Mari Hernandez, Self-Portrait Artist, Video courtesy of Billy Calzada and the San Antonio Express-News
I make photographic self-portraits exploring identity and construction of the self. Focusing on inward concerns to generate visual narratives, I create distinct aesthetic moods, as well as references to cultural mores and art historical movements. Acting as photographer, subject, make-up artist, and designer, I alter my identity and physical appearance through the use of make-up, prosthetics, wigs, costumes, and props. Through these narratives, I reinterpret histories and propose new ones. Elements of performance distinguish my work from other modes of photography and highlight the staging of identity, gender and action.
I produce my self-portraits not by looking into a mirror, but by reflecting inward to make the invisible visible. Challenging the dominant ideologies dictating beauty, my work posits that beauty is culturally based and shifts with time and location. Simultaneously, I confront my own self-consciousness regarding self-representation and explore discomfort within a constructed physical appearance.
As a Chicana artist, my concern for the representation of women of color in the arts is integral to my practice. My work explores the concepts of rasquachismo, an aesthetic practice opposing dominant culture and articulating a Chicano identity, and domesticana, a specifically Chicana variation that critiques restrictive gender roles. These sensibilities encourage the inventive and resourceful use of limited and unconventional materials, blur the lines between high and lowbrow, and ultimately challenge art historical ideologies.
In its exploration of a world beyond what may be considered familiar and real, my work relates to surrealism, particularly as applied by female artists of the movement. Subtle presentations of unnatural appearances and settings generate feelings of tension and disquiet.
My background in English literature also informs my work, commenting on and strengthening historical connections between literature and self-portraiture. Employing literary devices and techniques such as illusion and foreshadowing, I build a framework based in storytelling. I use parody to approach complicated issues and create a sense of unease. The archetypal characters I inhabit offer points of connection and symbolize a universal experience.
Continuously pushing the boundaries of my art practice, my process is heavily based in research and advancing my technique and skill base. My work is made possible through an intentional exploration of the creative process and the complex negotiation of a reliance on memory, history and unlearning.
Mari Hernandez is a multidisciplinary artist. A career in non-profit arts organizations led her to explore socially engaged and identity-based art, as well as its contributions to human and community development. Simultaneously, Hernandez became concerned with the lack of representation of women of color in her arts community in San Antonio, Texas. These experiences deeply influenced her artistic development.
Inspired by appearance altering photographers and early Mexican-American artists, Hernandez began experimenting with self-portraiture to address questions about identity. As a co-founder of the Chicana art collective Mas Rudas (2009-2015), her self-portraits focused on Chicana aesthetic. Her solo practice is guided by these early influences, but Hernandez continues to expand her repertoire and skill base.
Selected group exhibitions in San Antonio include Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Artpace San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures, Centro de Artes, and the Appalachian Center for Craft in Tennessee. Hernandez is a graduate of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures Leadership Institute and Arts Advocacy Institute, and she participated in the inaugural Public Art San Antonio Mentorship Course. In 2017, she was awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Grant, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures Fund for the Arts Grant. Hernandez holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.
4×4 Artist Q&A: Mari Hernandez: Why are you an artist?
4×4 Artist Q&A: Mari Hernandez: What gets you going creatively?