'Because women matter, and we've always mattered': Modern Latina highlights female artists

By Kirsten Dorman
Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2022 - 4:48am
Updated: Tuesday, November 1, 2022 - 12:57pm

Audio icon Download mp3 (6.48 MB)

an ofrenda with colorful decorations, including artificial flower decorations and papel picado, with many photos on it
Kirsten Dorman/KJZZ
An ofrenda is one of the first things visitors to the Modern Latina exhibition see when they walk in.

Cultura, familia y arte. Culture, family and art. Those are the key themes of "Modern Latina," a new art exhibition open at the Scottsdale Public Library.

Wendy Raisanen is the curator for Scottsdale Public Art.

"For me, women's art is not celebrated enough and I mean, we've never had an all-women, Latinx show," she said. "So it's just a wonderful opportunity," she said. 

Raisanen said she wanted to go beyond surface level with this exhibition.

"I didn't really just want to do your basic Dia de los Muertos show," she said. "Can we do something that's a little more different? That really talks about modern life?"

And so the idea for the exhibition, "Modern Latina," was born.

a colorful painting of a woman in a purple dress; she is looking directly at the viewer; she wears a headdress made of cacti and flowers; three butterflies around her head; a sacred heart is in front of her, a hummingbird appears to drink from it
Kirsten Dorman
"Desert Heart," or "Corazón del desierto," by Patricia Silva

While searching for artists and works that reflected her vision, Raisanen said she was introduced to Petra Fimbres.

Fimbres is the owner of Frida's Garden, an art gallery even space in Phoenix with a focus on supporting the community. She is also the founder of LatinaStrong, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting and empowering Latinas through health and wellness education.

Through Fimbres, Raisanen said Scottsdale Public Art found many of the artists whose work is now on display as part of "Modern Latina."

"I felt gratitude to see all these artists that we brought together to be here today," Fimbres said.

According to Fimbres, being a "modern Latina" is not just about keeping up with the times.

"The other thing about "Modern Latina" is, there's no limits for us," she said. "I know we're women. I know we're minorities. But that doesn't even matter."

One artist whose work is on display said that for her, strength comes from her work. Kathryn Sesma is perhaps better known as La Jefa, or "The Boss."

"I've kind of tied in my own mental health with my work," Sesma said, "and really, just kind of being a boss and taking ownership of my life again, and not letting trauma dictate my everyday life."

She said bringing bright colors and glitter to her art represents bringing light back into her life, also. Glittery teeth, she said, are her signature. Her piece "Viva la Vida," or "Long Live Life," was inspired by Frida Khalo.

"She went through a lot of trauma in her life as well," Sesma said, "and still came back on top, and was a jefa in her own way."

a colorful painting featuring a skeleton whose appearance emulates Frida Khalo; a speech bubble next to her reads "Viva La Vida!" or "Long Live Life!" in English
Kirsten Dorman/KJZZ
"Viva la Vida," or "Long Live Life," by Kathryn "La Jefa" Sesma

Her art also helps her better connect with her culture as a third-generation Mexican American, Sesma said.

"I almost feel a sense of pride, also," she said. "And getting back to my roots and who I am and learning about where I come from and where my family comes from and who my ancestors were."

Artist Emily Costello describes her pieces as connecting her with her cultural roots, too. But also, among the vibrant colors and imagery, she says her art holds a new way to look at things like an abuelita's apron.

"They're mono prints," Costello said, referencing her piece "Recuerdos De Mi Abuela." "We actually printed up our grandmothers' aprons and ran them through [a] press and we came up with prints. This was a collaboration with my friend Janet."

This process makes the prints look like x-rays, Costello said, changing the way we see them.

"If you relate that to your own life, you know the aprons represent our grandmothers," she said. "The influences they had in our lives -- as well as the technology, is a little bit more of a new technology."

Costello says the exhibition highlighting Latinas is important to her.

"Because women matter, and we've always mattered," she said. "And I think that people are really listening to what we have to say. We are the vessels for telling the stories of our heritage."

two framed mono prints of aprons, side by side, are shown here; they are monochrome in color and look a bit like x-rays
Kirsten Dorman/KJZZ
"Recuerdos De Mi Abuela," or "Memories Of My Grandmother," by Emily Costello

Patricia Silva said Costello’s use of color and culturally significant symbols inspired her to begin creating, too. Honoring strength, family, and culture are what she said show up often in her work.

"So I use a lot of flowers and the sacred heart," Silva said. "The heart is very important to me as well. And I always try to use either butterflies or hummingbirds in my art pieces, which symbolize my loved ones that have passed away."

Silva includes a hummingbird for her father and butterflies for a lost niece and nephew. Her piece called “Desert Heart,” or “Corazón del desierto,” contains all these things.

The young woman in the painting reflects a hard time in Silva’s own life, she said.

"She just symbolizes so much strength," Silva said, "but yet, still is showing her vulnerability."

The love the woman carries in her heart, she said, is the love she feels for her culture.

"Everything that to me, symbolizes my Hispanic roots, I feel is tied into this piece," Silva said.

As the exhibition’s curator, Raisanen said she hopes the Scottsdale community will embrace what may be a new way to learn about different cultural experiences for some.

"Art is a communicator," Raisanen said, "and this show could be a communication between all people."

Modern Latina will be open until Dec. 31 and is free to visit.

More stories from KJZZ

Arts + Entertainment Gender Race + Diversity