An Interview with:
The work of Favianna Rodriguez, world renowned artist and former Executive Director of CultureStrike, has served as a model for many of how art functions as a tool for social change. A large influence on the curation of Visiones, Favianna spoke to Amada Torruella about her work and her upcoming visit to Indie Grits.
Amada: Your parents immigrated from Peru to Oakland, CA, where you were born and raised. How did your bicultural upbringing impact your worldview?
Favianna: I’ve always had an understanding that the world is a very large place and that people move throughout different places of the world in order to achieve the best conditions for themselves. So it made me realize how courageous migrants are, and how much sacrifice our parents make to have a better life for themselves, and, of course, for their families. What it also meant for me, because my father was an Afro-Peruvian man, I grew up in a very multi-racial family and with African-Peruvian culture. And I grew up in an immigrant neighborhood that was mostly Mexicans, so I also was surrounded by Mexican culture, and I grew up in Oakland, which was the home of the Black Panther party, so I also grew up surrounded by a very political culture.
All of these things collided together to really inform and shape my artistic approach and my politics. So I feel that the many experiences that I’ve been able to have access to because of the diversity of my family and the diversity of our experiences have all shaped who I am. And, you know, for example, I also grew up very influenced by Chicano art, and so some of the first traditions that I learned were linoleum block and screen printing. I learned about the Inca culture and the very powerful art and architecture of the Incas, which then had a presence in my work as well. So you can definitely see all of those influences in my artwork.
Growing up, was there a specific moment that made you want to become an artist?
I think that art is in my blood. My parents were both very creative people, especially my father. My father really had a big imagination and was always really positive and would teach me how to read and read books with me, so I became an artist because both of them were very creative and they made many things out of very little. So I always had the confidence to express myself and my parents encouraged that a lot, so even as a kid I was very expressive and I would put colors up on the walls and I would also win many contests, like at the library, or the school contests with my art. So I think I was just artistic and I had a family that encouraged that.
How has your identity as a queer woman of color informed your artistic practice?
Well, it’s informed my artistic practice because of my lived experience. I mean, I can’t change who I am and I see the world through my lens, precisely because of the many experiences that come with being an outsider. I think that, for me, growing up in Oakland really taught me about inequality and the impacts of racism and that made me angry and it made me also want to fight for justice because I didn’t feel it was fair. I felt that we were actually set up to fail. As young people growing up in poor communities, we were set up to fail. And we were set up to end up in prison, or we were set up to end up having children before we were ready to have children. There were always drugs pushed into my community. So I feel that my passion for social justice is because I witnessed that and I lived it and I lost many friends because of it. And, for me, art was something that saved me because it gave me the ability to express myself and to channel my energy into something creative.
Your work is known for its vivid color palette and striking figures. What artists or experiences inspired these creative choices?
Oh, it’s a wide range of things. I mean, everything from the art of the Incas, the art of the indigenous people throughout Latin America, the art of the Cubans, Chicano art is a huge influence, the Black Arts Movement, graffiti, hip-hop, the 80s. Those are all things that kind of merge together, for me, and they give me all of my visual language and they influence my aesthetic choices.
You were the executive director of CultureStrike--an organizing entity led by migrant artists--for five years. How does CultureStrike empower the migrant community that it serves?
CultureStrike is an immigrant-led organization, and at CultureStrike we are leveraging the power of art and culture to change hearts and minds around immigration. We live in a very anti-immigrant country, and CultureStrike believes in the power of artists to change that and we always work with immigrant artists, as well as first- and second-generation immigrant artists, and we have created workshops and capacity-building and avenues for artists to really make an impact.
What can we do to make the arts more accessible for marginalized populations--specifically the Latinx community and other people of color?
Well, what needs to happen is that first there needs to be an awareness that art matters. I think that many of our own communities don’t consider the arts a crucial practice. The arts are seen as something nice to have, they’re not seen as a necessity. I believe that the arts are a human right and they’re a necessity. And we need to help all communities understand the value of art. That’s number one. Number two is that we also need to fight for our fair share of artistic resources. You know, in many schools that are serving black and brown communities, in many colleges, there is not enough opportunities for artists of color, and that is a systemic problem.
So I believe that what we need to do first is organize, and we need to hold artistic institutions accountable and make sure that they are working for us, because the arts belong to the people. And the people in this country don’t just go see the opera or the ballet, like, you know, the arts unfortunately in this country are really a reflection of white supremacy--the people who create artistic content, the people who run museums, the people who run the theaters, the ballet, the film industry, the music industry--they’re overwhelmingly white. And that’s something that has to change.
Tell us about your collaborative project, Migration is Beautiful--what did it entail, and what did you hope to achieve?
What I wanted to achieve with Migration is Beautiful is to talk about migration as a natural and normal thing that humans and other living species have been doing for a very long time. And migration is beautiful because migration is the way that the world works. I mean, people migrate, animals migrate--it’s part of our nature to do that, and borders and nation-states are not part of nature. They are created by man. So, part of what I wanted to do is invite people to imagine a world without borders, and to really reconnect with our natural condition, which is that, as human beings, we have been moving since the beginning of time, and there is nothing criminal or wrong about that. I also wanted to pay homage to the courageousness of immigrants who are on the move every day--immigrants and refugees.
How do we capitalize on the momentum of the Women’s March, building broader, more intersectional coalitions to resist continued patriarchal oppression?
Well, first, I think that there is a large group of people who are really excited about participating in a global movement, and I think that those of us who have been doing this work for a long time need to find inroads for everyone to be involved. And we also need to understand the importance of forming united fronts. Now, in a united front, there’s not gonna be agreement around everything--many interests come together to form a united front--but I think what we’re witnessing also is a shifting of the tide. I mean, although we are in an evil administration, the people--most people--have already evolved to think in a more open way, and they are now confronting a huge moral crisis of many dimensions. And this is a moment for us to really build our people power. And I think the way that we do that is that we meet people where they are, and we help them get to where we need them to get to.
In what ways do you want your work at Indie Grits to impact our community?
I really just want to get to know the community. I would love for people to have an awareness of my art, but also really to begin to incorporate the arts into the work that they do every day. I always believe that artists are visionary, that artists are about possibility and about the imagination. So, for me, Visiones is about tapping into the power of the imagination to manifest the kind of world we want to see.