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Photo: Ivan Gartner 2014, at Fusion NY, "Outlaw Clothesline" detail

My art is a journey towards political, spiritual and personal liberation. The midwife-assisted home births of my two boys forced me to re-evaluate all of the political ideologies I had been surrounded by and contextualize them within the day to day human quest for survival and liberation. In Spanish, dar a luz, (give to light), is the expression for giving birth. With my recent work I explore dar a luz as a form of surrender. When giving to light we surrender to pain, releasing it and transcending it. Through that process we gain an awareness that pushes beyond the limitations imposed on us by others—limitations we sometimes internalize. There are many who engage in political liberation discourses while persisting in personal prisons of fear, self-doubt and even self-hate. In birthing two lives, I also birthed a new me, committed to the work of liberating myself. My recent projects are contemplations on releasing pain and embracing light and liberation.

The fertility goddesses Yemaya, (Yoruba) and Atabex, (Taíno ) have greatly influenced my work. These and other fertility figures of my ancestry provide a framework for viewing my own and all human bodies as sacred. Their images challenge modern concepts of the body as limited, broken, dis-eased and dirty, in need of cleansing, correcting, numbing and medicating. My Linea Negra project counters these negative views and reclaims the sacred state of birthing from a male-driven, over-medicalized industry. The fertility figures of our ancestors beckon us to honor the sacred vessels of our bodies and to reignite the power of spirit over matter. These teachings are also paramount to my family’s espiritismo tradition and helped me come to terms with my brother’s cancer battle and his eventual loss to that battle. The Outlaw Clothesline project is a series of mixed media works on bandanas in memory of my brother. In the piece “Hear it Calling me Back Home,” I record the memory of Led Zepplin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” playing in the hospital room. I realized that with its lyrics, my brother’s spirit was informing me of his departure. He passed a half hour later. Marking these simultaneously painful and strangely beautiful memories on these bandanas has been cathartic, allowing me to release the pain from my body and let my spirit carry on lighter.

As with the bandanas of the Outlaw Clothesline Project, whenever possible I trade the usual canvas for alternative surfaces and fabrics that serve as political and cultural signifiers. The cotton bandanas reference the aesthetics of the outlaw subculture to have risen among urban youth of color in the 1970s and early 80s, during hip hops infancy, where they appropriated the chains, bandanas and leather prevalent among bikers. I adapt my visual language as required by these alternative surfaces. With the bandanas I develop each art piece by weaving calligraphy and imagery into the existing printed generic designs. My Bieké project functions similarly making use of camouflage patterns to develop portraits of a series of valientes, Vieques activists who fought to end the US Navy bombing maneuvers on their island. In doing so, I subvert the camouflage of the US soldiers that practiced their bombings on that island to instead reclaim it for those fighting for the just cause of personal, political and environmental justice. My Archivos Subversivos project features portraits of Puerto Rican independence supporters deemed subversive by the US government. Referencing the practice of government surveillance files, I create each portrait on a manila file folder. Each includes collaged documents and images, some taken from actual government surveillance files obtained by the archives at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York City. The other surface that I have used heavily is saco or burlap, associated with Babalu Aye the Yoruba deity who protects the sick and the poor. For this material, I abandon my full palette, working instead with earth tones to evoke dry lands as a commentary on the decline of agricultural production and self-sufficiency in Puerto Rico since the US occupation of 1898.

My paintings and mixed media works often incorporate collage. Layering documents and photos allows me to build a richer narrative of suppressed histories and the often untold stories of the marginalized. Equally essential in developing these narrative-based works, mainly portraits, is the use of text. Song lyrics, testimonials of featured subjects, personal narratives and my own poetry are incorporated as calligraphy. I began drawing and painting when I was 13 years old. As an 8th grade student in East New York Brooklyn, I also participated in an after-school calligraphy class taught by my Chinese homeroom teacher. Calligraphy has since been a central component in my art practice. Aware of the prominent role calligraphy played in 20th century Puerto Rican art, my calligraphy is an ode to the artists that came before me, like Lorenzo Homar and Rafael Tufiño who documented the socio-political changes of our homeland.

© Copyright 2002-14 , Yasmin Hernandez. Under no circumstances should any of the images or content of this site be downloaded, printed or reproduced without direct permission from the artist.