In honor of Women's History Month, I am highlighting emerging women in art right here in San José, women who wear De-Bug’s Protect Your People shirt and what it means to them.
As a Latina, I feel a sense of responsibility to stand and represent for my people. As a Bay Area photojournalist and community organizer in San Jose, I love to wear my Protect Your People shirt because it sparks great conversations about relevant issues my people are working through. Art has been my way to protect people. Showcasing my portraits is a highlight for me because they also create dialogue. My photos portray the message of strength and resilience in women and people of color. Women are not celebrated enough for the work that they do. It is sometimes difficult to find people that are like-minded and standing for justice. In my civic participation, I’ve learned sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is pick up a broom and prepare a place for others to thrive. In addition to taking photos, I coach basketball and work to sustain programs for youth. My hope is to continue to empower and support others in the same way it was done for me.
I use the term emerging to describe Erika and Sherrise because although they are just getting started, I can already see that they are the future movers and shakers in their respective communities. The work these women do is essential to youth and other local communities, they provide a place by using their voice and art to protect their people.
Erika Gomez Henao is a visual artist and educator. Erika and I are in the same cohort learning about creative placemaking. We are a part of the Multicultural Art Leadership Institute (MALI).
“I understand the importance of supporting local artists and the shirt conveys the message without saying anything! My work is meant to start a dialogue, to question what you see and agree or disagree with it. I take a critical view on mass media culture and the way women are over sexualized. I am fascinated with social media, cult of beauty, gender constraints, excessive consumerism and shallow human connections. I understand that some people find my work confrontational and I am very okay with that. Right now there is an urgency to take back our roots and share them with the world. That is the purpose of my work, it is meant to spark a conversation around these topics.”
Philadelphia was the launching pad for Erika’s career working with several nonprofits that promote Latino arts and culture, in addition to dancing and promoting Venezuelan folklore and dance for Casa de Venezuela. She moved to the Bay Area in 2013 and currently works at the San Jose Museum of Art as a studio arts educator serving primarily title one schools in the area.
Erika, we welcome and celebrate you. San Jose has always thrived on the idea of diversity and community with many newcomers moving in it only grows more diverse. Change is not always negative, sometimes it is just different and that is okay. Which reminds me of the homie Sherrise Gutierrez. We met working our respectable barista jobs and sometimes communicating through cappuccinos and Instagram posts. Sherrise is an advocate for marginalized groups and a co-curator for an ongoing art series Greater than or Equal To. This is a safe space for people to echo the greatness of who they are. Each month their goal is to showcase a new person(s), the series is currently being held at Academic Coffee, near San Jose’s SoFa district.
“I wear my shirt because it is a constant reminder to not allow my people to be forgotten or ignored. I am a Brown, mixed, queer, born and raised in San Jose, CA. In the midst of the 2016 presidential election and apex of the Black Lives Matter movement, I tattooed the fist of solidarity for those lost and the words Protect your People on my calf because I made a choice to protect my people. This will forever be a piece of who I am now, and everyday I will appreciate their differences as greatness.
Keep up with photographer Vanessa Palafox on Instagram/pfox35