Women of color artists: We’ve been held back

When Nora Naranjo Morse, of the Santa Clara Pueblo, was a little girl, she watched her mother, a potter, defer to the white man who sold her pottery at a local curio shop. It’s a memory that haunts the Española-based artist to this day. Naranjo Morse said her mother “was a grand presence” in their […]

Women of color artists: We’ve been held back

When Nora Naranjo Morse, of the Santa Clara Pueblo, was a little girl, she watched her mother, a potter, defer to the white man who sold her pottery at a local curio shop.

It’s a memory that haunts the Española-based artist to this day.

Naranjo Morse said her mother “was a grand presence” in their household. But when she walked into the curio shop to negotiate with the white owner, Naranjo Morse could see the angst on her mother’s face.

“The way the curio shop owner treated her was as someone who was less than,” Naranjo Morse told NM Political Report.

Women of color artists have long been disregarded and denied access to opportunities to show their work. A study published in 2019 found that in museum collections across the United States, 85 percent of artists are white and 87 percent are men.

Naranjo Morse, who is 69 and works with clay, said women of color artists now face less discrimination than they did historically. But, she said, she felt marginalized when she was in her prime because she is a woman of color working in a particular medium.

“If you’re from Santa Clara Pueblo and an artist, ‘oh, you make pottery,’ that’s a long-standing assumption,” she said. “When I first started promoting my work, my forms were so unusual. They were not traditional vessels. They were abstracted forms. That was a challenge for the people who made decisions at galleries or shops or even institutions.”

Naranjo Morse currently has a piece, called Numbe Whageh, which in English means “Our Center Place,” at the Albuquerque Museum. The museum is making an effort to bolster its collection of works by contemporary women of color artists, said Josie Lopez, head curator.

“It’s important to us to grow our collections to represent the whole city,” Lopez told NM Political Report.

The museum did an internal review a few years ago and found that while it has work by well known women artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe and Judy Chicago, it was inadequately reflecting the diversity of contemporary women of color artists, Lopez said. With that in mind, the museum has been working to improve in those areas.

The City of Albuquerque gave the museum $100,000 last month specifically so the museum can buy work from living Albuquerque artists to diversify the collection.

Lopez said that while appreciated, the money is just a start for the museum’s efforts to better diversify its holdings.

“It’s a wonderful and generous start to creating those opportunities, but in terms of what our broader goals are, it’s a small part of how we can build those collections,” Lopez said. 

How women of color artists are overlooked

Discrimination can take many forms, including not taking the medium the artist is working in seriously. Lopez said that, historically, women have been “left out of the conversation either because of the work they made or the message being expressed through the work.”

Art mediums that historically have been viewed as crafts are one way women of color artists have been historically ignored by museum collections. Museums tend to focus on work considered fine art, which has historically been dominated by white men. Lopez said there are other ways that women of color artists are discriminated against.

“What is the access to opportunity and how do pipelines get built?” she asked rhetorically.

Paula Wilson, a mixed media artist living in Carrizozo who is Black, said that museum history, in and of itself, has its roots in oppression.

“Museums began as a colonial project to promote stolen spoils of war and conquest. I feel they have a unique position to show how art is enriching our lives. (Now) they are safe, public spaces for critical thinking,” Wilson said.

The ways in which women of color artists are overlooked, disregarded or discouraged can affect the artist’s confidence, Naranjo Morse said.

“People who do different kinds of work, women who do experimental work are more easily accepted (now). In my time, it was much more of a challenge. I was not a Native man, not a white man, I was not any kind of a man. It was a mark against my inclusion into opportunities that I think I could have done,” she said.

Diana Moya Lujan, who is a straw applique artist in Santa Fe, said she sees a lack of gender parity on boards that oversee art or a lack of women becoming the director of an art board. Moya Lujan, who is 73, said that when she decided to take classes in wood carving, the classes were all men. 

Expectations of what a woman of color artist could or should look like can affect an artist’s career in other ways. Wilson, who is 45, said that while she shows nationally and internationally, getting recognized in New Mexico “felt like it took a very long time.”

“I do feel like there’s an expectation of what an artist in New Mexico might look like and that’s often not a Black woman,” Wilson said.

The Albuquerque Museum recently acquired some work by Wilson with the help of a donor, Lopez said.

Wilson said that representation matters.

“If you don’t see other people who look like you represented, it’s only natural to not imagine there’s a place for you in that field,” Wilson said.

But, being “tokenized,” can also be “exhausting,” Wilson said.

“I also think a lot of artists of color are asked to hold the mantle for the entire population,” Wilson said. “You’re expected to speak for your entire racial group and being tokenized is an ever-pervasive reality that can just be exhausting.”

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

A representative from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office outlined on Thursday the bills the governor’s office will back during the upcoming special session, but…
Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Dept Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure…
AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced on Thursday his legislative priorities for July’s special legislative session, including the creation of a crime victim’s unit to…
PNM seeks rate increase

PNM seeks rate increase

Customers of New Mexico’s largest electric utility may pay more for energy in the future. The Public Service Company of New Mexico filed an…
DOE announces funding to help bring technologies to market

DOE announces funding to help bring technologies to market

National laboratories across the country, including Sandia National Laboratories, will use millions of dollars in federal funding to spur the deployment of projects related…
LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico Last fall, the international community rose up in defense of the Pacific Ocean. Seafood and salt purveyors,…
Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury secured $8.3 million for childhood development and youth services in the 1st congressional district through federal community project funding. Stansbury,…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf answered questions about the safety of human milk formula and mifepristone on Wednesday. Sen. Martin…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

With nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, most of the legislative candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes New…
New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

Food insecurity is on the rise as state benefits have decreased and the future of federal benefits have an uncertain future.  Sonya Warwick, director…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

President Joe Biden leads former president Donald Trump in the race for New Mexico’s five electoral seats, according to a poll commissioned by NM…
Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will spend $70,000 for organizing staff to aid U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, the Democrat trying…
Handful of legislators lose primaries

Handful of legislators lose primaries

Every legislative seat is up for grabs in 2024, which means all incumbents who sought reelection had to face the voters. Most did not…
Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

Post-primary, Biden leads Trumps in NM

President Joe Biden leads former president Donald Trump in the race for New Mexico’s five electoral seats, according to a poll commissioned by NM…
New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

Food insecurity is on the rise as state benefits have decreased and the future of federal benefits have an uncertain future.  Sonya Warwick, director…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report