Jasmin Hernandez on creating an art world for all
“It’s 2017, anybody should be able to walk into any space, and feel comfortable to engage with art” says Jasmin Hernandez with a burning passion. The reality is anything but; Art Review reported that the “most influential people in the contemporary art world” are 32% women, and 70% white. In light of these disparities, Jasmin is working tirelessly to fight for equal representation in the arts. We met up with the writer/editor/content creator on the 5 year anniversary of Gallery Gurls, her digital platform for “Nasty Women, POC & QTPOC.” As a first-generation Dominican-American raised in Queens, she’s not your standard Chelsea gallery girl, but she knows the scene like the back of her Afro-latinx hand. She reels off the art world’s doyennes and disruptors with ease, noting the importance of women like Thelma Golden who’ve been long advocating for POC in the arts. Despite her profound fluency of the industry, Jasmin is oft met with condescension at events – ‘Whyever would a brown girl from Queens care to see a Gerhard Richter show?’
Nonetheless she persists, determined to “make female artists of color the mainstream” in an art world that is historically white, old, and old-fashioned. Through her writing, her digital platform and her network of “badass females in the art world,” she’s forging a space for the marginalized talents of our time. Here she tells it like it is, unmasking the prejudice, rejecting the system, and championing a more inclusive art world of tomorrow.
COOLS: How did you get into the art world?
Jasmin Hernandez: I’m a native New Yorker who was always downtown. I studied fashion at Parsons, and was always going to the Chelsea openings on Thursday nights. New York in the 2000s was all about the scene-y, decadent fashion and art worlds. This was before social media, before blogging; my exposure to contemporary art was through these eclectic individuals, and creative experiences. I was self educated. I didn’t study Mickalene Thomas at college, I studied [the classics]: Frida Kahlo, Remedios Varo, Dorothea Tanning. But then in the real world, I discovered Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas, Shinique Smith, and it became an obsession. By the time 2010 rolled around, I had a career in editorial, as a photo editor for Vanity Fair, NYT, New York Mag, etc but also as a fashion show producer. I was booked to work on this special project for MoMa PS1, called “Move!,” pairing artists and designers together to create a piece. I was hired as a project manager to oversee 3 projects. So Kalup Linzy, who’s a well known performance artist, with DVF, Rashaad Newsome with Alexander Wang, and this nightlife collective called CHERYL was paired with American Apparel. It was my job for 6 weeks to work with these artists, go to their studio, liaise with the designers. Everyone from the art and fashion world was there: Derek Blasberg, Simon Doonan, everyone. It was incredible. At that point, I knew I wanted to move into the art space.
COOLS: And that’s how Gallery Gurls came about?
JH: I took a class at Sotheby’s, “Careers in the Art World” in Fall 2011. I met this other woman – a like-minded art enthusiast – and we started the site together. But this is why it’s plural, there were two of us. Two women of color. It’s a class of 25 individuals, 15 men, 8 women, and then the two of us. She came up with the idea to start a blog, and call it Gallery Girls. I thought the name was horrible. I was like, “I’m 31, you’re 41. We’re not girls. We’re not white, Chelsea gallerinas.” But we couldn’t come up with anything better, so we just kept the name and gave it a u [Gallery Gurls]. I did 90% of the work. I had a blogging background, she didn’t. I was the face of the blog, and she eventually bowed out, so I continued on. I’ve been refining it over the years; now I do interviews, studio visits, reviews. It’s mostly female artists, with a focus on WOC [Women of Color] , POC [People of Color] and QTPOC [Queer Trans People of Color].
COOLS: What inspired you to start it?
JH: We wanted to found a space for artists of color, which we thought were lacking. This was in 2012. There were a few websites, but none that were that prominent, so we wanted to establish a digital space.
COOLS: What makes a Gallery Gurl? What ties your subjects together?
JH: It’s all women. All disciplines, all mediums. I definitely include Caucasian women, but they have to be intersectional. And not just artists, but art workers, art administrators, gallerists, curators, and artists. Just dope ass, badass females in the art world.
COOLS: You call yourself “a champion of women of the arts.” Why do they need championing? What are the adversities of being a woman in the art world?
JH: Because no one else will. We have our advocates, I’m not the only one. There’s Thelma Golden, Isolde Brielmaier, Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels and Teresita Fernandez. There’s all these incredible women, but there’s not enough obviously. As a Latinx, brown female, there are preconceived notions about me. Before I even open my mouth, assumptions are made about me. I’m in my thirties, and I still walk into certain galleries, and people snicker at me. I feel uncomfortable, I’m not made to feel welcome. And it’s like, how is this still happening in 2017? People should be able to walk into any space, and feel comfortable to engage with the art.
COOLS: In what sense? Because you wouldn’t be able to understand it, or it’s just not made for you?
JH: They assume that I don’t belong there, that it’s not for me. Why would I be interested? How do I even know who Alex Katz is? How do I know who Gerhard Richter is? If you even engage in a conversation, it’s condescending on their end. From older white people, and older white establishments for sure. That energy is super prevalent in the 57th street galleries, and the Upper East Side. There’s less of that in Bushwick, and Chelsea, and the Lower East Side.
COOLS: And in navigating those adversities, is Gallery Gurls your way of “clapping back?”
JH: Gallery Gurls helped me carve my own path. When I worked on that project for PS1, and that lightbulb went off, I thought I had to follow a traditional path. Go to school, maybe get a master’s degree. I wanted to do social media for an institution or gallery. Work in some art administrative role within a traditional institutional space. Then I just discovered that I have a following on IG, I have my own voice. My voice isn’t rooted in academia or theory. Fuck all that. I’m just going to carve my own path. And the blog helped me do that. I just started doing more interviews, profiling more interesting people. And now, the blog is enough. And I’ll just continue it from there. The goal is to turn it into a media company, with funding and sponsorship.
COOLS: Why “fuck all that?” Why fuck academia and fuck theory?
JH: I have no interest in sounding like an art historian or an academic. I like my unorthodox path.
COOLS: In addition to Gallery Gurls, you contribute to many major publications. How do you use that platform and that exposure to further your mission?
JH: Writing about these incredible artists. Writing about someone like Shantell Martin, Elia Alba or Genevieve Gaignard. My thing is, I like writing for these mainstream, women’s magazine. For example, Vogue and Elle cover female artists. So that’s my chance to get in a black female artist, or a Latinx female artist. I interviewed Rujeko Hockley, who co-curated ‘Black Radical Women’ at the Brooklyn Museum, and that was my first piece published on Elle.com earlier this year. So it’s like, ok, these white, mainstream, women’s magazines are covering the art world. How do I get a female artist of color/curator in there?
COOLS: In celebrating Gallery Gurls 5th anniversary, you’ve been always fighting this battle. We’re just this year seeing a huge global uptick in highlighting female and queer creative talents.
JH: I feel like white networks are finally ready. I just feel like white tv producers, studio executives, and filmmakers are ready to have that conversation. Not all of them, but many of them. We got over the hump of the slave narrative and all the slave films, and now we’re ready to tackle contemporary POC and QTPOC issues. Obviously ‘Moonlight’. People are ready to have those stories told, and those white mainstream doors are cracked open a bit more. And Hollywood, and publishing, and media. but, we also don’t need their permission. We have our own platforms to tell our own stories.
COOLS: Do you think that it’s kind of… not a bandwagon, but people pushing these narratives because it’s trending?
JH: It feels that way, but I don’t think it’ll be a trend. With Obama being here for 8 years, I think the door was left slightly more open. And we have to, of course, tackle slavery and civil rights, because those are just seminal parts of our history. But then we’ll make our way to more contemporary stories. It’s happening. What I’m ready for is Latinx stories. Where’s the Latinx Shonda Rhimes? Where’s the Latinx Issa Rae? Who’s the Latinx Michaela Coel? That’s what I want to see. I want to see positive representations of ambitious, creative, dynamic, US born Latinx women. First-generation women like me in their 20s and 30s who went to college and made their life situation work out with no handouts.
COOLS: With the rise of social media and the influx of artists entering the scene, how do you decide which voices to amplify and how do you find your new artists?
JH: I have all these Instagram crushes. I have all these people on my radar that I’ve been following, and I’m seeing their trajectory. I work very organically. It’s like, ok, let me contact these 3 artists and just kind of go from there.
COOLS: You speak with a very human passion, you’re definitely on a mission. So what is the mission?
JH: The mission is to make female artists of color mainstream. I would love for my site to be the definitive place. When you think of women in the art world, I want you to think of Gallery Gurls first.
COOLS: You mention the lack of Latinx stories. Why do you think that is?
JH: I’ve said this before, but it’s a waiting game. I feel like Latinos and Latinx stand on the shoulders of African Americans. We owe them everything. Because of the passing of Civil Rights in 1964, Latinos have benefitted as well. Sometimes I feel like Latinos seem to forget that. We’re in the periphery. That Latinx wave will hit very hard. And a great, contemporary, female, Latinx artist said “Afro-Latinxs are the bridge to that.”
COOLS: What do you think is so special about the Gallery Gurls voice? What do you think is so beautiful about the “other” voice that’s not being plugged into by mainstream?
JH: It’s not academic. It doesn’t follow or play by the rules. It’s passionate, it’s organic, it’s very emotional. My writing is very very emotional.
COOLS: What excites you the most in the art world and in the city? Your latest discoveries that you’re really excited about.
JH: I would have to look at my Instagram. I really like Uzumaki Cepeda, this Afro-Dominican, first-generation, artist from the Bronx, who works with textiles and faux fur. She creates protective spaces with her installations for POC and QTPOC. Her world is bright, furry, surreal, and fantastical. Also Monica Kim Garza, an Atlanta-based, Korean-Mexican artist who paints, thick, brown, body-positive women. Garza is in the ‘NSFW: The Female Gaze’ at the Museum of Sex. I remember being transfixed looking at her work at the opening.