San Antonio artist explores the history of Mexican-American experience and identity
From September 9 to November 6, the work of San Antonio artist Mari Hernandez will be exhibited in a solo exhibition entitled “Figments of Truth”. “Figments of Truth” is an installation that deals with the history of photographic portraiture. Hernandez’s monumental and suspended self-portraits raise questions about the representation, resemblance and complexity of the stories that unfold. The exhibition takes place in the Michael and Noémi Neidorff art gallery in the Dicke Art Building. The gallery’s hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and due to current COVID-19 restrictions, the gallery is currently only open to those authorized to be on campus.
The following is a telephone interview I conducted with Mari Hernandez to learn more about herself, her practice and “Figments of Truth”.
First of all, can you tell me a bit about yourself and “Figments of Truth”?
I am a multidisciplinary artist. I work primarily in photography and am also responsible for education at Blue Star Contemporary, so all of my work is involved in the arts, and “Figments of Truth” is a combination of two sets of works. One set is a set of photographic self-portrait flags that are printed on a large piece of fabric called crepe de chine, then the second set is a smaller set of photographic prints.
What made you decide to print your self-portraits on Crêpe de Chine?
It has a lot to do with the content of the work. I like to experiment with the materials I print on. In the self-portrait, I create different fictional characters who collectively speak or tell a story generally based on history, politics and regional history. In particular, they are inspired by my identity as a Mexican-American woman. I’m referring to the larger images printed on crepe de chine as flags because they’re meant to be symbolic of something – symbolic of the particular character, of a narrative that’s sort of built around the whole series. The fabric is really thin and light so when you walk past it it kind of moves with any sudden gust of air. It brings the portraits to life. I think all of these things were linked for me when I was creating the work.
How did you choose the title “Figments of Truth”?
Figment is defined as something which is the product of your imagination. It can speak to the portraits themselves – they are fictional characters replacing historical events that may never have been documented. Really, they are a figment of my own imagination, and this word associated with truth can sort of speak of several things. They contradict each other, and that speaks to my own perspective on the story, and that kind of feeling that a lot of the story is story-based. We are taught this particular view of history, and if you take the time to dig a little deeper into something, you realize that these are not all the truths that we are being taught. Stories may differ depending on who is telling the story or depending on the perspective. It’s sort of related to these topics.
I know that you play different characters or characters in your self-portraits. Have you been inspired by artists like Cindy Sherman?
Yeah absolutely. When I first became interested in self-portrait, I was looking for other female photographers who dress up in their self-portraits, and there weren’t many. Cindy Sherman was certainly one of the few photographers I met very early on. Really, she was my main inspiration. In particular, I was looking for artists, Mexican-American women, whose work I could identify with in a cultural sense, and I didn’t find any of that. You know, later, after I started learning a bit more about art, I was introduced to new artists and found connections to the practices of other artists who were creating self-portraits, but I think Cindy Sherman was definitely my main inspiration. in terms of its ability to alter the appearance, or even approach the medium of the self-portrait in a different way.
Does the self-portrait process help you find more of your sense of yourself?
It’s a good question. I think it helps… in creating a work, I seek to find some sort of resolution to the themes or problems that I am looking for or studying. Much of the work is somehow based on an emotional reaction to problems. They may not be a true physical representation of myself, but they are certainly a representation of my own thoughts and feelings on certain issues. By visually articulating what kind of feelings I have, I’m able to better understand everything I’m trying to study, and I think by finding those things and achieving a resolution. I feel like it’s kind of a reflection of who I am as an individual, but I also think that work doesn’t always provide a sense of closure or resolution; sometimes that leaves me asking more questions, and more often than not, it does.
What does this show mean to you?
It means a lot of things. This show is a huge success for me because it is the first solo show that I have put on and it was fully funded by grants, and in the end the work came out exactly as I had imagined, and that was really good. In terms of the context of the portraits and how the final product came out, everything turned out exactly as I expected. Thinking back to the process of creating the show from start to finish, completing it solidified my role as an artist and taught me a lot. I feel like it has helped me evolve in different ways. It really feels good to know that I am reaping the rewards of all the hard work I put into it, and that people are watching it and caring about it. They talk about it, and so that, for me, is a huge success.