We honor Yolanda López in this issue of Persimmon Tree by showing images of her far-ranging work. Born in 1942, she is a painter, printmaker, educator, video artist and activist. Her art focuses on the experience of Mexican Americans and often challenges ethnic stereotypes associated with them.
As López wrote in 2008 (Women’s Work is Never Done, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, San Francisco): “Growing up in San Diego, ten minutes from the Mexican/U.S. international border amid a family with a cast of characters suitable for any Gregory Nava script, my family spoke English and Mexico City Spanish in equal measure. Victoria Fuentes Castillo, my grandma, tried to teach me civility. However it was her critical and wry conversation that interested me the most. My beautiful and meticulously groomed mother, Margaret, worked in the basement of the Grant Hotel and several French laundries as a presser. In 1978 she designed and created for me a contemporary Guadalupe gown, based on a Calvin Klein disco dress pattern. Indelibly I learned from her the sacredness of a union picket line.”
Among the works López is best known for is her groundbreaking Virgin of Guadalupe series. In describing this, she has said (Contemporary Art and Multicultural Education, Susan Cahan and Zoya Kocur, eds.): “By doing portraits of ordinary women—my mother, my grandmother, and myself—I wanted to draw attention and pay homage to working-class women, old women, middle-aged overweight women, young, exuberant, self-assertive women.” López consistently challenges the ways Latinos and Latinas are represented, and she presents us with new models of gender, ethnic, and cultural identity.
1. Self-Portrait, from Tres Mujeres/Three Generations series. 1975-76.
Charcoal on paper, 4 x 8 feet.