Kathy Vargas returns to Artpace 26 years after her International Artist-in-Residence program residency. Roy Flukinger, Senior Curator at the Harry Ransom Center described Vargas’s 1997 Artpace exhibition, States of Grace, as “those absolutes for Truth and Light,” which is apt commentary for an artist who has exposed injustice and inequity within the core of her art practice and life’s work.
Vargas’s latest Artpace exhibition, Shopping for Bargains/My Mother Taught Me to Shop, reveals the ever-growing cost consumer culture has placed on its workers and how this practice often rewards unethical capitalistic tendencies, all in the name of fashion. Vargas sheds light on the underpaid workers in fast fashion sweatshops and factories often located in “so-called third world countries.” Their presence remains hidden from public view, yet their work can be seen all around us with little to no acknowledgment. By focusing her lens on the cost of indulging in fast fashion and consumer culture, Vargas draws inspiration from her childhood, sewing up her damaged clothes while listening to her mother’s teachings to “shop carefully.” She reflects on how much has changed since her youth and how the normalization of credit cards and overindulging has created a society that rewards the privileged few while harming the unseen working class. Vargas’s photos represent her realization that “my clothes have two prices: the cost to me when I purchase the garment, and the cost to workers, making my garment. I was ready to pay. They shouldn’t have to.”
Born and raised in San Antonio in 1950, Kathy Vargas received her MFA degree from the University of Texas, San Antonio in 1984. She has had numerous one-person exhibitions at spaces including Sala Uno in Rome, Galeria Juan Martin in Mexico City, the Women’s Center at The University of Santa Barbara, and a retrospective in Erlangen, Germany. Vargas’ work was included in the seminal exhibit, Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation (CARA) organized by UCLA’s Wight Gallery, and Hospice: A Photographic Inquiry, organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Cover Art: My Mother Taught Me To Shop 2 (pink top)