Mujeres Muralistas or How I "Got Into" College

A Tribute to the Mujeres Muralistas in the Mission Distroct, via Flickr/Franco Folini
Last summer, I decided to pursue an M.F.A. I had recently earned a Master of Arts in Art History, yet the desire to develop my skills as an artist tugged at me throughout my Art History studies. So here I am, starting anew. In order to prepare myself, I decided to take an Intro to Mural Art course, because it pertained to my favorite area in San Francisco--the vibrant Mission district, which is also commonly understood as the "Latino neighborhood."

During one of the early class sessions, my instructor was discussing his early career and passion for mural painting. He was so enamored with becoming a working artist that he aggressively pursued noted Mexican mural artist David Alfaro Siqueiros until he was able to work as his apprentice. He also talked about his visits to several universities in Mexico; during this part of the discussion, he revealed a longstanding cultural bias about women, the arts, and education -- that they do not belong together. The instructor looked me square in the eyes, and said, "You'll appreciate this story."

He proceeded to explain that as he met with guides at a university (he was checking out schools in order to assess where he wanted to study muralism), they walked around and peered into a few classrooms. One was filled with only women, and he stated that it was an Anthropology course. The uncommon population that he observed was met with this remark by the guide, "Oh, them. They are here to find husbands."

Gender bias against women pursuing education and careers remains entrenched, even in traditionally liberal institutions such as universities. In the United States, they say, "She's getting her M.R.S. degree." It's a stereotype that prevails, even among the "educated." My face contorted with disapproval, and as a class we lamented the glaring ignorance of such a remark. We moved on to other topics, and several outstanding women artists came up in our discussion, specifically the Mujeres Muralistas.

Here's a brief article about Patricia Rodriguez, an original member of the Mujeres Muralistas, which was written in early 2010. Eventually, they became neighborhood leaders in the burgeoning public art movement, and they continue to work as artists and educators in the Bay Area. If you'd like to see their only remaining mural in the Mission District, check out the Street View. Her determination stands out, and reminds me of the occasional moments of pigeonholing that many have experienced. Her artist's statement also spoke to me--check it out here.

The language that she used to narrate her professional development uses very personal symbolism--the heart, her grandmother's legacy, and her exploration of various media. I especially responded to her description of her grandmother, who seemed to have ignited a passion for creativity early in Rodriguez's life.

As a Latina, my connection to my grandmother is a treasured and driving force in my life. While she passed away a few years back, she continues to provide reminders about doing what you want and never letting others decide your future. As a woman who grew up with distinct cultural and economic biases, she spoke highly of pursuing education if the opportunities could be taken. She also spoke about her nontraditional gender identity, which is also well-known in the United States, as a tomboy. By early 20th century standards in Mexico, she was outstanding for her interest in science (a field that continues to show signs of gender bias), bugs, and a good old-fashioned rock fight with the neighborhood boys. For a broader sense of gender bias, read the World Economic Forum's report about women leaders and gender parity.

There are women making art around the world, despite the tendency to view art as an essentially masculine phenomenon. As a young woman in art school, my favorite artist was Alice Neel, who explored a range of subject matter via portraiture. This image depicts her self-portrait:

Alice Neel
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
(Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr)

What stories can you share about shifting stereotypes and the art community that you've all experienced? What other disciplines elicit these types of reactions, and do gender gaps also affect subject matter? What recent works by women have you been moved by? Feel free to leave images below, and share links that have inspired you to keep pursuing your desires!