Rise, Speak, Act! an art exhibition recognizing International Women’s Month opened on March 2, 2023 as part of the Annual La Mujeres de Aztlán celebration at the Centro Cultural Aztlan. Sarah Shore, the lead artist, proposed that the 2023 exhibition focus on “social issues facing women, including reproductive justice, working conditions, access, identity, and other relevant issues of today.” The purpose of the Centro’s Mujeres Exhibition was to raise awareness of women’s issues, and they succeeded. The opening reception was colorful and well attended.
Malena Gonzalez-Cid, the long-serving Executive Director of the Centro Cultural Aztlan, has received grants
over the years from the Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation to celebrate the work of women artists. Working with Gonzalez-Cid, Shore introduced the exhibit’s purpose with insightful comments stating that women can achieve positive change “by challenging gender stereotypes, calling out discrimination, drawing attention to bias, and seeking out inclusion.”
I researched the history of the International Women’s Movement and learned that the first gathering calling for women across the globe to organize began in 1911 in Western Europe. That initial call for action brought more than a million women and men together in several European capitals. The earliest campaigns called for “women’s right to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office, and an end to discrimination.”
Although it is hard to imagine that women did not have the right to vote in most of the Western countries of the world in the early part of last century, we must recall that the United States did not extend the right to vote for women until 1919. Not surprisingly, nearly all the politicians in the United States at that time were male, and women were excluded from a vast majority of occupations.
It was not until 1975 that the International Women’s Day came to be celebrated in the United States with the
adoption of International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975. I learned that today International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. But this important International Women’s Day event also opens the door to educate and raise awareness about women’s equality. In addition, this influential movement calls for positive change advancing women.
The Rise, Speak, Act! exhibit features fifteen talented artists, many of whom such as Angelica Gomez Mayorga, have an exhibition relationship with the Centro extending over a decade. Due to space limitations, I am only able to mention the work of five artists in the exhibit.
The exciting show includes two paintings by Angelica Gomez Mayorga, whose work I have followed for nearly two decades. Mayorga was born in Uvalde and moved to San Antonio when she was a young child. Both of her parents were artists, and she grew up surrounded by their creative works. I first met Moyorga nearly 20 years ago when she worked at the Southtown Gallista Gallery owned by Joe Lopez. Her colors and subjects in the exhibit reveal an appreciation for Mexican culture and an effort to maintain Mexican traditions.
Liliana Wilson, another artist in the exhibit and a native of Valparaiso, Chile, lives and works in Boerne, Texas. She is known for portraying immigrants and working-class people in her art. As a first-generation Latina immigrant, she addresses concerns for the plight of humanity by looking at global issues such as migration, climate change, and social justice.
In the last twenty years, Wilson has emerged as a major contributor to Latino artistic expression in the
Americas. Her work has always championed social justice and opposition to oppression and violence. Today, she continues to touch on global themes and many of her works demonstrate compassion for the poor, the hungry, and those living under oppressive political regimes. Although Wilson seems driven by a desire to speak for those without access to power and wealth, her work also shows a desire to understand the common individual’s
struggles with despair, fear, and hopelessness.
Anel Flores’s striking portrait of Frida Kahlo, is titled “Ometeotl en el cielo:Frida Kahlo.” The great pre-Columbian scholar Miguel León-Portilla argues that Ōmeteōtl was the supreme creator deity of the Aztecs,
and “that the Aztecs envisioned this deity as a mystical entity with a dual nature akin to the European concept of the trinity.” Flores’s commentary on her own artistic work reveals her thoughtful approach to creative activity such as painting. She writes that her work offers “an access point for viewers to investigate how sensory, spirit, environment and memory are recalled in the body.”
Flores has been a frequent contributor to the Centro Cultural Aztlan. In a previous Centro show, “Mars Needs More Women,” Flores described her work as a craft that “manifests as graphic memoir, poetry, fiction, silver, and painting, as continuation and evolution of the conversations started by the Xicana/e/x movement in art and literature, now infused by latina/e/x, transfeminism, intersectionality, queer politics and resistencia.” While she is a public high school teacher who also teaches at the post-secondary level, Flores is pursuing a master’s degree in art history at UTSA.
Santa Barraza, a Latina artist who grew up in the small Texas town of Kingsville, draws upon her Mestiza heritage and borderland experiences for artistic inspiration. Barraza writes that “I live in South Texas because I feel I am in my element of culture and environment. The land feeds me physically and spiritually.” As a tribute to her indigenous roots, she includes in many of her works earth plants such as agave, maguey, corn, and mesquite trees that provided food, clothing, and
shelter for the first people of the Americas.
Barraza also incorporated pre-Columbian visual images and symbols in her work in the Centro exhibit as a means of reshaping the traditional historical narrative. She
describes the “process of reusing traditional imagery as a way to appropriate the ancient past and then to update it in a contemporary art expression.” She added, “I am interested in borders as regions of appropriation. I appropriated pre-Columbian symbols and myths in historical and contemporary symbols as mechanisms for resistance to oppression and assimilation.”
The International Women’s Day website promotes the idea that collective activism is what drives change. Monica de la Cruz Walker, a South Texas artist who attended school in San Antonio, captures the act of mobilizing in her work in the Centro exhibit. Her painting of a Latina woman standing in front of a farmworker movement eagle symbol suggests action in favor of workers who seek better wages, health benefits, and overall equity in the workplace. From grassroots action to wide-scale momentum, change occurred in the farmworkers’ struggle led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the 1970s. They proved that with the right strategies, message, and resources, they could defeat powerful agricultural interests.
International Women’s Day, a day when women are recognized for their achievements “without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political,” is also a day when women, especially women of color can celebrate activism. The Rise, Speak, Act! exhibit, which is free and open to the public until March 30, has brought together fifteen talented women artists who are definitely change makers.