her work. She depicts artists, indigenous women, immigrants, and activists with an air of nobility, and her art is centered around resilient women who put their culture at the forefront. It’s often women you may not see portrayed in the media.
“I don’t just choose to paint people who are beautiful,” she tells us. “Even though they are beautiful to me, it’s something that is secondary. I choose them because of the feeling I get from being around them or seeing them on social media… I end up painting this whole spectrum of women who don’t always fit the beauty standard. We’re creating this whole different side to beauty that is representational to us. Representation matters. When you see yourself in works of art or on TV it helps you to realize that you matter. If you look around and don’t see anyone that looks like you or reflects a similar background or body type or awkwardness, it makes you feel isolated and that you shouldn’t exist. Representation is crucial to helping others accept themselves and love themselves.”
Melanie Cervantes is an artist and cultural worker. Her art draws on the people around her as well as her community seeking social transformation and radical change. She co-founded Dignidad Rebelde, which focuses on Xicanisma and Zapatismo.
“We create work that translates people’s stories into art that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it,” she told Third Woman Press. “We recognize that the history of the majority of people worldwide is a history of colonialism, genocide, and exploitation. Our art is grounded in Third World and indigenous movements that build people’s power to transform the conditions of fragmentation, displacement and loss of culture that result from this history. Representing these movements through visual art means connecting struggles through our work and seeking to inspire solidarity among communities of struggle worldwide.”
Photographer and artist Rotmi Enciso pays tribute to feminists. Her book Ni santas ni putas, sólo mujeres features more than 200 photos taken across 28 years that show how women have fought for reproductive rights, social justice, and equality.
At 18, Paola Villaseñor, aka PANCA, moved from Chula Vista to Tijuana, because that’s where she felt she could most develop as an artist. A recurring theme in her work is the decay of humanity, and many have asked her why she doesn’t depict beauty in her art. “For me, art is not supposed to be beautiful, but real” she told San Diego City Beat.