Artist and activist Yolanda López (1942–2021) created portraits that have become icons of feminist and working-class empowerment.
This exhibition examines López’s profound influence as an artist who radically reimagined representations of women in Chicano/a/x culture and society at large, and highlights the formative role the Bay Area played in López’s artistic output and activism.
Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist
through Sunday, October 29, 2023.
110 South Market Street
San José, CA 95113
The collection focuses on 50-plus paintings, drawings and collages López produced mostly in the 1970s and ’80s.
Born to migrant parents from Mexico in 1942 in San Diego, López enrolled at San Francisco State University where, in the late-1960s, she became involved in local politics.
The museum displays reproductions of some of her political posters and flyers, including ones she designed to raise awareness for Los Siete de la Raza, the name given to the seven young Latino men who were falsely accused of killing a police officer in S.F. in 1969 (and eventually acquitted).
Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist is the first solo museum presentation of the work of Yolanda López, the pathbreaking Chicana artist and activist whose career in California spanned five decades.
The exhibition presents a compendium of López’s work from the 1970s and 1980s, when she created an influential body of paintings, drawings, and collages that investigate and reimagine representations of women within Chicano/a/x culture and society at large.
In her best-known work, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe (1978), López depicts herself wearing running shoes and the Virgin Mary’s star-patterned mantle, an emblem of defiant joy. One of the most iconic artworks to emerge from the Chicano Movement, López’s Portrait challenges the colonial and patriarchal origins of the Guadalupe iconography, transforming the symbol into one of radical feminist optimism. López frequently used herself, her mother, and her grandmother as models and “prototypes” in her conceptual drawing projects of the 1970s, bringing visibility to women of distinct roles and life stages through heroic, often larger-than-life portraits.
Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and augmented at the San José Museum of Art with a new space focused on her role as a Bay Area activist and cultural worker, the exhibition brings together a compendium of 50 works in oil pastel, paint, charcoal, collage, and photography that highlight López’s use of portraiture as a strategy for visualizing collective empowerment. The exhibition examines López’s profound influence as a feminist artist and activist whose works are characterized by their analysis, indelible imagery, and wit.