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Yolanda M. López
Born(1942-11-01)1 November 1942
San Diego, California, United States
Died3 September 2021(2021-09-03) (aged 78)
San Francisco, California, United States
NationalityAmerican
EducationSan Diego State University,
University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
MovementBay Area Chicano Art Movement
ChildrenRio Yañez
Yolanda M. López (1 November 1942 – 3 September 2021) was an American painter, printmaker, educator, and film producer. She was known for works focusing on the experiences of Mexican-American women, often challenging the ethnic stereotypes associated with them.
Contents
1 Biography
2 Work
3 Selected artwork
3.1 Things I never told my son about being a Mexican
3.2 The Guadalupe series
3.2.1 The Virgen De Guadalupe
3.2.2 ¿A Donde Vas, Chicana?
4 Select exhibitions
5 See also
6 References
7 External links
Biography
Yolanda López was born in 1942 in San Diego, California, USA, and is a third-generation Chicana. Her grandparents migrated from Mexico to the United States, crossing the Río Bravo river in a boat while avoiding gunfire from the Texas Rangers. López and her two younger siblings were raised by her mother and maternal grandparents in San Diego.
After graduating from high school in Logan Heights in San Diego, she moved to San Francisco and attended San Francisco State University (SFSU). She became involved in a student movement called the Third World Liberation Front, which shut down SFSU in a 1968 strike called the "Third World Liberation Front Strikes." She also became active in the arts.
During this time, López became aware of how her ethnicity determined her position in society. She is quoted saying, "I did not become aware of our own history until 1968 when there was a call for a strike at San Francisco State, a strike for ethnic studies. I heard the men and women who led that Third World Strike speak and I understood at that point what my position was being part of this long legacy of being part of the oppressed people, just like black people." In 1969, López was instrumental in advertising the case of Los Siete De Le Rasa, in which seven young Latin American youths were accused of killing a police officer. She designed the poster "Free Los Siete," which juxtaposed the jailed Latin Americans with the ideals of America. This poster, as part of López's efforts on the Los Siete Defense Committee, helped garner much community support and win their eventual acquittal.
During the 1970s, López returned to San Diego, and enrolled at San Diego State University in 1971, graduating in 1975 with a B.A. in painting and drawing. She enrolled at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), receiving a Master of Fine Arts in 1979. While at the University of California, San Diego, her professors Allan Sekula and Martha Rosler encouraged her to focus on conceptual practice with social, political, and educational impact.
In 1978, López and conceptual artist René Yañez moved to San Francisco's Mission District, and in 1980 she gave birth to Rio Yañez. A few years later, López moved into the apartment next door and maintained a professional relationship with Yañez. After 40 years of living in her home, in 2014, she and her family faced eviction through the Ellis Act. In response, she created a series of "eviction garage sales" to comment on issues of gentrification and cultural heritage in San Francisco. According to the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press (2009), "López’s artwork aims to offer new possibilities for Chicanas and women of color living under conditions of patriarchy, racism, and material inequality." Her contributions to the Chicana society and feminism are seen as significant.
López died on 3 September 2021, in San Francisco, California, at the age of 78 due to cancer.
Work
López became an international celebrity for her iconic Virgen de Guadalupe series of drawings, prints, collage, assemblage, and paintings. The series, which depicted "ordinary" Mexican women (including her grandmother, her mother and López herself) with Guadalupean attributes (such as the mandorla), attracted praise for "sanctifying" average Mexican women, who were depicted performing domestic and other labor. The 1978 triptych oil pastel drawings depict herself and her family members as reimagined Virgen de Guadalupe figures, wherein López depicts herself clutching a snake while stepping on an angel, a symbol of the patriarchy.
The Virgen De Guadalupe series depicted the range of domestic womanhood to Chicana womanhood, to intersectionality. The series also revealed the close bond in López's family and demonstrated the cycle of life as a whole. Different paintings in the series give completely different feelings according to the message she wanted to bring to the viewers. She touched on the role of women in generations, with respect to the society's expectations on them. In terms of Chicana womanhood, the series emphasized traditional cultural values, and advocated new perceptions of gender and cultural identity. López further integrated internationalist in to the series by embedding the overlapping of roles regarding gender difference and cultural stereotypes.
Woman's Work is Never Done is another set of prints. One of them, entitled The Nanny, attempted to study some problems faced by immigrant women of Hispanic descent in the United States. The work was featured at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.
Her famous political poster titled Who's the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim? features an angry young man in an Aztec headdress and traditional jewelry holding a crumpled-up paper titled "Immigration Plans." This 1978 poster was created during a period of political debate in the U.S. which resulted in the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1978 that limited immigration from a single country to 20,000 people per year with a total cap of 290,000.
López has also curated exhibitions, including Cactus Hearts/Barbed Wire Dreams, which featured works of art concerning immigration to the United States. The exhibition debuted at the Galería de la Raza and subsequently toured nationwide as part of an exhibition called La Frontera/The Border: Art About the Mexico/United States Border Experience.
López has produced two films: Images of Mexicans in the Media and When you Think of Mexico, which challenge the way the mass media depicts Mexicans and other Latin Americans.
She served as Director of Education at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco, and has taught at University of California, Berkeley, Mills College, and Stanford University.
According to López, "It is important for us to be visually literate; it is a survival skill. The media is what passes for culture in contemporary U.S. society, and it is extremely powerful. It is crucial that we systematically explore the cultural mis-definition of Mexicans and Latin Americans that is presented in the media."
Selected artwork
Things I never told my son about being a Mexican
Things I never told my Son about being a Mexican was a featured as a piece in López's exhibition Cactus Hearts/Barbed Wire Dreams in 1988. The piece touches on identity, assimilation, and cultural change; it consists of different three-dimensional items attached to a large yellow backdrop with a zigzag border on the top and a barbed wire border on the bottom. The bottom text reads: "THINGS I NEVER TOLD MY SON ABOUT BEING A MEXICAN". Items in the work vary from cactus cutouts, to children's clothing, to pictures. The work's message ranges from embracing one's culture to addressing the oppression and discrimination faced in America, as the two borders can represent the literal borders between the United States and Mexico. It can also be connected to López's "culture shock" experience after going to college, where she realized that she knew nothing about her own Mexican heritage or cultural history. Things I never told my Son about being a Mexican is also another one of López's art pieces that emphasizes the breaking away of the typical Chicana/o art style.
Things I never told my son about being a Mexican addresses her son, Río Yañez, who was only nine years old at the time. In terms of relevance to the Chicana/o art scene this piece stands towards the end of the current peak of the movement. The typical Chicana/o art style normally consists of bright colorful paintings or murals. However, in this work, the atypical color scheme of Chicana/o art is eye catching; the work does not use a large amount of colors at all and can be considered simplistic. What also makes the piece unique is the message, arrangement, and the bright background color.
The traditional Mexican children's clothing possibly represent the innocence she held before her "culture shock" in college. In terms of flow with positive and negative space, the artwork moves vertically from the top to the bottom from a positive space to a negative space, starting with a playful red zigzag pattern that stands out and ending with a grey barbed wire pattern that is seemingly hidden in comparison to the sharpness of the red. The piece depicts the unawareness of López's own culture and possibly serves as a warning or lesson for her son, warning him not to let American culture drown out their heritage and cultural history. The work is textured and three dimensional, as it is a mixed media collage, rather than a painting. The children's clothes stick out and protrude from the warm yellow background wall, even the barbed wire is brought to life as a result of the angles of the barbed edges being drawn from an aerial perspective. As Karen Mary Davalos argues, "López intentionally selected these objects for their mundane or everyday quality so that she could support her argument about the ubiquitous nature of stereotypical images. The images of sleeping Mexicans, smiling señoritas, and dancing fruits and vegetables are made absurd through unexpected placement, juxtaposition, and repetition. Her work interrogates images of Mexicans and Chicanos, and it challenges not only the context in which fine art is displayed but also the assumptions about who should be invited into such elite spaces."
The Guadalupe series
Beginning in 1978 and ending in 1988, Yolanda López's Virgen de Guadalupe series gained López a high amount of recognition by depicting not only people close to her as the Virgen de Guadalupe, but also by reimagining the image in different forms. This drew in the public eye with these new, albeit controversial, depictions of the Virgen de Guadalupe. However, starting a controversy was not López's intention. In "American Women: Great lives from History", Mary K. Trigg offers a perspective into the lives of American women spanning from colonial time up to the present day, and discusses their work in politics, civil rights, literature, education, journalism, science, business, and sports. In a section on López, Trigg writes, "López's formal education and burgeoning feminism contributed to her growing interest in the politics of representation, resulting in work that progressively examined the social and cultural invisibility of women". López wanted to depict the Virgen de Guadalupe in numerous ways: to give women, specifically those originating from Chicana culture, new forms of representation along with López's own comments on society. As Guisela M. Latorre argues, "mages such as Ester Hernández’s 1976 etching Libertad depicting a young Chicana resculpting the Statue of Liberty to resemble a Maya carving, and Yolanda López’s pastel drawings (1978) that depicted herself, her mother, and her grandmother in the role of the Virgin of Guadalupe were examples of early Chicana art that placed women at the center of discourses on liberation and decolonization".
The Virgen De Guadalupe
Virgen de Guadalupe
To better understand why López wanted to depict the Virgen de Guadalupe in multiple ways, one must understand what the religious figure stood for. It is one of the most recognizable religious figures in the world and one of the most important figures to the people of Mexico. She is a symbol of love, faith, and identity. However, not all the symbolism could be perceived as purely positive; the Virgen de Guadalupe also symbolizes motherhood, virginity, and femininity, which López felt the need to not only address but also critique in her work. In "Yolanda López: Breaking Chicana stereotypes", Betty Laduke goes into more detail about López's true goal for her Virgen de Guadalupe series. Laduke quotes López saying: "I feel living, breathing women also deserve the respect and love lavished on Guadalupe ... It is a call to look at women, hardworking, enduring and mundane, as the heroines of our daily routine... We privately agonize and sometimes publicly speak out on the representation of us in the majority culture. But what about the portrayal of ourselves in our own culture? Who are our heroes, our role models?... It is dangerous for us to wait around for the dominant culture to define and validate what role models we should have." López aims to not only praise women through her Virgen de Guadalupe but to offer young women a role model with a familiar face.
When looking at the original depiction of the Virgen de Guadalupe one notices a luminous light that outlines the virgin. This light represents God's heavenly light, and that the Virgen de Guadalupe is indeed blessed by His light. The crescent moon symbolizes her virginity, the angel that supports her and carries her is a symbol of her importance as the heavenly queen. In the Christian faith, her turquoise shawl with golden stars symbolizes her eternal life, while the bow around her waist is a symbol of her virginity, and the swelling of her abdomen shows that she is indeed carrying a child. However, she most importantly symbolizes maternity. It could even be argued that the Virgen de Guadalupe establishes gender roles, which works with the idea of a holy woman who is a virgin untouched by sin, a woman carrying a child from God, and a mother ready to give her child love and affection.
Although many artists opt to make original artwork, some, like López, redesign an impactful cultural image in order to change a viewer's point of view and offer an alternative interpretation. Her paintings did the opposite, showing how Mexican women should look and it bothered her. The painting shows how Mexican women should be gracefully, skinny, young, and "good". López explains in the original Virgin that she is "bound by the excess cloth around her legs that makes her immobile". López was tired of seeing stereotypical paintings of Mexican American women so she made her own three-piece series to truly capture the beauty of Mexican women, and two important women in her life, her mother and grandmother. She wanted to show the three generations for her series going from young, to middle, and to old age.
The Artist as the Virgen of Guadalupe painting shows López herself running out of the picture frame, smiling with her running shoes as if competing in a race, wearing Mary's shawl as a cape, and jumping over the red, white, and blue angel, showing pride in her culture, and finally holding a snake to demonstrate the strength she holds. López explains this imagery, saying "he holds the Guadalupe cloak like a cape at the end of a race and jumps over the angel with red, white, and blue wings a symbol of the United States capitalism". In "Yolanda López: Breaking Chicana Stereotypes" Laduke explains, "López not only commands her body but seems to predict her role as an artist who is not afraid of encountering social and political issues or using her skills to promote social change". López is not afraid to challenge society or to change what has been falsely represented in Mexican culture, through images of the Virgin Mary, and through images projecting how young women and mothers should look or behave a certain way. Through her art, López challenges her culture. As Karen Mary Davalos asserts, "López consistently confronts predominant modes of Latino and Latina representations, proposing new models of gender, racial, and cultural identity".
López says of her intended viewer: "Over the years as I have created my art, I have tried to address an audience, a Chicano audience, specifically a California Chicano audience". She addressed this audience with her work, gearing it towards Mexican American/Chicana women in California. Alma López says, "Yolanda stated that by doing these portraits of her mother, grandmother, and herself she wanted to draw attention and pay homage to working class women, old women, middle-aged overweight women, young, and self-assertive women".
López's Nuestra Madre (1981–88, acrylic and oil paint on masonite, 4 x 6 feet), is one of the portraits in her Virgin of Guadalupe series in which she transformed original images of the Virgen de Guadalupe to offer viewers new insight. Her depiction of the virgin in Nuestra Madre depicts an older and more ancient stone figure, harking back to the importance of the Mexican and Chicano/a community today. In Nuestra Madre López likens the portrait to an ancient goddess. During the 16th-century, people saw the Virgin of Guadalupe as connected to the ancient goddess Tonantzin. Tonantzin is an ancient Aztec goddess the people of Mexico would worship in Tepeyac when the Spaniards had not yet colonized Mexico. Later, she was then disguised to look different so that the Spaniards would allow them to keep her as a religious image that was acceptable to their newer foreign religion of Catholicism. López decided to remove the disguise of the Virgin of Guadalupe that was placed on Tonantzin, before she was covered to assimilate into the church of this new religion being forced onto the people of Mexico. López wanted to bring that part of Mexican history back because she wanted Chicano/as to know their history and she does not want them to forget that part of themselves that was hidden. Not only is the Virgin of Guadalupe an ancient goddess but she is also a feminist symbol, but she is seen as a protector and a leader to the people in poverty. Even though the Virgen de Guadalupe is seen as a gentlewoman, she is strong and powerful, and someone for men to look to for help because she is their savior and they see her as an equal. As Karen Mary Davalos explains, López's "intent was not to explore the Virgen de Guadalupe’s divinity but to deconstruct the image 'to see how we present ourselves'. López’s deconstruction of images of women such as the Virgen de Guadalupe was an effort to acknowledge the complex social and historical conditions that inform the experiences of Mexican and Mexican American women".
López's Virgin of Guadalupe series is one that shows women as powerful beings who are not simply caregivers, objects, housewives; instead they are powerful goddesses who are capable of so much more, which is powerful within itself.
¿A Donde Vas, Chicana?
While attending the University of California, San Diego, Yolanda Lopez created ¿A Donde Vas, Chicana?, English for “Where are you going, Chicana?”, Getting through College series as part of her MFA exhibition in 1977. The four by five feet canvas painted with acrylic and oil portrays a toned Lopez as the runner jogging intensely across a college campus in a tank top and shorts with her hair pulled back. She based this painting on her experience of running to get in shape and have control over her body. In the journal article “Yolanda Lopez: Breaking Chicana Stereotypes”, Betty LaDuke interviews Lopez and she informs us that the series was presented from the perspective of "a woman calling on her body in an assertive and physically disciplined manner as a power ally. She also comments on the runner’s noteworthiness saying, "It is female. It is Chicana. It is a self-portrait. The metaphor extends from the symbolic fortitude of women to the literal image of a Chicana's struggle in a formidable institution." Lopez then analyzes a runner’s “short-lived speed with women's psychological and physical sustaining power of endurance." She ends the interview with a strong and clear message, "Endurance is one of our greatest survival tools."
Select exhibitions
1993 - La Frontera / The Border: Art about the Mexico/United States Border Experience, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, California
1997 - Mirror, Mirror... Gender Roles and the Historical Significance of Beauty, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, California
2008 - A Declaration of Immigration, group exhibition, National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago, Illinois
2008 - Women’s Work is Never Done, solo exhibition, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA), San Francisco, California
2011 - Mex/L.A.:Mexican Modernisms in Los Angeles, 1930-1985, Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California.
2017 - Here Now: Where We Stand, group exhibition, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA), San Francisco, California
2017 – 2018 - Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.
2021 - Portrait of the Artist, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, California
See also
Chicano art movement
Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation
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