YOLANDA LOPEZ LATINOPIA HERO
Yolanda M. Lopez (Nov. 1, 1942- September 3, 2021) is a Chicana painter, printmaker, filmmaker, photographer and social activist. A strong feminist whose works challenged stereotypical depictions of Latinos, particularly women. She is perhaps best known for her series of modern renderings of the iconic Virgin de Guadalupe as a jogger, a seamstress and a grandmother.
Yolanda was born in San Diego, California and raised in the Logan Heights Chicano barrio. Her activism as a social critic and artist began in 1969 when she attended San Francisco State University and participated in the San Francisco State Third World Strike. In an interview with filmmaker Jesús Treviño, she recalled how this event, which closed down the campus, awakened her to the plight of oppressed Latinos. “I was not aware of our own history and oppression until 1968 at San Francisco State University when they called a strike for ethnic studies. It was then, when I heard the discussions by men and women who led the Third World Strike, that I understood that I was part of a larger legacy of being part of an oppressed people.”
On fire with a sense of purpose, to bring about social justice for her people, Yolanda was soon able to put her activism to work through her art. In May 1969, seven young Latinos were charged with shooting a police officer using his partner’s gun (all defendants were eventually acquitted by a jury). The celebrated case of “Los Siete de la Raza,” focused Yolanda’s art, she made an iconic “Free Los Siete” poster and was a member of the Los Siete defense committee. “I made the leaflets, the buttons, the posters. All of a sudden, there was a great need for my skills. It made me feel that I was participating and contributing to all of our Latino selves.”
In 1977, when Yolanda was completing her MFA thesis she depicted herself jogging through the campus in “A Donde Vas, Chicana?” (Where are you going Chicana?). The four by five foot acrylic painting revealed Yolanda’s quest for identity and the role of Chicanas in modern society.
In 1978, she undertook a series of paintings depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe in a modern context, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the first of these she renders the Virgin as Yolanda herself jogging. In a second painting she renders the Virgin as a seamstress. And in a third painting she depicts the Virgin as Yolanda’s grandmother. “I see the Virgin of Guadalupe as the great Aztec Goddess. And I think that is why she has such a strong almost indefinable hold on Mexicans and women in general.” These depictions challenged traditional depictions of the Virgin as a long suffering icon and reiterated Yolanda’s quest to have Chicanas respected in a modern context.
In 1981, Yolanda challenged the myth of that America was founded by Anglo Saxon pilgrims in her work, “Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?” Yolanda recalls, “The idea of an indigenous man, a warrior, saying “Who you calling Illegal Alien, Pilgrim,” addressed our history as Americans but also addressed the real rage and anger about being insulted in our human dignity.”
Yolanda has curated a number of exhibits including Cactus Hearts/Barbed Wire Dreams (1988), which focuses on immigration issues. Yolanda’s own works have been exhibited throughout the United States at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum and the De Young Museum. Also a filmmaker, Yolanda has produced two films Images of Mexicans in the Media and When you think of Mexico. In these films she analyzes the way in which Latinos have been stereotyped by mass media.
Throughout her career Yolanda has balanced her art work with her role as an educator, She has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at San Diego, Stanford University and she served as Director of Education for San Francisco’s Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.
Besides her son, Rio Yanez, Yolanda leaves a legacy of art work that challenges stereotypes and affirms human dignity and respect. Yolanda Lopez Presente!
Written and copyright by Jesus Trevino. Yolanda headshot copyright by Barrio Dog Productions Inc. Yolanda’s artwork used by permission through Barrio Dog Productions.