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Term of empowerment: Successful ‘Qué Chola’ exhibit heads online at the National Hispanic Cultural Center

Gaspar Enriquez’s, “La Patsy y Los Homeboys,” (1996) acrylic on form board cutouts, was part of “Qué Chola” at the NHCC. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

In 2019, Jadira Gurulé wanted to change the narrative regarding the word “chola.”

As curator, she researched and developed what would be “Qué Chola,” which was on view at the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum.

The exhibit gained international attention, and the NHCC is bringing the exhibit back – virtually.

The exhibition featured works by 29 artists from New Mexico, California, Texas and Colorado. Themes include aesthetics, popular culture, women’s solidarity, gender, practices of self-making, and cultural pride.

“The exhibition is really about honoring the impact of a figure that can help us think differently about who we are and the social structures we are a part of,” Gurulé says of the exhibit. “For some, the word ‘chola’ may be foreign or conjure up a stereotype. For other museum visitors, there may be an intimate familiarity and cultural connection. Regardless of individual experience, we hope the exhibition provides an opportunity for learning and reflection.”

Gurulé says the term “chola” refers to women of Chicana/Latina subculture in the U.S. characterized by cultural pride, a tough demeanor and a distinctive style.

She is a figure that many young Chicanas grow up admiring or emulating, because she symbolizes youthful rebellion, strength and resilience in the face of racial, gender and economic adversity.

As a historical figure, the chola has been featured in Chicana/o art for decades and she has become an archetype in the Chicana/o imagination.

The aesthetics of the chola archetype have influenced a great deal of art, fashion and popular culture in ways that can be both inspiring and sometimes problematic.

However, the chola attitude, the essence of her power, cannot be contained within the boundaries of a label. Personal and cultural expression remain dynamic and fluid.

Gurulé says that while the exhibit explores the symbolic power of the chola in artistic expression, this should not obscure the challenging realities faced by real people within our communities.

“In the last decade or so, there’s this resurgence of popularity,” she says. “It’s a cross-cultural interest, and it’s fascinating to see. We see on some occasions that there are caricatures created. But if you look closely, a chola is being drawn upon as a symbol of power.”

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