Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Spotlight: Judithe Hernandez

Guest Columnist Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera 
Cultural Truth: The Art and Activism of Judithe Hernández

Aetatis Suae Trilogy
Judithe Hernández is a fierce mujer whose art inspires and enlightens Angelenos from East LA to Santa Monica, from the Valley to Downtown LA. Her work has appeared at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago and the Cayman Gallery in New York where she was the first Chicana to exhibit on the East Coast (link).  Her work has also toured the world, including the first exhibition of Chicano Art in Europe. Hernández is also the first Chicana to have a solo exhibit, A Dream is the Shadow of Something Real, at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. This is where I first saw her work.

I was most drawn to the Juarez Series because Hernández illuminates the beauty of individual women whose lives have been terminated. Having read literature about these tragic deaths, I found Hernández’s work to be a powerful form for sharing this narrative. Specifically, the Aetatis Suae Trilogy (2016), which commemorates the deaths of three young women in Juarez, who stared out at me from the dark background, asking me to pay attention to the tragic loss and inviting me into the shadows.

La Muerte de los Inocentes
Hernández’s work epitomizes the Chicana/o tradition of political art. There is a painting that memorializes the children killed at border crossings. Death of Innocents (2015) features a closed-eyed child dressed in a white gown with wings behind indicating her ascent into heaven after death. The child lies on a wall engraved with names, presumably the other children whose lives have been lost. This is a painting that also offers hope, not only with the overwhelming brightness of the pristine gown but with the white ribbon the dead child holds that says: “welcome but to dream.”

El Mundo de Barrio Sotel
The other paintings in the Mexico Series, viewable on Hernández’s website, echo the same theme of honoring women. Their bodies are covered with flowers in some pieces and dismembered in others. In some pieces the women stare directly at us and in others their eyes are covered. Judithe Hernández sees artists as storytellers and advises us to not only reflect on the past but to see the present.

In her 2008 Aztlán essay, Hernández says: “I have drawn from the wealth of my cultural inheritance to describe visually who we are, what we value, and how we define beauty, and to assert the belief that the artist as citizen has the responsibility to give voice to the issues affecting the disenfranchised of society” (224). 

Much of Hernández’s work is situated in the borderlands, embracing a transnational cultural identity. Part of this duality requires recognizing her relative privilege while using her talent and resources to humanize women who are frequently objectified and victimized.

Avenue 43 Mural
This hybrid identity is paralleled by Hernández’s ability to connect not only with museum patrons but with working class people who may not frequent gallery spaces. Since the 1970s, she has been producing public art throughout the city. Her work has been restored in the Tujunga Wash as part of The Great Wall, in Ramona Gardens Housing, and at Stoner Park in West Los Angeles. She also collaborated with Carlos Almaraz and Leo Limon on the Avenue 43 Mural. She said, “Murals brought art into communities where art/museums did not exist.”

Her legacy lives on in other public art projects. Most recently she designed 24 glass mosaic panels for the Expo Line Station in Downtown Santa Monica. La Sonata embraces the seasons and images from nature, as we’ve seen in Hernández’s other work. It also reflects the multi-ethnic tapestry that is Los Angeles’s people.

La Nueva Reina
Later this year, Hernández’s La Nueva Reina will adorn one exterior wall of La Plaza Village near Olvera Street alongside murals by Barbara Carrasco, José Lozano and Miguel Angel Reyes. This public art “will make a lasting and impactful statement to the historic roots and presence of Latinos in Los Angeles” according to John Echeveste, CEO of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes. The original artwork for La Nueva Reina will be prominently displayed at the entrance to the LA Starts Here! exhibit on the museum's first floor.

Pacific Night
In 2019, you can also see Judithe Hernández’s work at exhibitions in Monterrey, Mexico until June 23; at LACMA as part of Life Model: Charles White and his Students where she will be giving a gallery talk on May 18, 2-3:30; and in the fall at Otis College of Art and Design’s Centennial Celebration.

Since the 1970s, Hernández has not only been producing Chicana art, but has used her position as activist/scholar/writer to rebuke criticisms of Chicana/o art as “quaint folk experience” and “self-conscious stuffiness.” (Los Angeles Times letter 1974). She has spoken to art students and art lovers in various forums, including UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center’s Culture Fix: Judithe Hernández on the Role of Women in the Chicano Art Movement (June 25, 2012 UCLA Fowler Museum). On a panel at the Museum of Latin American Art in February 2019, she said, “artists don’t live in a bubble, they respond to the world, to injustice.”

For more than forty years, Hernández has been responding to historical events that continue to be tragic in our current political climate. She “visually delineate[s] a cultural truth” (Aztlán 223). And Hernández continues to cause viewers to question their (in)action and consider their role in perpetuating the darkness.

Homenaje a las Mujeres de Aztlan

Meet La Bloga Guest Columnist Tisha Marie Reichle

Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera is a Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen. Her recent fiction appeared in Voices de la Luna, The Acentos Review, The Lunch Ticket, and Ghost Town. She is an alumna of AROHO Retreat, Macondo Writers Workshop, and Las Dos Brujas. She’s also an organizing member of Women Who Submit and a former high school English teacher. She earned an MFA at Antioch University and is currently working on her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at USC.


Desiree said...

Viva! Love this!!!

ej said...

Insightful and inspiring, the painter and the writer! I had the pleasure of seeing her work in LA.

dscribing said...