Culture Commons' new exhibition honors San Antonio women while shining a light on gender disparities

The "The Status of Women in San Antonio" opened March 22 and will be on view through the summer.

click to enlarge For the exhibition, participating artists reflected on a city-commissioned report titled "The Status of Women in San Antonio" by Rogelio Sáenz and Lily Casura. - MARCO AQUINO
Marco Aquino
For the exhibition, participating artists reflected on a city-commissioned report titled "The Status of Women in San Antonio" by Rogelio Sáenz and Lily Casura.

After a year's pandemic-forced closure, San Antonio's Culture Commons Gallery has begun welcoming back visitors with a show featuring diverse work by 15 women artists from the local community.

The "The Status of Women in San Antonio" exhibition opened March 22 and runs through the summer. It's a collaborative effort between the city's Department of Arts & Culture and the Metropolitan Health Department's Violence Prevention Program.

Organizers asked the artists to reflect on a city-commissioned report titled "The Status of Women in San Antonio" by Rogelio Sáenz and Lily Casura, using it as a prompt to create new, original work. The document provides an overview of gender disparities in the Alamo City.

"The successful San Antonio of the future that many of us envision can only come to fruition when barriers that hamper women from reaching their full potential are eliminated,'' Sáenz and Casura write in the report. "When women achieve parity with men, not only will their own lives be enriched, but also those of their families and the sustainability of their communities."

The somber, thought-provoking exhibition celebrates women while sounding the alarm on serious issues holding back the community. With work including paintings, photographs, fiber art and found assemblages, "The Status of Women in San Antonio" draws attention to wage disparities, domestic abuse, suicide and lack healthcare access.

Domestic abuse

Artists including Kallie Cheves, Sarah Fox and Mari Hernandez address the topic of domestic abuse.

Carmen Johnson Alexander's work shows how domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness. In her I Used to Be Someone, a female figure sits in front of a purple-hued brick wall with a backpack in tow.

Upon closer inspection, the viewer notices that each brick contains a statistic dealing with homelessness in San Antonio. For example, families with children make up 34% of the city's unhoused population. The figure's jacket is emblazoned with countless images of homeless people on the street. She also has a black eye.

With Watching Eyes, Ana Hernandez paints 30 portraits of eyes on a variety of found objects, each representing a woman who has been murdered by an intimate partner. "Eyes are a strong signal of perception for humans," the artist writes in her statement. "With this installation, I hope to remind the viewer that our actions and inactions are being viewed by the women around us, but to also look out for one another."

Larger-than-life subjects

Other pieces in the exhibition are less bleak.

Megan Harrison's text-based work Time Is Also Yours reminds women of the importance of self-care and uninterrupted time for themselves, while Rhys Munro's Breadwinner and Moxie depicts a mallet and hardhat, honoring women who work non-traditional jobs.

In the gallery's storefront, viewable from the street, Adriana Garcia presents three large portraits showcasing San Antonio women. In one, she depicts Maria Victoria de la Cruz, an undocumented domestic worker and community organizer. Despite her status, de la Cruz rallies her community to protest unjust laws. She sits on the board of Texas Organizing Project, an organization promoting social and economic equality.

"It was a tremendous honor to create Maria's portrait. I hope it conveys her dedication to work, family and community," Garcia wrote in her statement.

In another painting, Garcia depicts civil rights activist and educator Rosie Castro, the mother of U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro. The third portrait is that of union organizer and labor leader Emma Tenayuca, who organized the city's pecan shellers during the first half of the 20th Century.

Much of the character in Garcia's work comes from her bold use of color. For instance, Castro's portrait is largely a play between complementary hues of purple and green. The size of the paintings also helps convey the figures as larger than life. Together, the works point to the power, strength and dignity among San Antonio women, both past and present.

"The Status of Women in San Antonio," Free, 115 Plaza de Armas, (210) 206-2787, getcreativesanantonio.com.

Poetry Night (Wednesday, May 18, 6-8 p.m.): A lineup of women poets including San Antonio Poet Laurate Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson will read work inspired by the exhibition.

Artist Panel Discussion (Wednesday, August 24, 6-8 p.m.): Participants in the show will share in-depth context about their work and process.

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