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MCASD Opens Their Exhibit on Chicana Artist Yolanda López

López's first solo exhibit will open to the public on October 16

By Carlos Rico

Lopez - Guadalupe

Lopez – Guadalupe

It’s a portrait of a young woman wearing sneakers and a pink dress. A snake is in her right hand and the Virgin Mary’s star-patterned mantle is draped over her shoulder. This painting is just one of Yolanda López’s many iconic works on Chicana feminism, and it’s on display this month at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego downtown.

A Chicana artist and activist, López created Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1978 as part of a collection of work entitled Virgen de Guadalupe—a mix of paintings, drawings, and collage that put a twist on the representation of Chicana women. This collection, totaling 50 unique pieces, will be on display at MCASD’s exhibit Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist. López passed away on September 3 at age 79; this was to be her first solo museum exhibition.

Yolanda Lopez - headshot

Yolanda Lopez – headshot

Alexa “LexMex” Treviño

“She is one of the most important artists in the history of Chicana art and has long been a kind of a feminist hero of mine ever since I encountered her work in graduate school,” Jill Dawsey, curator of MCASD, said before López’s death. “When I went to meet her in May of 2019, I didn’t realize that she hadn’t had a proper museum show, so we began putting together a show focused on her work in the 1970s and ’80s.”

Almost all of the work in the exhibit was created during this period, Dawsey said. And despite a mix of media (charcoal, collage, oil pastel, paint, photography, printmaking), they all share the common threads of political activism, feminism, and Chicanx culture. López was born and raised in Barrio Logan in 1942. In the late 1960s, she moved to the Bay Area and began pursuing activism on behalf of Chicanx issues. There, she was a founding member of the defense committee for Los Siete de la Raza, which advocated for the release of a group of Latino men who were accused and later acquitted of the murder of a San Francisco police officer. López also created graphic art that was widely shared to increase community support for the men. In 1968, she joined the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition of students who fought for Asian American, Black, Latino, and Native American courses at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley.

In addition to her works, López’s exhibit will also have an essay from Irene Lara, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. Lara’s essay incorporates her personal narrative of discovering López’s work as a first-generation college student, describing how it set her on a path to Chicana feminism.

“I talked about how it was the first piece of art that I felt had directly imagined me as an audience member and was speaking to who I was at that time, and who I was beginning to imagine I could become,” Lara says. “An empowered young woman who had pride in who I was, with my Mexican and Chicano roots, and was willing to be bold in questioning the identities as a girl and as a woman that I had been socialized into.” About the MCASD exhibit, she adds, “I really feel a lot of pride to be part of this project and to contribute to her legacy.”

Lopez - On My Own

Lopez – On My Own

That legacy continues to make an impact in the art world. López was a recipient of the National Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award and of a $50,000 grant from the Latinx Artist Fellowship. This May, San Francisco artist Jessica Sabogal and a team of six women finished four murals of López, honoring her work as an activist in the 1960s, on the side of an affordable housing complex on Folsom Street.

The exhibit Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist will be at MCASD from October 16 through April 2022, and will be open free of charge on opening day.

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