by Kiara Ventura
Spicy. Sassy. Sexy. These are the words you usually hear when the media covers stories about Latinas while mainly focusing their attention on Latinas in the entertainment industry. Messages such as Sofia Vergara on the cover of Esquire with the word “SEX” spelled out across her midsection and mainstream internet headlines like “All of JLo`s Sexy Cleavage Baring Outfits from the 2015 American Music Awards,” are the “news” that the media chooses to give their attention to when it comes to covering Latinas nowadays. However, there is one group of Latinas that are not getting much attention from media--Latina visual artists.
Frida Kahlo was the first and last Latina artist to make a big bang in the art world. And she is still creating waves today, considering that over 100 articles were written on her “Art. Garden. Life.” exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden which ended last month. Even huge publications like the New York Times, The New Yorker, NBCnews.com, and the Huffington Post all covered this exhibition. But where are the new waves of Latina visual artists now and why aren't they being covered by the mainstream media?
Through a simple Google search, one would find quickly written articles about Latina visual artists. For example, the Huffington Post`s listicle article, “13 Young Latina Artists Changing The Contemporary Art Landscape” and another listicle by the small publication sofritoforyoursoul.com named, “Unsung Souls: 5 Visual Artists You Should Discover This Latino Heritage Month!” give readers a glance of the Latino art world. Most journalists write about Latina artists as if it is a underground concept, as if there are not many Latina visual artist out there trying to bring attention to their work.
“I don't appreciate how the media upholds certain people [like the rich] because of their status and not because of the quality of their art. There are people who put their blood, sweat, and tears into their art and I feel like I am one of those people,” Julianna Cepeda, a 20-year-old Dominican artist from Manhattan, said.
“Honestly, I haven't seen mainstream media coverage on us [Latinas] or people of melanin [of color] at all. If I do, I would have to dig deep for it. I feel like the media does not cover us in general because American media is whitewashed. Most of the people who are controlling media are not in our best interest.”
According to “The Latino Media Gap,” a report on the state of Latinos in the US Media by Frances Muntaner from Columbia University, the participation of Latinos in the mainstream media is “stunningly low” [Muntaner 1]. “When Latinos are visible, they tend to be portrayed through decades-old stereotypes as criminals, law enforcers, cheap labor, and hypersexualized beings,” Muntaner wrote. Perhaps the popular media does not want make it visible and let the public know that some Latinos are even artistic beings.
Cepeda, who also goes by the artist name Uzumaki, creates art of different mediums, such as sculpture, paintings, film, and photography, all inspired by her Dominican culture and identity. She speaks on the issue of racism in Dominican Republic's history and utilizes her artwork as a way to communicate her country`s story through a modern lense. Just as a journalist tells stories through writing, she tells the story of her country and identity through her artwork.
“I stick to traditional Dominican art but I add my own little modern twist to it. I feel like this is very important because our island right now is at a civil war between Dominicans and Haitians. I find that terrible. When Trujillo ruled, he embedded racism in a lot of people. What I am trying to push through my art is that melanin [African-roots] is power. I show my culture in my art because if I don`t stick to it, who's going to say it for me? I really want to restore that balance and knowledge of our true culture in my people.”
This theme of representing identity and culture also appeals to other Latina artists as well.
Alize Santana, a 19-year-old Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian fine artist who grew up in the Bronx, attends the School of Visual Arts on 23rd street in Manhattan. She mentioned that she is one of the very few Latinas attending this school and that it is important to include themes of her culture in her work. However, the art critics at her school think otherwise.
“The Bronx is a big part of my work. I also explore themes of feminism and poverty. I went to a predominantly white high school and it made me realize how much of a Latina I was because everyone around me were so different. As I got older, I embraced it,” she said.
“It’s important to include my identity in my art because I do not see it very often. There are not many Hispanics in my school. I need to put it [my identity] out there. But some people aren't so accepting. During one of the critiques of my work for school, some would [verbally] beat me down and say ‘I don't see why it is necessary to include your culture in your work. Aren't we all the same?’”
Many Latina artist refer to their culture in their artwork as a way to distinguish themselves. Journalism plays a role in this process by informing the public about the artwork these Latina artists are producing. “Within the Latino community, I have to say there are so many artists that have been working for decades and decades and have had really minimal visibility in the mainstream. They are only known to their own community,” Taína Caragol, a writer and curator from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, said in an interview with Latina.com. The line of communication between the public and the existing Latina visual artists is interrupted by the lack of media coverage of this group in the mainstream media.
“As a Latina, I feel like I have to put more work in to be known. I think there should be more media coverage on Latina artists, because we deserve it,” Santana said.
Check out Julianna Cepeda`s work through her site here and instagram, @uzumaki.gallery
Check out Alize Santana`s work through her site here and instagram, @wutevaaa
By Kiara Ventura
“Y’all ready?” Chris Hearn, a 19-year-old rapper who is a sophomore at NYU, asked. The crowd, who were lounging around in couches with beer bottles in hand, clapped in response. The 5’3 young man in his red Nike hoodie and fitted cap began spitting lyrics into the mic as he occasionally closed his eyes. His left fresh Nike sneaker tapped the carpet floor, and his eyes then scanned the crowd. Beanies and oversized glasses were swaying to the chill beat. “Doing one hunnit’ on the freeway, pedal down to the ground. Doing 700 in the PJ, flying into the clouds,” he rapped as he tightened his grip of the mic, “I'm on my way to the mountaintop and I`m going 500 miles…”
His latest album called “500 miles,” which is the distance between Columbus and his dorm at NYU, was written, produced, and created in his hometown over the summer of 2015. He created the rap name, Ceezar, which stands for “Create Everything Excellent with Zero Acts of Recklessness." Ever since, Hearn has been promoting his album throughout the city at NYU events and small intimate shows some organized by SoFar sounds, a company that gathers underground performers to create intimate live music shows across the country, and Pianos NYC, a well-known music venue in the Lower East Side.
“I`m doing things here [in NYC] with the goal of going back over there to help my people,” Hearn said. “My family and friends did not even know what NYU was because a lot of people in my city don't get the opportunity to even go to college at all. There's this sense of being trapped because people get raised in the city and stay there forever.”
“I did not leave because I did not like it, I left because I loved it.”
Columbus is the 15th largest city in the US and according to Neighborhoodscouts.com, its crime index is rated a 8 out of 100; 100 being the safest. Hearn said that the neighborhood he grew up in, the Northeast Side, has a high population of African Americans and low-income minorities. He is one of the very few of his neighborhood to leave and attend a college outside of the state. His attendance at NYU was also made possible by the MLK scholarship.
As a young boy he used to live in the “hood,” as his mother would say. At 4 years old his “Uncle Brandon,” who was a producer, would encourage him to freestyle. As a 7-year-old, he used to run up to his mother, who gave to birth to him at the age of 16, and rap about how he performed on the basketball court that day. At 9 years old, he wrote his first verse with a pink highlighter on construction paper that is hanging on his dorm wall today.
Now, he is mentoring a 14-year-old boy, named Mamadou Diallo, as part of his participation in AAP (Academic Achievement Program). “When I grew up, it was just me and my mom, and I didn't have any siblings in my home,” Hearn said as he glanced at his mentee. “I'm the first person in my family to go to college. I was just on my own. So that's why I wanted to do a program like this because I knew there more people that were in my situation.” Like Hearn, Diallo, a slim high school freshman from the Bronx, is a young black man who grew up without a father. “I chose to be a part of this program because I felt like I did not have nobody else to help me out,” Diallo said. “It is only me and my three sisters in the house. So I try to do enough to support us.”
Hearn, along with with other AAP members, visited the Bronx Lighthouse school every two weeks to meet up with their mentees. He became Diallo`s mentor during the fall of 2015 and even though the mentorship program ended in November, they still plan to keep in touch. “From meeting with Chris, I learned to always do my best. Not just pass by with all Cs or get passing grades. I learned to always try to do better...He has a good heart. He is always there for me,” Diallo said as he looked down at his khaki uniform pants then up at Hearn.
Even though, Mamadou felt like Hearn has been there for him, Hearn`s hometown has felt otherwise. His community back in Ohio seems to have a tough love relationship with him because he chose to leave it. The rapper even responds to his community's negative reaction with his song, “HOLLYWOOD CEEZ,” included the 500 miles album. “I went 500 miles just to try and make a name. I came back to my city and they said I`m not the same. They said I changed. When I ask them to explain, they just say that I went Hollywood. Hollywood! Hollywood!” the song goes.
He explains that “his people” reacted in this way because he was no longer accessible to them due to his busy schedule here in NYC. Even his mother, Teagan Hearn, commented on his big move. “There are two sides of me,” she said. “One side of me really hates it. But the other side of me, the logical side, is really happy for him. Even though I am a worrier, I believe that he will do just fine.”
When talking about his community, the young rapper repeatedly stressed,“I did not leave because I did not like it, I left because I loved it.” He stressed that he loves his city and community so much that he desires to go back and inspire others to go after their life goals, especially “for the children.” “I`ve felt like I owe it everything because it raised me and the people within it put me in the position that I'm in now,” Hearn said, “The ceiling for my people is set so low that I just want to bring back information and the belief that they can really get out there and go accomplish their dreams.”
To find out more about Chris Hearn and his work, visit ceeztheworld.com.