In Conversation with Elizabeth Barreto: The Boricua lllustrator and Muralist Honoring Latinx Womxn
When I visited MECA in 2018, I made it to Taller Malaquita (an all-womxn run creative space) in Santurce, and remember being blown away by Elizabeth Barreto’s tough, sexy, warrior-like femmes. The Boricua native, born in Bayamón, and based between San Juan and Mexico City shares revelations about her bold mural-making, her fundamentally feminist illustrations, and her proud queerness.
Your illustrations represents many facets of female Latinidad. Can you talk about showcasing different kinds of Latinx womxn?
Portraying diversity helps us understand ourselves and other cultures. Without representation of all genders, races, body types, sexes and sexualities there would be missing stories. Unfortunately, and to be honest, I was not aware of this until a few years ago. I became aware of why representation matters through feminism and the Black Lives Matter movement. I didn’t have much contact with cultural diversity in my hometown until I started traveling frequently. Back then, I thought about Puerto Rican culture and our women pretty much the same. I was blessed with two best friends who are also Puerto Rican women artists but come from very different cultural backgrounds. One of them is half-Dominican and the other one is a Spaniard raised on the Island. I learned how different and beautiful we can be from my best friends but yet it took some time until I started to portray diversity in my artwork. My first inspirations were Dominican and Haitian kids I worked with through art workshops. I moved to Mexico City in September 2017. Obviously, this has been a life changer because it has opened my eyes to learn about how hard Mexican and immigrant women’s struggles can be in this country.
Your illustrations have such a specific and wonderful aesthetic, they're hyper-femme, tropical, and show womxn as resilient figures. Can you talk about that?The aesthetic of my artwork is the sum of many years in the making. Exploring and experimenting moods, ideas, techniques and themes. My recent artwork developed most importantly by being honest with myself and embracing femininity, which I consider is to take a political stand. I think I will never find comfort with how my work looks. But I do embrace this as a strength. I also feel like I’m finally expressing who I am and this totally speaks about how I feel as a woman, as a colonized islander from the Caribbean, as a Latina, about my political point of views and openness with my sexual orientation.
“I also feel like I’m finally expressing who I am and this totally speaks about how I feel as a woman, as a colonized islander from the Caribbean, as a Latina, about my political point of views and openness with my sexual orientation.”
I read an article where you said artists have a social responsibility in their communities, and I like how you reinforce that with your feminist murals. Can you expand on that?
I love painting murals because it’s a great opportunity to expose and create a reaction from public that doesn’t visit museums or galleries regularly. This is what interests me the most and this is why I feel responsible with the content of the artwork. Murals are a great experience to expose communities and the artist to an aesthetic and educational experience in the form of artistic expression. The Mexican muralists movement knew this and the early Puerto Rican muralists were influenced by this idea into taking direct action through their artwork to use murals as tool for social transformation.
What is your favorite G word and why?
There are many G words I like, but lately it must be guisar. It’s the verb in present tense for guisado which means stew. But in Puerto Rican culture it means to profit from something. So, when someone is finally being productive and seeing the results economically you would say that person is guisando. Also, I like it because I’m lately into eating whichever taco de guisado I can try. This is a Mexican street food delicatessen. Yum.
“The Mexican muralists movement knew this and the early Puerto Rican muralists were influenced by this idea into taking direct action through their artwork to use murals as tool for social transformation.”
What's next for 2019?
I am looking forward to finish my short term studies in Digital Illustration at the Faculty of Arts and Design in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). As soon as I’m done with this, I will be back in Puerto Rico for a few months to work for some upcoming projects and exhibitions. I am really excited about this but can’t reveal any more.
Follow Elizabeth Barreto @cookingood