June 22, 2001

Chicana Scholar Is Force Behind Book on Artist Santa Barraza

As a scholar of Chicano arts and culture, UC Santa Barbara Professor María Herrera-Sobek has been able to bring attention to many gifted Chicano and Chicana artists.

The experience has left her rewarded and yet somewhat aghast.

"Meeting various Chicana painters, I have been astounded at how little attention they receive from critics, art departments, universities, and publishing firms," said Herrera-Sobek, the Luis Leal Professor of Chicano Studies. "... I have been surprised, too, by the shabby treatment many of our most outstanding Chicana painters receive at various institutions."

In Santa Barraza: Artist of the Borderlands (Texas A&M University Press), Herrera-Sobek begins an effort to improve that treatment. The book — edited by Herrera-Sobek, who also wrote the preface and introduction — is a large format, glossy paper work that includes an autobiography by Barraza, 34 full-page color reproductions of her paintings, and commentary by renowned art scholars Shifra M. Gold-man, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto and Dori Grace Udeagbor Lemeh.

Barraza's work, some of which was displayed in the Texas mansion during the tenure of now president George W. Bush, depicts scenes of her native land along the Texas-Mexico border and the people — mostly women — who live there. It is colorful and emotional art, resonant with symbols of the region and its culture and history— the maguey cactus, the Virgin of Guada-lupe and strong mestizo wo-men, including members of Barraza's family.

Also incorporated are symbols from pre-Columbian Mexico, Mayan figures and the Aztec Codices. It is Barraza's view of what it is to be Chicana and of what it is to be Santa Barraza. And it is filled with the images and emotions of her quest to discover herself.

"Twenty-five years ago, I left my birthplace seeking knowledge to enrich myself as a person and an artist," writes Barraza, who was educated at the University of Texas and then taught art in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Chicago before returning home to Texas A&M, Kingsville. "I traveled to the Northeast, Midwest, West, and even Mexico, only to discover that the answers to my questions were not there. Ironically, I discovered that the information I sought always had been at my immediate disposal, in my own family, home, and town."

In Santa Barraza: Artist of the Borderlands Barraza, Herrera-Sobek and the rest show us Barraza's resplendent passion for that place and her love of its people.

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