“Uncharted” is an interview series created in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re talking to people in the New Mexico arts world and beyond to see how the community is navigating this unprecedented health crisis. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jodie Herrera is an Albuquerque-based artist. Her new exhibition, Nuevo, is a collaboration with Frank Blazquez, one of Southwest Contemporary’s 12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now 2020.
The subject matter in your pieces is very much on the minds of the collective right now, especially in regards to trauma. Can you share a little background about this work?
I work with and paint women who have survived trauma. They are in a place where they are ready and would like to share their stories, which I tell through my work by researching symbols from their heritage or personal interests and implementing these symbols within their portraits. I also accompany each of their paintings with a written description of their stories and personal journey for clarity. I started this series almost ten years ago. The subject matter that I speak of in my work are issues that are finally starting to gain awareness on the level necessary for actual change. When I started this series, I was in a place where I was tired of feeling ashamed, damaged, and alone about my own experiences with trauma. I wanted a way to not only show myself but also others that the strength and resilience gained from traumatic experiences should be seen and celebrated. I also wanted our stories as women to be unabashedly told and heard. In telling these stories, I hoped to create a platform for important issues around social injustice and inspire and uplift women that might have gone through or are going through a similar situation.
Some of your recent work includes individual women and the trauma they’ve faced. Now, it feels like the entire world is revealing trauma. How are you processing what’s going on with the pandemic, ongoing racial injustice, and collective feelings of trauma? Does it affect your work, do you use your work to process it?
Absolutely, my work is a way of fighting back. There are moments when everything feels so heavy, so unbearably sad, like there’s almost a feeling of defeat when you look at what still needs to be done to create a just and humane world. But when I pick up my paintbrush it feels like I’m slaying those doubts and providing something that can assist in change. Creating is my sharpest weapon and my most valuable way to contribute. By creating the work I’m not only processing how I feel but also taking those feelings and turning them into action that can hopefully activate others.
I love the message in the recent collaborative piece you did with Frank Blazquez, Her Depth is only fully portrayed when her darkest shadows are present. Does it feel to you like a lot of people’s shadow sides are being revealed right now?
Yes, I think we are living in a time where we are sick of being complacent and we are starved for change. We want to live and be accepted for who we are and shatter social norms that are inherently hateful, oppressive, and encourage shame. In order to do that we have to not only reveal but honor the things about ourselves that we were taught to hide.
There are also many deep wounds in our society that are being brought to the surface. If we continue ignoring their existence we will never give them the attention they need to heal. It’s time to heal, and it’s important to choose how to tend to these wounds. Personally, are you applying alcohol or throwing salt? Both will burn but one just agitates the situation while the other helps. And, if the wound stems from hate and needs to face justice, let’s cauterize it! Ask if you are creating division when it’s a time that we need to band together for the common goal of defeating injustice.
I’ve read that you want to use your art and platform for activism, can you tell me more about that?
My art career has always been centered around activism, It’s a part of what drives me to create. As artists, we are capturing and telling history visually and I want to tell the stories that have not and need to be told. I want to be able to illustrate the reality of our times and represent our experiences and issues as women and marginalized people. In doing so, I also hope the work can act as a catalyst for positive change by inspiring action and being a symbol of solidarity.
Nuevo, your new exhibition with Frank Blazquez, is about the inspiration both you and Blazquez find in your community. Can you tell me about that inspiration?
We both primarily focus on working with people from New Mexico and intend to deconstruct the surface assumptions we may have about others. I think we both see how inspiring our community is and want to create a platform for those stories to reach people that they normally would never reach. I always tell people that New Mexico is a place of healers—we are a state where the majority of the population is made up of marginalized and systematically oppressed people. We are a community that has seen and experienced deep generational trauma. Those who have had the resources and support to navigate beyond their circumstances often feel the call to help and heal others they see in similar situations. We have felt deep pain and have the knowledge and empathy to assist others in their journey in a way that others may not be able to.
How was the opening last week at The (B) Ruppe? Was it surreal with social distancing and masks?
It was definitely different but I was okay with that—I wanted it to be a safe experience. We were worried that it could get out of hand but it was managed so professionally that it wasn’t an issue. There was hired help at the entrance signing people in for contact tracing, regulating the number of people that were allowed in the building, and making sure that everybody had a mask before entering. Social distancing was also strictly practiced and respected by all the guests, so I didn’t have to have very many awkward conversations with people about not hugging and I didn’t have to break out the meter stick. They also had fans at all the entrances to keep the airflow, and they had it set up so people could be outside and eat after they did a quick walk through the gallery. That made it so people filtered through quickly, which also helped. More than anything, I was happy that it was a safe experience, but the presentation of the work was pretty remarkable. I especially loved the projection video of our work and the altar that our collaboration piece was displayed on. The curation was amazing.
The (B) Ruppe
807 4th Street SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
In-person viewing currently suspended due to COVID-19.
View online here.