The next must-see art exhibit in San Antonio, The Status of Women in San Antonio, opens on March 23, 2022, at the Common Culture Gallery next to the Spanish Governor’s Palace. The Gallery is reopening after more than a year of closure due to the pandemic. The City of San Antonio’s Department of Arts & Culture organized the exhibition and chose Women’s History Month for its opening date.
On display are artworks by a diverse group of 15 local women artists asked to reflect on the findings outlined in The Status of Women in San Antonio Report as a prompt for the creation of new, original works. The various artworks examine issues ranging from domestic violence to equal pay to reminding women to take time for themselves.
San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture Interim Executive Director Krystal Jones noted: “These artworks were designed and developed to be powerful catalysts that address the barriers that research shows women in San Antonio face daily. We hope each person that views this exhibition has an empathetic experience that inspires positive change for our community.” This exhibit was a collaborative effort between the San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture and the Metropolitan Health Department’s Violence Prevention Program.
The exhibit spans a wide range of mediums including painting, photographic construction, multimedia, and fiber art. This essay focuses on the contributions of Adriana M. Garcia and Mari Hernandez.
Adriana M. Garcia grew up in San Antonio’s Westside and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Garcia’s artist statement reveals much about her approach to art and explains her passion. She writes about the social importance of art as the “most accessible way to protest, love, heal, and learn.” Garcia strongly believes that art is how we “share our stories, the voices we choose to manifest our passion, hurt, anger, sadness, love, hope, and heritage.”
Garcia appreciates portraits and loves depicting strong women as a way to honor those who have come before and those who continue to lead by example. Her portraits in the exhibit represent three women–Emma Tenayuca, Rosie Castro, and Maria Victoria de La Cruz–and are large works painted on wood panels.
Garcia first learned about labor leader Emma Tenayuca as a young girl. She recalled: “I remember hearing stories about how fierce she was – arrested at the age of 16 in 1933, when she joined a picket line of workers. Over the years I’ve listened to songs, seen plays, heard poems, read children’s books, and viewed documentaries about her work organizing Mexican pecan shellers and leading the strike in 1938.”
The second large portrait by Garcia in the exhibit features a contemporary community activist, Maria Victora de la Cruz. De La Cruz’s activism includes working with her community, communicating with undocumented individuals about their rights as immigrants, and helping immigrants acquire the services they can access. Garcia reflected on this painting: “It was a tremendous honor to create Maria’s portrait. I hope it conveys her dedication to work, family, and community. She and the people she works with at the Texas Organizing Project [TOP] are an inspiration.”
The third portrait by Garcia is of Rosie Castro. Garcia wrote on her website: “I remember my father recounting how, as a member of the Committee for Barrio Betterment (CBB), they selected four candidates to run for City Council in the 1970s. Their hopes were that the West Side would gain better representation by persons who were from and understood the neighborhood. Rosie Castro was one of the candidates” Garcia’s three portraits of important San Antonio women leaders are powerful renderings.
The second artist I feature in this essay is photographer Mari Hernandez. Hernandez uses her camera for self-reflection. Her artistic focus is conceptional, and her three prints in the exhibit, all self-portraits, are an impressive example of creative artistry. In her artist statement, Hernandez writes; “This artwork focuses on the ways women build community in support of survivors of domestic violence; communities where women protect, uplift, and fiercely support one another. It pays homage to the monumental strength, spirit, and resilience of women. The artwork references the history of portrait photography which coincides with the growing presence of women in public life who advocated for women’s rights. It takes inspiration from historical portraiture and explores themes of group identity.”
Hernandez earned a degree in English and Literature from UTSA. She enjoyed taking photos and was spotted at a San Anto Cultural Arts celebration of Dia de Los Muertos in 2000 by director Manny Castillo. Castillo recruited her as a mentor in their youth program. She later served as editor of El Placazo, the San Anto arts newspaper.
Hernandez gained confidence from her work at San Anto Cultural Center from following the works of contemporary artists in the residence program at ArtPace. She explained that her emergence as a creative photographer led her to explore “socially engaged and identity-based art, as well as its contributions to human and community development.”
Hernandez explained that her photographic self-portraits explore “inward concerns to generate visual narratives,” creating “distinct aesthetic moods, as well as references to cultural mores and art historical movements.” A video about her work shows how she alters her identity and physical appearance in the photographs “through the use of make-up, prosthetics, wigs, costumes, and props.”
Hernandez’s work expresses concern with the lack of representation of women of color in San Antonio’s arts community. She notes on her website that she was “inspired by appearance-altering photographers and early Mexican-American artists, and began experimenting with self-portraiture to address questions about identity.”
Mari Hernandez is a finalist for this year’s prestigious Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The winner is selected by a distinguished panel of judges. Of 2,700 entries, the judges chose only 42 finalists, four from Texas. Her work will be shown at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery later this spring.
Garcia and Hernandez are two of the fifteen San Antonio outstanding women artists in The Status of Women in San Antonio. The messages these artists convey are important contributions to Women’s History Month.