Más Rudas: “To be tough, to be defiant and without apology.” Matching tattoos of the phrase adorn each of the four young women in various locations on their bodies.
“It’s an exaggeration of who we are, which isn’t something women are supposed to be.” said Ruth Buentello.
“It’s something I struggled with for a long time,” added Kristin Gamez. “In different situations it’s often seen as ‘bitchy.’”
Mari Hernandez was struck with the idea of forming an all-female art collective in 2009. She joined forces with Ruth Buentello, Sarah Castillo and Kristin Gamez, called themselves Más Rudas and never looked back.
Comprised of four tough and inspiring Chicanas, the art collective known as Más Rudas is known for their ability to challenge perceptions of gender and ethnicity while also addressing social, economic and political issues.
The beauty of a collective such as this one lies in the various view points within a cohesive singular identity. The works of Más Rudas are easily accessible to a wide variety of patrons while maintaining a certain simplistic honesty in their approach. You don’t have to be a Chicana or even a female to grasp the commentary at hand, although it does help if you grew up in South Texas.
These women specialize in making waves, if not typhoons, with their cleverly poignant critiques on culture. Their first show, hailed as both coming out party and rite of passage/quinceañera about 15 years too late, was simply titled “Our Debut.” Held in a Westside home, it immediately attracted attention from art goers with its colorful, jaded reclamation of a tradition their families could not provide for them.
Más Rudas was warned early on of the dangers associated with labeling themselves as “Chicanas,” which technically refers to women of Mexican descent who grew up in the U.S., but has evolved to become related to feminism and activism.
“They told us that we would be pigeonholed,” recalled Hernandez. “Labels aren’t things that mesh well with the art community. The idea is to create art that everyone can identify with.”
Gamez and Hernandez later commented that they feel the term Chicana provides necessary context and the collective is not willing to part with it. While the term maybe seen as old and stigmatized, they say there is a sense of agency and pride gained from repurposing it.
Buentello even noted that during the artist question-and-answer segment of their show, “Brown Style,” at Artpace that “We were told perhaps we have a complex and were questioned about these (social, feminist and racist) issues being all in our head.”
The issues the ladies confront in their works, however, were proven all too real in 2011. After briefly visiting the Alamo dressed as an Aztec princess, a mariachi, the Virgin de Guadalupe and the Donkey Lady, Más Rudas was asked to leave the premises. The visit was filmed and displayed as a part of “Más Triste San Antonio,” an installation at Unit B (Gallery) that explored the fantasy of Mexican-American culture sold to tourists versus the reality lived by many in the city.
“They wanted to humiliate us,” said Gamez. “They viewed our actions as defacing the legends, but it was a commentary on how we feel as residents within spaces that cater to tourists.” She added, “These places should be considered a part of us and the experience was difficult for us as people who care about the city.”
Clearly tapping into some very sensitive issues within our community, the women have continued to show together throughout the years including at Slanguage Studio in Los Angeles and the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin.
August brings their latest work, “Ruda Phat,” to UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC). This multimedia body of work aims to deconstruct mainstream society’s representations of women’s bodies based on the artists’ personal experiences.
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On display today until Dec. 1, the installation will be comprised of videos, photographs, illustrations, and fiber art. Includes a large-scale self-portrait based on the “ugliest woman in the world” a.k.a. “Bearded and Hairy Lady” Julia Pastrana, an indigenous Mexican woman born in the 1830’s with a rare genetic condition.
Pastrana, also a singer and dancer, was billed as an attraction for circus tours in North America and Europe and her husband/manager kept her and her baby’s embalmed remains on tour after their coinciding early deaths. She was given a proper burial in Mexico, 150 years after her death, earlier this year.
“This photo reflects my earliest memories of being uncomfortable with my reflection and will be an exaggerated response to my perception of society’s mainstream beauty standards,” explained Mari Hernandez.
Also on display will be a beauty ritual video by Gamez, a photo collage of beauty in Mexican-American culture by Sarah Castillo, Ruth Buentello’s fiber sculpture of lonjas, or “fat rolls” and a collaborative mixed-media mirror.
The women will collectively seek to contest a lack of appreciation of the diverse manifestations of the female body.
After seeing “Más Triste San Antonio,” ITC Lead Curatorial Researcher Sarah Zenaida Gould noted, “What caught my attention was the artists’ ability to weave history, sociology, and personal narrative into their art. We often talk about culture and its evolution at ITC. What they were doing was similar but in a completely different medium.”
Aside from this show being a bit edgier than what ITC is used to, Gould says “Ruda Phat” is different in that it will be an installation exhibit. The show will be created especially for the space, making use of every wall and crevice. The installation is a guaranteed one-of-a-kind work of art.
While the women of Más Rudas show as a singular entity, their work is anything but. United in theme and identity, each woman is still able to express her own perceptions through a different medium thus reinforcing the idea of individuality.
Castillo is inspired by fabric, body and form, whereas Buentello prefers 3D installations. Kristin works primarily in video and Hernandez likes socially conscious photography. Each is her own artist, but they are all Más Rudas.
These ladies and the work they create are nothing less than powerful. They are models for young women to constantly critique the world around them without fear of our being portrayed as “bitchy.” Strong, beautiful and creative, I wish nothing more than to be Más Rudas when I grow up.
Melanie Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Concentration in Professional Writing and a minor in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current Marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.