Jasmin Hernandez: On Her Afro-Latinx Positionality and Her Work to Center People of Color in Arts Journalism
By Carly Dennis
Jasmin Hernandez is an Afro-Latina arts writer and editor immersed in the overlapping spheres of fashion and visual art. She is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Gallery Gurls, a website focused on people of color in the visual arts, especially women and queer folks. As Hernandez balances work in different aspects of arts and journalism, she takes the opportunity to make connections across different silos of the art world, and to focus on the work people of color are doing in the arts.
Describing her background, Hernandez starts at the beginning: “I was born to Afro-Dominican immigrant parents in Washington Heights, New York, in the early ’80s.” She grew up working class, with her mother and younger brother. Even when they moved out of Manhattan to Queens in the mid ’80s, they continued to find their support system in their old neighborhood, among her aunts, cousins, and grandmother, “the matriarch of the family,” says Hernandez, “who first came to Washington Heights in 1970.” Weekly visits kept all the relatives connected with each other, and with Dominican culture. Hernandez grew up “bilingual, bicultural, Dominican-American.”
Hernandez cites magazines, books, and television shows and channels she grew up around as essential in her development: “‘Sabado Gigante,’ ‘Santo Domingo Invita,’ telenovelas on Univision and Telemundo [...] but as a ‘90s teen I was much more into ‘Moesha,’ ‘Martin,’ ‘In Living Color,’ ‘New York Undercover,’ ‘House of Style,’ ‘Living Single,’ ‘TRL,’ ‘Yo MTV Raps,’ and ‘MTV Jams,’ because that’s where I saw myself represented—not really on Spanish-language networks.” She recalls her subscriptions to fashion magazines like Sassy, YM, Elle, Bazaar, and Vogue, and her mother’s collection of fiction, biographies, art books, and photography monographs. “Between watching excessive amounts of MTV, VH1, BET, and E!, and devouring fashion magazines, I knew I would end up with a creative career,” she laughs.
Having worked in the art scene for a number of years, Hernandez sees a central problem – the extreme dominance still given to white artists and art workers, as well as the attendant white cultural content of a vast proportion of the art that gets shown and celebrated. On the other side of this problem, she sees potential – the potential for self-recognition for people of color in contemporary visual arts: “Seeing yourself represented in society is one of the most powerful things that can happen to you. Is it any wonder the film ‘Black Panther’ has had such gargantuan success?” Plus, there is the potential for many different cultural groups and positionalities to experience the richness of other cultures, rather than every positionality being stuck with access only to the visual expressions of white cultures.
As part of realizing these potentials, and undoing this problem of perpetual structural Eurocentrism and white supremacism, as well as heteropatriarchy (that which marginalizes trans and cis women, trans men, non-binary people, and queer people), Hernandez created her arts website in 2012. She focuses explicitly upon artists, curators, art workers, and art entrepreneurs who are people of color, especially people of color who are women and/or queer, with some occasional white queer women thrown into the mix as well. She cites artists such as Mickalene Thomas, Zanele Muholi, Mary Sibande, and Ayana V. Jackson as some of her biggest inspirations to create her blog, and then to grow the site further.
When first envisioning the site, she knew she would include reviews so she could “write about the shows that touched [her].” Likewise, “from the start” she knew that she “would cover fashion in art - like fashion photography and fashion-focused exhibits - and art events.” Over time she added studio visits and artist interviews as well. “I was always a one-woman content operation –managing, editing, and producing content,” Hernandez notes. However, starting last year she began working with contributors – young women writers and photographers, who she says have added spark with their varied voices to the content of the site.
For Hernandez, her positionality as an Afro-Latina, Dominican-American woman, is always at play in her work, shaping the issues she seeks to highlight, and which artists and art workers resonate with her. In our interview, she reflected on how Afro-Latinidad is portrayed in mainstream media and arts, or left out. “Even though it may seem like Afro-Latinxs are ‘trendy’ now, those of us who are black and Latinx have always loved ourselves, known ourselves, and navigated life in these bodies, despite what the world has thrown at us.”
Hernandez cites the laudable work of figures like Amara La Negra, noting that, “since the Afro-Latino conversation is becoming more prominent, this is the time to educate folks” about this positionality that has always existed, but has long been invisibile in the mainstream. Hernandez contributes to this consciousness-raising in her writing, social media presence, and especially in her efforts for Gallery Gurls, centering and reflecting upon what artists/art workers of color have to say.