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Judithe Hernández, “Beyond Myself, Somewhere, I Wait for My Arrival”

By Liz Goldner

Riverside Art Museum, Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture, Riverside, California
Exhibition continues through August 4, 2024
May 4, 2024

Judithe Hernández, “Les Desmoiselles del Barrio,” 2013, pastel mixed-media on archival wood panel, 60 x 80”.
Courtesy of The Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach

The more than 80 drawings in Judithe Hernández’s exhibition “Beyond Myself, Somewhere, I Wait for My Arrival” depart from the common Chicano art themes of contemporary life and Aztec roots. Hernández’s pastels on paper primarily depict women striking soulful and defiant poses — many appearing as a younger version of the artist — in response to challenging social, political, and economic conditions. Her portraits and landscapes, which address the legacies and trauma of colonialism, sexism, and the deleterious effects of patriarchy, are realized with classical figurative techniques, bright coloration and surreal perspectives.

Judithe Hernández, “Soy la Desconocida,” 2022, pastel on paper, 22 x 30”. Courtesy of the artist

One of Hernández’s most forthright works, its style and theme referencing Eurocentric modern art, is “Les Desmoiselles del Barrio” (The Maidens of the Barrio, 2013). The drawing alludes to Picasso’s Cubist landmark “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) showing five grotesquely masked women in a brothel, reinforcing male superiority. Hernandez’ conveys an opposing message with her six scantily clothed females who fearlessly display their youthful bodies, each wearing or holding luchadores (wrestler) masks with antlers. Hernandez accompanies her barrio ladies with two deer. The antlers and deer represent the life-death cycle and the capacity to defend oneself.

Judithe Hernández, “Beyond Myself, Somewhere, I Wait for My Arrival,” 2023, pastel on paper, 32 x 48”.
Courtesy of Barbara & Zach Horowitz

“Les Desmoiselles del Barrio” is the centerpiece of this show's “Luchadora Series” (2007-2019). These are derived from Hernández’s childhood experiences viewing luchadores in action. “The Purification” (2013) features the bust of a tender but strong woman, wearing a mask and antler, nuzzled and protected by two deer. “The Sword of Saint Joan” (2013) depicts the Saint holding a sword across her breast as three gentle deer watch over her. “The Eyes of the Martyr” (2013) is a discomfiting illustration of a woman whose upper body is barely clothed and her eyes stare fiercely at the world as she clutches a mask.

Luchadora masks are often associated with men. Hernandez makes a point of adorning women with them, thereby symbolically bestowing them with an appreciation of life’s sacredness and the power to deal with violence rooted in patriarchy.

Judithe Hernández, “Lilith’s Dream,” 2018, pastel on paper, 30 x 40”. Courtesy of the artist

Another powerful series, “Juarez” (2006-2019), exposes the femicides of numerous women from 1993 to 2011 along the border in Juárez, Mexico. A striking work is “Juárez Quinceañera” (2017), a morose celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday. The subject, wearing an elegant black gown and a huge head decoration, clutches a pair of calla lilies. Her eyes are shut and her mouth partly open so she appears about to scream. Viewers, especially those familiar with the Mexican celebration and with the Juárez crimes, will react emotionally to the terrible news the girl is dealing with. This visceral scene might remind us of the tragedies affecting so many people in third world countries.

“Juárez Coyolxauhqui” (2008), referencing the moon goddess, is a macabre conceptual depiction of rape and murder. A naked woman, drifting in the abyss of her mind and in the heavens, wears a distraught expression, besieged by ropes, her arms and hands snapped off her body as a doll’s might be. “Juárez: Ciudad de la Muerte” (2008) portrays a greenish nude body with its head propped forward. It is the visual equivalent of the many reports written about “Juarez: City of Death” — writings that include descriptions of tortured, maimed and abused bodies dumped into desert areas and vacant lots.

Judithe Hernandez, “Santa Desconocida,” 2016, pastel on paper. Courtesy of the artist

Also adorning this wide-ranging exhibition are the compellingly lyrical series “Mexico” (2003-2018) and “Adam and Eve” (2009-2020). Several contain dreamlike landscapes, surreal and symbolic elements that include birds, deer, ribbons and flowers. “Lilith’s Dream” (2018) is a soulful portrayal of an elegant woman blissfully floating in an imaginary landscape. The drawing’s reference to the first wife of Adam recasts her not as a demon but as a powerful woman at ease with who she is. “The Journey to Heaven’s Western Gate” (2019) features the same woman paying homage to deceased ancestors in a pastel cemetery, again accompanied by a deer. In “The Birth of Eve” (2010), the artist presents a beautiful naked woman sleeping among the foliage of Eden. With a red hand caressing her, this woman contradicts the biblical regard for Eve as sinful, “a portrayal which has been used to subjugate women that have historically asserted any kind of agency or power,” the wall text explains. “Hernández subverts patriarchal narratives, creating a powerful Eve.”

Judithe Hernández, “The Journey to Heaven’s Western Gate,” 2019, pastel on paper, 44 x 60”. Courtesy of the artist

Hernández was the fifth founding member of Los Four, the 1970s Southern California Chicano artist collective, and has been a working artist for five decades. The themes seen throughout this show are profoundly different from the Aztec-themed pieces of her Los Four colleagues — Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, Gilbert Luján and Robert de la Rocha. Her work conveys personal and conceptual expressions of women today, grappling with and overcoming the condition of “being a woman, poor, and Mexican,” as explained in the show’s wall text. Her artistic vision decisively transcends the vicissitudes of women’s lives.

Liz Goldner is an award-winning art writer based in Laguna Beach. She has contributed to the LA Times, LA Weekly, KCET Artbound, Artillery, AICA-USA Magazine, Orange County Register, Art Ltd. and several other print and online publications. She has written reviews for ArtScene and Visual Art Source since 2009. 
Liz Goldner's Website.
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