Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist is the first solo museum presentation of the work of Yolanda López, the pathbreaking Chicana artist and activist whose career in California spanned five decades. The exhibition presents a compendium of López’s work from the 1970s and 1980s, when she created an influential body of paintings, drawings, and collages that investigate and reimagine representations of women within Chicano/a/x culture and society at large.
In her best-known work, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe (1978), López depicts herself wearing running shoes and the Virgin Mary’s star-patterned mantle, an emblem of defiant joy. One of the most iconic artworks to emerge from the Chicano Movement, López’s Portrait challenges the colonial and patriarchal origins of the Guadalupe iconography, transforming the symbol into one of radical feminist optimism. López frequently used herself, her mother, and her grandmother as models and “prototypes” in her conceptual drawing projects of the 1970s, bringing visibility to women of distinct roles and life stages through heroic, often larger-than-life portraits.
Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and augmented at the San José Museum of Art with a new space focused on her role as a Bay Area activist and cultural worker, the exhibition brings together a compendium of 50 works in oil pastel, paint, charcoal, collage, and photography that highlight López’s use of portraiture as a strategy for visualizing collective empowerment. The exhibition examines López’s profound influence as a feminist artist and activist whose works are characterized by their analysis, indelible imagery, and wit.
Yolanda López (1942–2021) was born in San Diego and became one of the most important Chicana artists and activists of her generation. Her formation can be traced to her student activism as an undergraduate at San Francisco State University in the 1960s and her ongoing role as a cultural worker within the Chicano civil rights movement. She was a founding member of Los Siete de la Raza, a Black Panther-backed movement that galvanized San Francisco’s Latino/a/x community and produced works of protest art. She later played a significant role in the San Francisco Bay Area working as the educational director for the Mission District Cultural Center and as an instructor at the University of California, Berkeley, Mills College, the California College of the Arts, and other Bay Area colleges. López received the National Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, and a Latinx Artist Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2021. Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist is her first solo museum exhibition.