Writer & advocate
Meet Naiomy Guerrero, the creative voice behind GalleryGirl.nyc, a platform devoted to the discussion of contemporary art. Not only has Naiomy Guerrero found harmony in her own identity as a "proud Latinx New Yorker," she is bridging the gap between the art world and artists of color. One example of her effort to establish diversity is the use of English and Spanish on her site - a subtle, but powerful way to show inclusion. Unwilling to wait for this white-dominated industry to open its doors to people of color, Guerrero has a mission to promote and advocate for diverse artists. She is honest in both her writing and the Black and Latinx experiences in the art world, including her own. With GalleryGirl.nyc, readers are exposed to different artists and thoughtful reviews by a voice rarely heard from, but urgently needed. This month, we speak with Guerrero about identity and the realities of the art world.
Tell us about yourself
I'm a proud Latinx New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan, raised primarily in the Bronx, but traveled back and forth between the BX, Washington Heights, and the Dominican Republic. If I had to describe myself I'd say calle pero elegante, which translates to 'street/hood but elegant' - it's a lyric from Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Tego Calderon's "Punto Y Aparte" song. I first heard it when I was 13 while my dad blasted it out of his jeep in the Dominican Republic, and it has stuck with me ever since. I've always felt at home with that phrase because it asserts that you can be from the hood and also have elegance, intellect, and be overall poppin'. You don't have to exchange or sacrifice parts of who you are to grow beyond what you already know about yourself, and that is revolutionary because for so long, I felt I had to let go of growing up in the hood, how that has shaped me in order to escape my environment, and the systemic oppression I saw around me.
Walk us through the journey of GalleryGirl.nyc.
I was an Art History major and a Studio Art/Sculpture and US History minor in college. While in college, I delved deep into contemporary art and learned so much about New York City's pivotal role in the arts and what a cultural mecca it is. I had to go to Greencastle, Indiana to learn about the artistic and cultural impact of the city I grew up in. Home. That was jarring for me. After college, I worked at an artist studio, a gallery, and for one of the biggest art nonprofits in the city. A lot of the time, I felt like an outcast and didn't connect with the work. I rarely saw myself in the contemporary art world. White walls, white people, and the same small group of artists being shuffled between shows. Last year, I decided to push myself and to meet and support artists who tell stories about people like me. The black and brown experience, the marginalized, the constantly compromised. In an effort to help my own Spanish-speaking family understand what I do and how I see, I decided to write in both languages. That's how Gallery Girl came about. I felt like there was more to be seen, and there is! I was so happy to have found my people. There are SO many artists, organizations, and people that have been working to make the art world a more equitable place for people of color. I just want to play my part the best way I know how: community organizing, sharing stories and images of the work being done via social media, and connecting artists to organizations or opportunities and vice versa.
How has your identity and where you grew up shaped your perception of art?
My work is a product of my identity. My work and identity are in a constant give-and-take, a conversation of sorts, sometimes an argument. I have to stop myself if I feel I've arrived too quickly at a conclusion about a piece or an artist and ask myself, 'hold up, do you think this about this piece or artist because of who you are? Is this even about the work itself anymore?' I've learned that it's okay to let an artist's story or motivation for making work influence how you feel about the piece itself. I am all about stories, and where and who we came from is part of everything that we do. I no longer feel like I can separate a work of art from the person who made it. I want to know, how did you get there, and what do you see? And then I think about how a piece makes me feel and focus on that. It doesn't necessarily happen in that order, but all of those things happen simultaneously and that is the exchange that takes place when I'm in front of a work.
For some time, I kept slamming into existential walls that caused paralyzing anxiety. I had internalized the deprivation I grew up with and thought I would stay that way until I rid myself of all that came with my upbringing. I went to college. I would be different. I couldn't be both a Dominican girl from the Bronx who reps her block and also be a complex, multifaceted, strong, and intellectual woman. I now know this line of reasoning was a fallacy. When you accept binary and exclusionary definitions of who you are, it will always leave you feeling bankrupt. My dad raised me. He always encouraged me to look all the way up beyond our circumstances. This was super useful and is responsible for propelling myself forward, however, I think that in spending so much time looking up, I realized that I was not looking AT or confronting what was around me and realizing that although it was difficult, it was also beautiful and it wasn't all suffering. There were lessons to learn and stories to tell - experiences that happened on my block, on the bus, on the subway, and at the bodega that were vital to my development as a strong Latinx woman.
What does it mean to be a woman of color in the art world?
Being a woman of color in the art world is tough. Being Latinx, you can often feel folklorized or like your culture is parked in the past. I remember once I was asked to name LIVING Latinx contemporary artists who are are successful and whom I followed, and I was like 'damn, I don't even really know.' After that I made it a point to find them, seek them out, and connect with their work because I knew they are out there.
Being a woman of color means finding your people in the art world, supporting them, and doing your part in amplifying our voices. It often means being in a room full of people who do not look like you or understand you at a fundamental level, but want your ideas or presence in a room to help establish credibility. It means believing in your choices and fighting for them to be respected. Sometimes it means walking away from jobs or opportunities because you know the fit is not right and you will not be valued. I think you also have the opportunity to help inspire other people of color to believe in themselves to know that they deserve to be in those rooms just as much as anyone else. Seeing people of color around you doing the things you'd like to be doing is a confirmation that this is possible and doable, and you are deserving of this space.
How do you navigate between your passion and not feeling wholly accepted?
I surround myself with people who have similar passions. I don't focus much on the feeling of not being accepted. I saw it all my life, so it doesn't really deter me. I went to three different high schools, three different middle schools, and I honestly forgot how many different elementary schools, but it's more than four. I was always the new girl, so not being accepted never really trips me up because I don't have time for it. I kinda have the, "well you don't accept me, says more about you than me" attitude. I won't internalize that or let that into a mental space where it can follow me beyond the moment I recognize the lack of acceptance.
We love that GalleryGirl.nyc is written in both English and Spanish. What's the power in that?
The power in having a bilingual site is that, for me, it fosters connection with Latinx who only speak Spanish. It has been hard for my parents and older family members to understand what I do because of the language barrier. I decided to write in Spanish so they can join me in this journey and see what I see. When I shared that I was going to an Art History major to my father, he didn't really get it. The goal is to be as inclusive as I can be. I studied both in the Dominican Republic and New York, I am both American and Dominican. In my world, I can't tell you where Spanish ends and where English beings, or which I learned first. I felt it was necessary to connect those worlds in the most formidable way possible, what's better than two languages I've spoken interchangeably on a daily basis?
Are you able to translate who you are into your work?
All the time. My voice is my work, so it's there by default. I make sure to stand by what I say. It's more about the artists I encounter though. I want them to have a stage, to be seen, and hopefully it leads them to being supported monetarily, so that they can continue to create work.
Who are some of your favorite artists or what are some of your favorite works of art and why?
Teresita Fernandez is a favorite. She currently has a piece at Lehman Mauppin titled, "Fire (America)" that is really stunning and poignant. In this current political climate, it is easy to feel hopeless and even lonely. I think that piece says I am with you, I feel you, I understand, and I see what you see. There is a 96 x 192 x 1.25 inch glaze ceramic piece at the center of the gallery displaying a fire that could be dying or starting. Her site-specific work is confrontational and forces viewers to ask themselves difficult questions about the state of society, our histories, and see the inherent biases in the narratives we believe.
Tony Peralta is also a favorite artist of mine. Think Dominican-American Andy Warhol. Peralta inserts himself in the visual narrative of American popular culture and contemporary art by reconstructing cultural traditions and icons to establish belonging. He sees power in the mundane. Peralta's "Goya Can" screenprints and "Celia con Rolos" are seductive in that they are objects hidden in kitchen cabinets, in a corner of your living room, and are then given a stage to be marveled at. While viewers stand in front of the work, they see each other, themselves, and their experiences affirmed.
What advice do you have for other women of color who "dare" to enter this exclusive industry, but may not have the resources or access to do so?
Find your people. Support them. Show up for them at events. Support organizations that are exhibiting artists you enjoy and feel represented by. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to people you admire and follow up with them.
For women of color based in New York that are interested, The City University of New York (CUNY) has partnered with New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs and The Rockefeller Foundation to launch the CUNY Cultural Corps, which will create opportunities for CUNY students to work in the City's cultural sector. The Cultural Corps aims to be a strong student pipeline for successful alumni into New York City's arts and cultural institutions. These institutions include nonprofit cultural organizations involved in the visual, literary, and performing arts as well as public-oriented science and humanities institutions, including zoos, botanical gardens, and historic and preservation societies.
What is one thing about your culture that you'd like to share with us?
I recently went to a party a friend of mine throws uptown (Washington Heights) called "Que lo Que" at La Marina. The party features a live band that plays merengue tipico. The night is full of dancing bachata, salsa, and merengue. While at this party last Saturday, my friends and I were talking about how beautiful it is that Dominicans celebrate EVERYTHING. We have a really celebratory culture. In the Dominican Republic, people hang out at the colmados (kind of like bodegas) and all you need is a stereo and a plastic chair to sit outside and have a good time. I see it with my family and friends' families. There is always an excuse to get together and dance for hours. Celebration is one of our love languages and I love that about us.