“We Are Advocating for Us”: A New Book Centers BIPOC Artists and Educators

From its initial pages, We Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World, makes it clear that this isn’t an art book for the elite.

As the founder of Gallery Gurls, a website that highlights “womxn and BIPOC in the art world,” author Jasmin Hernandez continually focuses on the art and artists that move her — no need to couch things in fancy “art speak.” 

We Are Here highlights 50 influential figures in the art world, from artists to curators to museum educators. With photography by Sunny Leerasanthanah and Jasmine Durhal, the book offers readers a peek into the creative minds of its subjects, as well as their vibrant studios and homes. 

KT Pe Benito in their former live/work space in Queens, New York, stands in front of their oil pastel, “Becoming My Own Island”(2019) and excerpts from their multimedia installation “Entries to Faustina (Growing out of colonialism for my grandmother’s sake)” (2018) (© 2021 Jasmin Hernandez; photo by Sunny Leerasanthanah)

Hernandez says that reaching new audiences and spotlighting the work of BIPOC is all about collective effort. “We take care of our own,” she explained to Hyperallergic in a phone interview. “We can’t wait for white institutions to make room for us, or to realize that we’re so vital. We’re not waiting on you. We are organizing. We are collecting. We are advocating for us.”

Artist KT Pe Benito talks about their involvement with Queer|Art (where they are a programs and operations assistant) as a way of affirming queer, trans and nonbinary communities. “Historically, we have been the forerunners of art and culture-making, fashion, movement-building, and real social change.”

Hernandez explains that We Are Here features people she had existing relationships with, as well as others she found through Instagram and her own research. She sent a group of questions to each person, some of which overlapped to create connections, while others stayed specific to the individual’s background. The Q&A format of the book makes it “not so steeped in academia,” Hernandez notes, so that the volume reads with “open, accessible language.” 

“I kept the tone very conversational, very light,” Hernandez says. “I didn’t want to focus on pain and trauma. As Black and Brown folks, we go through enough.”

Felipe Baeza in his Brooklyn home surrounded by his art, including a work in progress hanging on the wall. (© 2021 Jasmin Hernandez; photo by Sunny Leerasanthanah)

An interview with Rick Garzon, founder and director of Residency Art Gallery in South Central LA, covers everything from the challenges of establishing the space — “I had non-POC gallerists request meetings with me to ‘pick my brain’ about artists,” Garzon notes — to his favorite fictional character (Static, “what Spiderman was supposed to be.”) Meanwhile, artist, filmmaker, and activist Tourmaline responds to the question of how she’s changing the art world in a few different ways, including how she’s “bringing representation of transgender nonconforming people of color who are disabled, who move through incarcreation […] who are unruly to the status quo […]” Artist Felipe Baeza explains how the queer narratives in his work are a means of creating visibility: “When we are front and center, we are not only able to creatively reimagine our queer past, but can also develop expansive visions of our queer futures…” 

During a time when public health crises keep many of us indoors, Hernandez sees the book as even more vital. “The book is like 50 studio visits waiting to happen, at your disposal.”

And while the author seeks to engage readers from a variety of backgrounds  — including “white allies that align themselves with Black and Brown people for diversity clout” — she is especially focused on future generations. “This book is also for young Black and Brown Gen Z creatives that are coming up,” Hernandez says. “There’s space for you. There’s no single definitive way to make it.” 

We Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World (Abrams, 2021), by Jasmin Hernandez, is now  available on Bookshop

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