Artist: Sheila Garrett Rodriguez
Exhibition: Were We Even Here
Media: Mixed-media, Wallpaper, Yarn, Window Screen, Embroidery Floss, Video Installation
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Max L. Gatov Gallery East
About the Artist
Sheila Garrett Rodriguez moved around a lot in her childhood and in adulthood which resulted in her living in over 30 homes during her lifetime. She is a native Californian who feels a deep connection to her Mexican heritage. Currently, Rodriguez is a graduate student pursuing her MFA in the School of Art’s Fiber program. This is her last semester at CSULB. Her background and life experiences are reflected in her exhibition.
Upon entering the exhibition, there is a wooden bed frame situated in the middle of the room. Cochineal has been sprinkled on the floor surrounding the wooden bed frame. In the north wall, there is a painting of a woman with her head inside a house. Her arms are stretched out and surrounded by barbed wires. Her backside is facing us and it is embellished by colorful embroidered flowers. On the rest of the walls, there are different parts of a house such as a metal screen and dry wall with one factor in common – they are all decorated by colorful embroidered flowers. On the other room, there is video of someone crushing cochineal inside a molcajete. There is also a table set in front of the video with molcajetes and cochineal placed on top of it.
In her work, Rodriguez explores the idea of self-identity being intertwined with one’s culture and home. Rodriguez identifies as a Chicana and states that she feels a strong pull toward her Mexican culture. In her exhibition, Were We Even Here, her Mexican heritage is reflected in her artwork. The brightly colored embroidered flowers are frequently embroidered by many Mexican artisans to decorate cloth pieces such as a dress or a doily. This familiar pattern decorates many pieces that can be found within a house such as dry wall or a piece of wood. People decorate their homes according to what they find appealing. Thus, our houses are a reflection of ourselves and can contribute to our self –identity. Just like our ethnicity and sexuality are part of us and are therefore judged by society, people judge our houses on the way they are decorated. Also, it is not unusual to form a connection with the objects within our homes because they are the physical objects that remind one of all the good memories made one’s home. In fact, this idea is reflected in the fact the bed frame found in the exhibition once belonged to Rodriguez’s grandma. In a way, our self-identity and culture are the roots that differentiate our home from other people’s home.
Synthesis / My Experience
I knew that I had to have a conversation with the artist of the exhibition as soon as I stepped foot into it. Just like Sheila, I have always felt a strong connection to my Mexican heritage. I have always loved the bright and colorful embroidery found within the art of my culture, so seeing it on objects that I typically consider to be ugly was a very interesting sight for me. My grandma and mom taught me the art of embroidery as a child. In my house, cloth napkins that I embroidered as a child can be found within a cabinet of our kitchen. This aspect of my house is unique to me because there are childhood memories tied to those napkins that cannot be found anywhere else. This is why our homes are a reflection of our identity and cultures.
I loved that Rodriguez used herself as an inspiration for her exhibition. She told us that the woman in the drawing was meant to be herself. She stated that there is nothing that she knows better than herself which I found to be admirable. Often times, people neglect themselves and don’t take the time to explore their identity. Recently, I have been dedicating a little more time to explore new things and to place myself in situations that are out of my comfort zone. Overall, I loved that I found a Mexican artist that is not afraid to express herself and her culture through her art pieces.