These ladies made sure their voices would be heard on their own terms.
The last time Maritza Lugo showed her work in an art show, she noticed she was one of the only WOC on the roster… again. When the discomfort that realization brought failed to leave her, she decided to take matters into her own hands by creating an art show that would only showcase work by WOC, turning the spotlight onto a traditionally underrepresented group for a change. With no previous curation experience of her own, she contacted Erika Paget, an experienced curator and all around rad babe, and that’s when MissRepresentation: A Show for Praising Women of Color was born. The show, which is being housed at L.A.’s Junior High Gallery, opened on December 10 to a full house and closes on January 6th, so you still have loads of time to catch it. We chatted with Maritza and Erika about challenges they face as WOC artists, drowning in “white girl feelings,” and dismantling the patriarchy, one art showing at a time.
What sparked your desire to curate a show like MissRepresentation?
Maritza: The idea for MissRepresentation came from previously being in another art show. While the show was a success and had a lot of great artists in it, I didn’t get a sense of it being intersectional or inclusive to women of color. As a Latina, I couldn’t really name other WOC artists in the show. When I came up with the idea of MissRepresentation, I knew I needed someone with curating experience, and that’s when I wrote Erika, and MissRepresentation hit the ground running.
Erika: I’ve curated art shows in the past, and after the election, I definitely wanted to do something that felt meaningful and impactful. So I was really excited and on-board when Maritza brought the idea to me.
Have either of you personally felt any challenges as non-white artists?
Maritza: As a woman, entering any industry is an uphill battle–and even more so for people of color. Trying to enter the art world is a challenge itself, considering the art world is dominated by mainly white CIS males. As a Latina artist, it’s been especially challenging for me.
Erika: I’ve definitely felt challenges just by being a woman in the art world. Once, when I was curating an art show, I had the owner of a print shop I was working with ask me whose art show I was promoting–it didn’t seem to occur to him that the flyers were for my own show! I also do embroidery, which is very much considered “women’s work,” and people hesitate to take it seriously as a medium, which is frustrating.
Why do you think the mainstream art world is so inaccessible to WOC?
Maritza: A lot of WOC artists don’t come from privileged backgrounds, and art as a career has a pricey overhead.The mainstream art world is or has been inaccessible because of socioeconomic inequalities. The flip side of this is, great talent will always be found with or without money. We were able to find artists because there was a clear void that needed to be filled.
Erika: From what I’ve observed after briefly studying photography and going to museums for most of my life, the art world likes identity politics when that identity is of an affected white male. When the art world actually acknowledges women, it’s still from a very white perspective. Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger are feminist art icons, but women of color, like Kara Walker and Lorna Simpson, often get left out of the discussion. You have to look at who’s creating the canon for contemporary art, and it’s primarily white men.
Why did you choose Junior High as the gallery to showcase your exhibit?
Erika: We went with Junior High because it felt completely in-line with our message and our ethos. Faye [the gallery director] works hard to provide a space for marginalized voices–especially within the art world–so we couldn’t think of a better match for our show.
Tell us about the process of getting submissions. Was there an overall theme you were hoping to stay with?
Maritza: After announcing the open art submissions, we received a lot of emails from women from all over the country just thanking us for even putting this show on. I personally spoke to over 100+ women that submitted their art, and it was so hard narrowing it down to 40+ artists. There are so many tremendously talented WOC artists out there. The best part was tracking them down and speaking to them. Instagram was a huge help. I was able to reach out to artists I was a fan of, and with Instagram, the visuals were already there.
The common theme for the show was that as WOC, we’ve all had different but similar experiences. We left it up to the artists. We told them to let their experiences speak through the art.
Erika: Maritza is more of a working artist than I am, so she had a lot more instinctual go-to candidates for the show. I contacted artists I’d had in previous art shows and then also put out a call on some of the WOC art Facebook groups I’m in. From there, the roster just started filling up. We were overwhelmed and humbled by all the artists interested in participating. As far as a theme, we just kept it to the idea of representation, whether that be how you feel the world represents you, how you represent yourself, or even lighter subjects, like re-imagining cultural icons from a WOC lens.
You previously said that felt like you were drowning in “white girl feelings.” How do you feel now?
Maritza: Drowning in white girl feelings is something I think all WOC can relate to. When you have feminism akin to the likes of Lena Dunham and within forums like Pantsuit Nation where WOC threads are being over taken by white women going on about how they think they’re allies to the WOC narrative, then no, the situation has not changed. I cannot say, however, that white women haven’t been allies to MissRepresentation or the message. We’ve received a lot of support. In the end, it’s not about being “anti-white, it’s about being inclusive and being open to having your privilege checked.
Erika: STILL SO MANY WHITE GIRL FEELINGS. We definitely have a long way to go before white women’s feelings and voices aren’t prized socially above other women’s. But the opportunity to give WOC a platform where their voices are loudest feels like an amazing first step.
How do you think lack of representation has affected past generations of artists and how will it affect a future generation?
Erika: I know it definitely affected me when I was younger. Growing up, media, fashion, and music were very white. Almost all of the art I made was of white women. All of the spreads I pulled out of magazines and plastered on my walls as a teenager were of beautiful white women. I was only aware of myself as outside of the norm. It’s very subtle but does a lot of damage long-term to any young, creative person. It sets limits where there really are none, and putting a limit on the imagination is awful.
Maritza: I think a lack of representation is dangerous. If WOC or POC can’t see themselves represented in pop culture or the art world, then a lot is at stake. Young women shouldn’t have to wonder why their dolls don’t look like them or their heroines. I don’t think this is the direction we are going in though. Artists are the most expressive people on the planet & their narratives are important. If we call ourselves a “melting pot” as a nation but don’t see ourselves reflected in it, then we aren’t being honest. By starting now and being vocal, by creating a culture where lack of diversity isn’t an issue, we can augment the self esteem of future WOC.
What do you think art galleries can do to change the way WOC are represented? What do you think artists and fans can do?
Maritza: I think art galleries can take a cue from Junior High and be more inclusive. There is a need for more representation and more diversified voices. Art galleries should represent not only their artists but also their community, because art is a beautiful thing, and it is for absolutely everyone. Galleries opening their doors to a more diverse crowd or group of people would make for a lucrative experience. There is a demand for WOC to be represented; it’s just a matter of listening. It’s simply supply and demand. By that token, artists should flood their Instagrams, reach out to galleries, and hit the pavement getting their work out there.
Erika: I would love to see more DIY, artist-run spaces; there’s such an elitism in the corporate art world that feels purposely exclusive, and I think we need to start taking the power away from those spaces. Fans definitely need to support the spaces that do exist for marginalized and under-represented voices. These galleries and spaces are for the people, and we as a community need to make sure they thrive.
What’s next for MissRepresentation? Any plans to host the exhibit at a second gallery?
Maritza: There will be a closing ceremony for MissRepresentation on January 6th at Junior High. As of right now, there are no plans to host it at a second gallery. The next step is to come back bigger and better with the next idea.
What’s next on your personal agendas?
Erika: I’m looking into opening my own space in the future! I really want to create a place that serves the entire community and positively impacts people’s lives. As far as the near future is concerned, I’m organizing a fundraiser to benefit the Texas Planned Parenthood, which was recently defunded by the state. I’m excited to keep making a difference any way I can.
Maritza: As for me, I’ll continue creating my own artwork. I’m in the process of writing a book and seeing where my artwork takes me. I can’t wait to see where 2017 takes MissRepresentation.
You can catch MissRepresentation until January 6th at Junior High Gallery, located at 5656 Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles.
Photos by Rebecca Aranda.