“Women’s Work is Never Done” Explores Activism Through Art

Much of Yolanda López’s work frames her mother and her grandmother (depicted above) in the spotlight. Photo by Samantha Avila Griffin/SF Foghorn.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol that is imbued in the very essence of Catholicism in North and South America. Her hands in prayer, the young woman radiates a divine, golden glow. This apparition of Mary, the virginal mother of Jesus, is one of the most prominent symbols in American Catholicism. 

Many Catholics would consider it sacrilegious to manipulate the Virgin of Guadalupe in any way — and in 1978 with her famous, artistic motifs of Guadalupe, San Francisco artist Yolanda M. López did just that. 

Thacher Gallery’s current exhibition, “Women’s Work is Never Done,” shares the life work of López (1942-2021), the longtime San Francisco resident, artist, Chicanx and Latinx activist. The gallery opened the exhibition on Aug. 31. 

Curated by López’s son Rio Yañez and artist Angelica A. Rodriguez, the exhibition features work from López’s 60-year-long career. It includes some of her most famous works, such as her 1978 “Guadalupe: Woman Goddess,” and her 1990s political poster artwork, in addition to pieces that were discovered after her death in Sept. 2021, like her 1974 portrait of her mother. 

On Nov. 6, co-sponsored with the Spanish Studies department, Karina Hodoyán, professor of Latinx and Chicanx Studies, led approximately two dozen students and community members on a tour of the exhibition framing López’s work in the context of San Francisco social movements. 

“She transformed the way that Latinx and Chicanx scholars talk about the production of culture, talk about the legacy of history,” Hodoyán said. “The art not only was beautiful but also offered a message.”

The gallery was divided into decades of her artistry, spanning from the 1960s to the 2000s. Some of the earliest featured artwork was inspired by López’s political advocacy in the Mission District, using activist mobilizing techniques she learned from the Black Panther Party. Her 1969 work, “Free Los Siete,” depicts the stripes of the American flag as a jail cell, imprisoning members of “Los Siete de la Raza,” a group of seven Latine young adults who were tried in 1969 for the death of a police officer. 

Rain Longoria, a first year environmental science major who attended the tour, said she was most moved by López’s “Las Santas Locas” 1979 photography series, in which López centers the all-female, Mission District-based car club. 

In the tour, Hodoyán noted how these women were often “criminalized and misrepresented in the media.” Hodoyá argued that López’s photography changed the narrative, representing “joy and empowerment” in the women’s “sacred power and femininity.” 

Initially, Longoria said she did not recognize the significance of what ended up being her favorite work in the exhibition. “I was just like, ‘oh, it’s like a beautiful picture of her and her friends.’… No — it’s us becoming goddesses.”

Frank Nuñez attended Monday’s tour with their partner, USF alum Somer Tiller. Being from López’s hometown of San Diego, Nuñez said, “It was really nice to see the representation, the transition from San Diego to San Francisco, which is what I’ve done…And the more modern representation of Latinx artists.”

Nuñez’s favorite work in the exhibition was López’s 1994 “The Nanny.” As opposed to her typical work, which is based in photography, painting, and multimodal collages, “The Nanny” offers a life-sized, traditional nanny uniform. Indigenous religious symbols, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and a fetus are painted on the garment, along with a baby bottle and a corn husk sticking out of the pockets. 

While this is Thacher’s first exhibition of López’s entire body of work, “The Nanny” was featured in the gallery’s 2019-2020 show “Emboldened, Embodied.” 

Thacher Gallery planned to showcase a full body of López’s work after her involvement in the 2019-2020 show. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and López’s passing, the gallery is just now sharing a full embodiment of her work. 

Tiller worked at the gallery on “Emboldened, Embodied,” which inspired them to return for this exhibition. “It felt good to see her whole body of work and just like not a few pieces,” Tiller said. “It really gave me a lot of perspective about her and her life.”

“The Nanny” is part of López’s titular series featured in the exhibition, “Women’s Work is Never Done.” 

Also under this motif are López’s silkscreen prints, the 1996“From South Africa to North America,” which displays two women from both locations with a protest scene in the exterior, and her 1997  “Your Vote Has Power,” which displays a woman of color voting with a child on her back. 

“I feel like her work is very contemporary,” said Gloria Simmons, Director of Thacher Gallery. “Even the things that she made in the sixties — the protest posters — they are responding to things that we’re responding to now.”

“Your Vote Has Power” is also reflected on one of López’s “pocket posters.” These polaroid sized images are sent home with gallery attendees. With her artwork on the front and a call to action on the back, the idea of pocket posters has been a staple of López’s artistry throughout her career. “Your Vote Has Power”’s call to action reads: “The practice of citizenship destroys the illusion of Whiteness…The treasure you own is your vote. Most politicians covet it and fear how you will use it….Seize the time.”

Since August, exhibition tours have ended with USF community members making their own pocket posters, which are now on display in the gallery. Some read: “no human is illegal,” “Is brown skin a crime?” and “Freedom starts with free minds.”

“Women’s Work is Never Done” will remain on display until Nov. 12. Thacher Gallery’s next exhibition, “Offerings Somatic—the body as a substance of ritual,” will open on Nov. 30 and close on Feb. 18, 2024. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *