Gallery 400 Blog

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Being a Woman in the Arts is a Struggle and a Dream

Marwen Art at Work student Isabel Chavez reflects on her summer internship at Gallery 400.

During my time as an intern at Gallery 400, I can say that I have definitely learned a lot these past five weeks. Before entering Gallery 400, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I researched as much as I could, especially since it was my first internship, but a website doesn’t give as much information as a first hand experience.

Upon entering the gallery I was given a short tour of the whole premises, including the exhibition Black Light, which was an amazing exhibition on display during my internship. After meeting everyone, I noticed something that I’m not quite used to: an all-women staff. I wasn’t mortified in any way by this, in fact, I was relieved. Relieved because I know that being a teenage girl, I have a lot of questions for women that have worked within the field of humanities and liberal arts. Maybe a bit of history can help explain as to why my involvement with Gallery 400 is so significant to me...

Being a Xicana, from the earliest I can remember I always knew I had to do things differently in order to achieve my goals. Of course I am not the only one, as today in the 21st century, many women are still being treated unequally. I can ramble on and on about this topic but I won’t because I want to show appreciation to the women in the arts who have come a long way and were able to display their work.

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Carmen Lomas Garza, Tamalada, 1988, color lithograph, 20 x 27 in.

One artist I have always admired, and who is very well known to many, is Frida Kahlo. Mainly, the reasons why I have always looked up to her was because she identified herself as a woman destroying those “women” stereotypes and especially being from Mexico. I learned that although you may have a cis male significant other, who is also a wellknown artist, you can still make your own name and not be known as “his wife who also happens to paint and obviously wants to take away the attention from all the hard work he does.” Frida Kahlo is known for her work only and she stood for what she believed in.

I also appreciate Mexican-American artists Carmen Lomas Garza and Yolanda Lopez who both have been involved in the Chicano movement. They used their culture and identity to bring awareness to issues many didn’t accept. Garza is well known for acknowledging racism from her childhood in her paintings while Lopez is known for her Virgen de Guadalupe series.

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Yolanda M. López, Margaret F. Stewart: Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1978, from the Guadalupe series, oil pastel on paper, 30 x 22 in.

There is also Xiao Lu, who felt that her art was more for the people rather than herself after she caused a “political action” on one of her displays in the China Avant-Garde Exhibition in 1989. Finally, Kara Walker, a Black artist who uses silhouettes in her works to show racial identity during the pre-Civil War times and including slavery. Using these methods, she creates stories that she wants to invoke.

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Xiao Lu, Dialogue, 1989, chromogenic color print 31.5 x 47.25

There have been many instances that I’ve told myself that going into the arts field is a bad idea. Like my aunts say, “It’s not worth it”, “You won’t get paid enough”, “Nobody does those things anymore.” Although those thoughts have gone through my head, I can definitely admit that I always come to a realization that I enjoy the arts and that despite all the struggles that come with it, I will be brave enough to follow my dreams. Nothing is more satisfying than knowing that you went through something you feared wouldn’t work out.

Having these women to look up to is such a privilege because having someone to look up to is such a great feeling. They give you hope and reassurance knowing that you can achieve far beyond what you can imagine. My knowledge of these artists has encouraged me to do even more research on women artists, from all disciplines in the arts. I know that with doing this, whenever I’m feeling as if my work isn’t valuable because of my identity, I’ll remember that these women are very similar to me. If they made it even though the world was close-minded, then I can too.

Being able to experience a workplace where women are in charge, is something that I have a hard time explaining my gratefulness for. I will definitely remember Gallery 400 for showing me the importance of accepting people for who they are because it is us, the women in the arts who make this world go round.

Isabel Chavez is a rising senior at Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, who wishes to pursue her interests in theatre and Latinx history.