Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Jodie Herrera devours issues of social justice, then splashes them onto wood and walls in symbolic portraits.
The Taos artist shows her work at Santa Fe’s KEEP Contemporary, at galleries in Denver, and on walls and windows in Downtown Albuquerque, as well as at jodieherrera.com.
The pandemic inspired many artists to create during quarantine. For Herrera, a different illness led to a series of paintings about women who survive tragedy and spin their pain into gold.
In March 2020, Herrera had just left an art opening when she began hallucinating and broke out in a rash all over her body.
At first she was afraid she had contracted the coronavirus. But a call to her doctor revealed otherwise. She had meningitis, a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic.
“It swells your spinal cord and your brain membrane,” the artist, who was sick for three weeks, said. Told she would have to ride out the illness, she meditated nearly non-stop and turned to her art for healing.
Herrera had been working on a series celebrating women’s resilience called “Women Without Borders.”
“Women have been virtually erased from history and I want to remember our history,” she said.
The portraits reflect issues important to the sitter, and each model chooses her pose, Herrera said.
“It’s a time capsule for them,” she said. “I think it’s important for the woman to take control.”
Herrera flew to Berlin to interview and paint a Bosnian genocide survivor and activist named Sanija. She had escaped the war as a teenager and now works full time with refugees.
“She wanted to educate people about the Bosnian genocide,” Herrera said.
From 1991 to 1995, many Bosniaks were driven into concentration camps, where women and girls were gang raped, tortured, starved and murdered by the Serbs. It was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II.
It took Sanija 16 years to stabilize her life in Germany.
Sanija’s portrait features the “Tree of Life” design. The two tree symbols cusp a circle encompassing the symbolic “Turtle Carrying the World on its Back.” The diamond shaped kilim weaving motif wards off the evil eye. Sanija had to embody these qualities to move through her past.
“Crown” encapsulates Herrera’s resurrection from her illness. The rising snake represents her personal growth. The images came to her during the visions she experienced with meditation. The self-portrait exposes the body parts usually protected during the pandemic. The eye on her right palm represents creative awakening and protection, while the cactus blossom in her left hand symbolizes the flame of creative fire. The green upside down triangle is the sacred feminine.
“It felt to me like I was doing a lot of shadow work,” Herrera explained. “I was confronting a lot of things.”
“I started this series in college” at the University of New Mexico, she said. “I’ve always worked specifically with women to narrate their stories.”
“Hope” chronicles the story of a Diné/Mescalero Apache and Comanche survivor of homelessness, as well as domestic and sexual abuse. She grew up to become an activist and advocate of many causes, especially the Standing Rock No Dakota Access Pipeline movement.
The ring of arrowheads and rainbows symbolize protection. Hope spotted a herd of buffalo while she was protesting at Standing Rock, so Herrera included them within the circle behind her figure.
Murals dominate Herrera’s current projects list, including one slated for Albuquerque’s Fifth Street and Central for New Mexico United, as well as a 100-foot-long work for the American Civil Liberties Union. She has also painted several murals in Denver.
The murals germinated when Herrera was a teenaged graffiti artist.
“They always reflect whatever issues are important to that neighborhood or the people they would like to celebrate,” she said. “It’s creating artwork that’s accessible to the public. People can say: hey, that’s in my neighborhood; that’s my mural.”