We had the good fortune of connecting with Juliana Rico and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Juliana, why did you pursue a creative career?
I believe that images have power. Seeing a figure you can identify with be portrayed as powerful, intelligent, a hero, or even a professor can change the way a person perceives their own future. This is one reason why identity and representation are prominent themes at the core of my art practice. I come from a background of rarely being “the norm” and consistently being “the other.” I am an introverted, queer, full bodied, woman of color. I am a 3rd generation Mexican-American who was not taught Spanish as a survival strategy to better assimilate into US society. I was taught to blend in, assimilate, embrace, and aspire to Eurocentric and Western ideas and ideals in order to succeed. The painful ideology of fitting “the norm” can be decoded as embodying colonialist values, left me continually feeling like an outsider and an imposter who never truly belonged. I received backhanded compliments, that would today be labeled microaggressions- “you’re good / nice / pretty/smart for a …” or “you’re not like other….” sometimes even “but you’re white on the inside.” My successes felt limited to what the gatekeepers perceived my limitations to be based on my identities. The lack of role models in the form of teachers, mentors, or industry examples who looked like me, or had a similar upbringing as I did left me feeling like an imposter, powerless, and insecure as a teen. As an artist and educator I question and counter the colonialist defaults to carve out a space for the voices of so many underrepresented groups who have not felt a sense of belonging or seen themselves reflected in art, media, and education. I use and teach the camera as a tool to record personal histories and represent things seen from the artist’s unique perspective. I aim to be the teacher I wish I had all those years ago, the mentor that could help guide my way into the art world, an industry example to help young creatives who face similar struggles to foster and nourish their own voices through photography. All the identities who felt unseen no longer have to accept the narrative placed on them; they can write their own.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I took my first photography class in high school. It was a film photography class where you learn how to develop your own film and print your photos in a darkroom. There was something magical about the darkroom for me, it was a quiet and peaceful place where I could get lost in my own imagination. Photography was a way for me to express my ideas and say things that I, at times, did not have the courage to say out loud. My parents put a lot of pressure on me to go to college. Neither of them had finished, so there was stress for me to do well and be the first person in our family to earn a degree. I got a lot of criticism when I changed my major from biology to art. There are many negative stigmas, especially as a woman of color, associated with an Art degree. “You’re going to be a starving artist.” “I hope you marry rich.” “That’s not a REAL major.”” What are you even going to do with that degree?” I heard all of those things repeatedly and had to fight the insecurity and imposter syndrome that caused me to feel like I wasn’t good enough. It was hard to imagine a successful woman of color artist with little to no examples in the classroom, media, or art history books. So I worked my ass off, made community with others who were on a similar journey, and navigated and survived the predominately white institutions of higher education and the art world. I was passionate about photography and knew that I had to continue on my journey- to carve out the necessary space for myself and others who continue to come after me. I earned my Bachelor of Fine Art from San Jose State University and then my Master of Fine Art from Cal State Fullerton. Eventually, my parents saw this dedication and seriousness and supported me in my path. They still don’t always like, or understand all my work, but they are incredibly proud of what I am doing as an artist and educator. I aim to be the teacher I wish I had all those years ago, the mentor that could help guide my way into the art world, an industry example to help young creatives who face similar struggles to foster and nourish their own voices through photography. As an artist and educator I question and counter the colonialist defaults to carve out a space for the voices of so many underrepresented groups who have not felt a sense of belonging or seen themselves reflected in art, media, and education. In my art through personal investigations, long term projects, and continuous questioning of societal “norms” around aspects of intersecting identities I create a new and expanded perspective. There is no “normal” or specific way to be. My art serves as a lens to reflect the simultaneously expansive and specific communities and perspectives I embody. I am excited to currently have two bodies of work in a group exhibition entitled “Taking Up Space,” at Brea Gallery which is up through March 26th, 2021. The exhibition features “a diverse group of women artists who share their stories, cultures, and perspectives through their artistic practice. Staged to supplement rather than negate the typically male-dominated exhibitions of the past, this show will highlight experiences, struggles, and strengths of these women while providing visitors an opportunity to look through the eyes of this group of talented artists who come together in the space.” You can find out more information on their website: https://www.breaartgallery.com
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well I’m a low key, chill kind of person so our time would mostly be spent seeing powerful art, taking in natural and city spaces, eating delicious foods, and having great conversations. I’ve lived in Santa Ana in Orange County for over a decade so we would of course, start there. I don’t get up before 10am if I can help it, so the first activity of the day: lunch at Mil Jugos. It is my favorite arepa place, where we would order too many arepas and cover them in the delectable green sauces while drinking their refreshing fresh juices. We would walk the downtown blocks to visit all the art spaces, get a paleta from La Michoacána, and take photos throughout the beautiful city streets. A must-see is Libro Mobil, a local bi-lingual bookstore. They always have the best selection of books and amazing programming that features local creatives and makers. We would end the day by saying hi to the creative photographers working at Giant Studios. I met these creatives as students in my classroom several years back and their studio and careers are now flourishing! We would get some behind the scenes peeks of the latest musical artists they are working with on video and photographic projects. The next day we would go to Fullerton/ Brea for a day of looking and beauty. First a walk and picnic at the Fullerton Arboretum, a lovely nature space. We would enjoy the desert, bamboo area, redwoods, community gardens, fruit trees, streams, and ponds as we walk and explore the space. Our picnic lunch would either be Huntington Ramen or Curry Hut depending on the mood, but both have amazing vegetarian/ vegan options (bonus: they are in the same shopping center plaza!) After a lovely day outside and delicious lunch, we would go down the road and check out the Brea Gallery. “Taking Up Space’ might still be up, or another great exhibition the from curator Heather Bowling. After all that excitement we would head to Joshua Tree to disconnect from people, soak up the sun, and see the stars. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I could not have gotten to this point without the love and support of my family, closest friends, and community. Thank you. And a special thank you to my grandma for hugging me tight all those times I felt like giving up and saying, “like Dolores Huerta mija: sí se puede!”