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Mujer: The Force Within

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March 12, 2012 1:26 p.m.


Leticia Gomez Franco, curator and gallery director.

Sonia Lopez-Cahvez, artist.

Kinsee Morlan, writer San Diego CityBeat and jury member for last year's show.

Related Story: Mujer: The Force Within


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: Women's history month is being celebrated in various ways around San Diego. Political rallies and galas and festivals. There's also an art exhibit in San Ysidro dedicated to the work of San Diego's women arts. It's the Dia de la Mujer art show, and this year it features 27 artists and 40 paintings and photographs. Joining me is Leticia Gomez Franco. Welcome.

FRANCO: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Sonia Lopez Chavez is an artist participating in the show. Welcome to the show.

CHAVEZ: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And we welcome Kinsee Morlan, a writer with San Diego City beat.

MORLAN: Great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Leticia, tell us about this venue, the front in San Ysidro.

FRANCO: The front's been there for about six years, 2007. The full name is a collaborative art culture design and urbanism, and it's a multiuse space because it houses the community development department for Casa Familiar, as well as the art and cultural division.

CAVANAUGH: You've described this as more than just an art show. It's a celebration. Can you elaborate? Can you tell us why?

FRANCO: Well, it's a celebration because it has -- I guess it explores different dimensions of art and women in the community. So we'll have the art exhibit, which usually has about 25-30 arts exhibiting, as well as vendors, craft vendors, there's music, performances, poetry, so many different element, and it just turns out into this big positive energy celebration. I guess that's the best word to describe it.

CAVANAUGH: Where did the idea come from for this? This is the dia de la mujer is now in its fifth year, right? Where did you get the inspiration?

FRANCO: Well, five years ago, right after we had opening of the space, it took very little time for the community to come in and start giving us ideas on how best to use it. We had women come into the space and tell us, hey, how about we have a dia de la mujer show? There wasn't anything in San Diego that was like it. The first one was a collaborative event between different groups of women in the community, different artists and organizers, and we just got it all together, did the art show, we got be live bands, poets and the opening night just turned into a huge celebration that was about 500 people who showed up to the opening reception that first year. And it just went to show how necessary it was, how the community was so hungry for a space. And for a moment to shine all the women in the community through art.

CAVANAUGH: Kinsey, you were a juror for this show last year am what was that like?

MORLAN: Oh, it was great. They put out a call, and it's really an international call, but of course mostly local artists respond. This year I think it was all California artists. And so it was me and another artist and an arts educator. So we had all different backgrounds. But the cool thing about the way the Front does it, these way jury shows are often you just flip through and pick, and never see a physical object. This was all of us with the paintings laid out in the room, walking through paintings, photography, all kinds of diversity, and hashing it out right there. So it was like a three hour process. I think we did okay, right?

CAVANAUGH: Old school.

CHAVEZ: Yeah, it's an interesting process. It's group-think. Art is such a subjective thing. So getting on the same page with two other people with various backgrounds is difficult but doable.

CAVANAUGH: What did you think of this year's submissions?

CHAVEZ: It's pretty diverse, if you go to the show you'll be introduced to artists that you maybe have never heard of before. I think artists feel more comfortable submitting to this venue. It's a community center and an art gallery. So I think you get a lot of more maybe emerging artists submitting to the show, which is cool. The work was the first-prize winner in terms of the winners, I had to agree with their first-prize pick. It's a San Diego artist who I had never heard me, so thank you for introducing me to a new artist. Her name is babda meta, and she did this piece, and when you stand back, it looks like a woodblock print, it's black and white, a woman kind of like Hindu goddess type with multiple averages.

FRANCO: She has a baby in one hand, and a computer in another hand, and all the elements of life

MORLAN: Right. It's this incredibly detailed piece the way she describes it in her statement, that her paint brushes are scissors.


MORLAN: And she really deals with the connectivity of everything. She starts with 1†piece of paper and cuts the image from that paper. So really beautiful piece. I got to hand it to Larry Baza, Gwen Gomez from SDMA, and Ava --

FRANCO: Ordorica.

MORLAN: Thank you.

MORLAN: She's a director at casa dell tunel in Tijuana. There was a piece from the toilet series by Nicole wassock that I'm pretty familiar with.

CAVANAUGH: I want to talk about that later. I do want to talk about how easy it seems for women to be scandalous.
. Oh, I like where you're going!

CAVANAUGH: But I want to get our artist into the conversation, Sonia Lopez Chavez. This is your first year participating in this show, right?

CHAVEZ: It's actually my fourth, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: What's special for you about this exhibit?

CHAVEZ: Just knowing that it was for females. That alone triggered my interest right away. And the first time I did the show, I went in and metlety, and also Monica who was renting the space at the time. After I spoke to both of them, it wasn't just the feel of the space but also the feel of the people that were running the space. It was beautiful to have something like that in the community and to have people that were so about it and that were very open to new artists and new work. And it was -- it's just a beautiful space run by beautiful people.

CAVANAUGH: As a woman artist, do you feel welcomed all the time as you do in this show or can you feel the difference?

CHAVEZ: I do feel the difference, I have to be honest. It's harder when it's not an all-woman show only because a lot of the art shows are -- it's mostly men. So it's hard sometimes.

CAVANAUGH: You still feel like you're fighting for a place?

CHAVEZ: Oh, yeah, all the time.

CAVANAUGH: And back -- I cut you short there

MORLAN: Scandals!

CAVANAUGH: Scandals. And I want to ask all of you, you were talking about the toilet series.

MORLAN: Nicole Wassock.

CAVANAUGH: And they're hardly scandalous pictures. They're quite well-done, but the theme I think shocks some people, and also the idea of women actually painting and presenting nudes I think can still be shocking and scandalizing to some people. Have you run into any of that, Leticia?

FRANCO: Definitely. Every year we have a lot of nude paintings, and I've never censored any of the pieces that come in, and neither have the judges. And I think it's really important to differentiate between the fact that it's woman painting these nudes, it's women painting representations of women, which is very powerful because like Sonia said, most galleries still have a majority of men arts exhibiting. So to have women exhibiting their artwork is empowering.

CAVANAUGH: Do you go though that it's still a little bit more scandalous it seems for women to do this?

MORLAN: Yeah, and getting back to the toilet piece, that told me personally that she feels it doesn't get into certain shows because of its content. It's a picture of a woman sitting on a toilet, with her panties around her ankles, and in this piece she -- maybe there's allusion to the fact that she just took a pregnancy test. I know in some of her others, it's this moment of indecision of sitting there, and women know what this feels like, it's this really intense emotional moment. And the bathroom really is kind of the sanctuary for women. It's where we get ready and where we spend all this time and do all these incredibly intimate things. But yeah, some people aren't ready to see women on a toilet, you know?

MORLAN: I know some husbands who refuse to admit that their wives use toilets, you know what I mean? There's still a lot of that. And this is San Diego, which is, you know, a conservative underpinning in this community.

CAVANAUGH: Leticia, not just to those paintings, but across the board, what kind of reaction do you get from men who come and see this show?

FRANCO: It's actually a lot of men who come to see this show, and a lot of them, they feel like they're there as a supportive role. A lot of their girlfriends or wives are exhibiting. So they're there, and men just come in to show the fact that they want to support women artists and women art. And they don't want to be shocked by women on the toilet, you know?

FRANCO: So I think it's good.

CAVANAUGH: And Kinsey alluded to it, but tell us more about the scope of the art presented. It's not just paintings.

FRANCO: Yeah, it isn't just paintings. We actually accept pieces -- what's important is that they go on the wall because we get such a huge turnout for the opening reception that we don't want to have anything out on pedestals in the middle of the gallery. But the mediums range from photography, paintings --

MORLAN: Print-making.

FRANCO: Yeah, and every year it kind of changes but it usually stays within -- it's a vary wide range.

CAVANAUGH: Sonia, I want to ask you about your journey to where you are today. How long have you been an artist?

CHAVEZ: I've been an artist since I was in the second grade.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, really! Okay.

CHAVEZ: But art's been in and out of my life for quite a while. And it wasn't until recently that I told myself, okay, I see this talent that I have, I can see my potential, so I'm really going to dedicate all of my time and energy to this talent that I have. It wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I went into it hardcore.

CAVANAUGH: And you're working on your first solo show?

CHAVEZ: I am, I'm very excited about it. It'll be in April, April 14th, Saturday. It's going to be at the spot in Barrio Logan, and it's from 6:00 to 10:00, it's all age, and it's free. I'm really excited about it.

CAVANAUGH: Do you see a time when there will not be a reason to just showcase women artists, that they'll be so well-represented in the San Diego art scene that that will seem like why would you do something like that?

MORLAN: I'll be really honest, until the day we have federally subsidized childcare. The fact we have children, no matter how cool or participatory your partner is, women are still the ones breast feeding, taking on the majority of care, the domestic life is still really repressive in terms of artists having the time. I really go back to Virginia Wolf, all we need is time. Give us some money, and the space to make art, and we'll do it. Until some changes in radical laborer laws, I don't think there will ever be a time.

CAVANAUGH: You're enthusiastically nodding.

CHAVEZ: I totally agree. I think should always be, at any time, when it's 20 years from now or 30, we do so much with not just giving bitter, but just so much that we do, and we should be having our own shows all the time.

CAVANAUGH: And you're a curator as well, right? So when people are submitting works for showing that you carate, it's all men, right?

CHAVEZ: Exactly, the majority of it is all men. And that's what I see by curating shows. We try to find women artists, but I don't know what it is. I don't know if they're just not out there or don't have the time to be in shows.

CAVANAUGH: Had has it been a problem for you too, Leticia that, to find women artists wanting to participate?

FRANCO: Not for dia de la mujer. But for the other, we have an open cawl out to artists, and the range is the same. It's more men who submit pieces. And like Kinsey said, it's easier for men to get away and justify doing art for a living than it is for women who have so many other roles in their lives

CAVANAUGH: Justify doing art for a living, that's an interesting way of putting it.

MORLAN: And I look back at the articles I write, and I have to be very conscience, I have to exert an effort sometimes. Because I look, and it's male artist male artist male artist, and men are stereotypically speaking maybe more boisterous in their self-promotion, so that could play a part in it.

CAVANAUGH: Well, mujer, the force within will run through March 29th at the front at Casa Familiar, and it's located on west San Ysidro boulevard.