Artist Santa Barraza



I think that my encounter with the civil rights movement and the struggles of Mexican Americans, I first became aware of it when I was at the University. At the time José Rivera was there, Carmen Lomas Garza, Amado Peña, José Angel Gutiérrez as a graduate student, Carlos Guerra who had just put together MAYO and César Martinez would occasionally come back–he had already graduated.

At the time I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to make a difference. When I was at the University of Texas I did not see myself reflected in any of the books, in any of the textbooks, any of the paintings, and so I felt I needed to do something about that. The female image, the iconography, the Chicana imagery–I was particularly very interested in that because I was trying to figure out what direction of painting, what direction of artwork, I should take.

I started doing research on the Virgin de Guadalupe. According to the ancient legend, the way that she is interpreted originally was no the way we see her today. Originally she was 16 years old maiden. She spoke in her indigenous language, she was Nahuatl. She was dark-skinned.

The Mexican colonial painters actually redid her image, made her look more European so that the dominant culture would accept her. I felt we needed to look beyond that and see the hidden meaning in that image. So I started doing research on that and I started to use those in my works. I started playing with the image to take back the ancient interpretation of the image of the earth.

So, for example, when you see the Virgin de Guadalupe instead of having stars, I have indigenous fertility symbols on it. I think it is important because traditionally we are a matriarchal society, but now we are not. Our original culture was matriarchal, so I felt it was important to empower the younger generations of women to realize that this. So I started to make this correction through my art. I am actually appropriating our ancient past, reinterpreting it in a very contemporary way. Now it becomes American art, a contemporary American art expression.