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