The Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery are now open to the public, with separate timed-entry passes required for both buildings. All public programs are online only, on-site public tours and events are currently suspended.
KATHY VARGAS: I'm from San Antonio, Texas. My family has lived there for a long time. My father's family was in Texas since it was “Tejas,” and they came around 1830. My mother's family comes from Zacatecas, and they came over in 1910, 1920, around the time of the revolution.
A lot of my work is about my family. There was one big series that I just finished called "Este Recuerdo," which was about both sides of the family, going back about three generations, as far back as I can trace it. But just the cultural influence is very big in my work, and that's all family.
I was a bad painter, but I wanted to do something in the arts. What I wanted to do was to speak about the immediate, to speak about the world. Photography was much better suited for that. Physically, it's double exposures done on a 4x5 camera. It's still a darkroom, and it's hand colored.
Thematically, my work is about the life, death, resurrection process. I do believe in resurrection and remembrance, but, honestly, it's also about social justice. It's also about political themes sometimes, so it's a little bit about everything. It's about the artistic and the ethereal and the ephemeral, but it's also about the concrete and the political and topical.
I was involved in the Chicano Movement, which was very cultural in the '70s, but the Chicano Movement was mostly a boy thing. It was very male and very male-dominated. I happened to get in because one of my male teachers invited me, but that was at the very tail end. There were many more men than women. If you look over the history of Chicano Art Movement, there were a lot more men than women in the Chicano Movement.
When I look at the feminist movement in the United States, it was mostly white-dominated, so there were a lot of white women. It's really funny because I'm good friends with Lucy, and she was the one who actually first brought this to my attention, that a lot of Latinas, a lot of African-American women—one or two were included—but most of us were not included in the feminist movement because it was very white.
Artist Kathy Vargas discusses her background, influences, and thoughts on being a "Latina Artist."