People of color are rarely the focus when it comes to art. If you’ve ever taken an art history class, you know that the classic and most iconic paintings feature fair-skinned folks. Those paintings and the subjects have been regarded as the standard of artistic beauty for centuries but one Afro-Cuban artist is challenging that perception with her art collection “Black Imagery to Counter Hegemony (B.I.T.C.H.).” Harmonia Rosales is the artist of the Instagram-famous recreation of the “Creation of Adam.” She recently opened her first solo art show at the Simard Bilodeau Contemporary gallery in downtown Los Angeles and told mitú about the inspiration behind her collection. Hint: getting a divorce as a Latina was a major contribution.
Like many Latinas, Afro-Cuban artist Harmonia Rosales was raised to believe that she needed a man to take care of her.
“My parents have been together since they were 18. Both of them, especially my father, were very dominate. He was born in Havana, Cuba. He’s a dominate male, Afro-Cuban. He loves his daughter and wants her to be taken care of,” Rosales says. “So the fact of, ‘Oh, you need to marry a man that will take care of you and take care of the family’ was in my head from a very young age.”
Rosales explained that this mentality was reinforced when she looked at her grandparents in their very traditional gender roles. While her abuela would cook and clean the house, her abuelo focused on providing for the family.
“It was always said that I needed someone to take care of me,'” Rosales says.
So, Rosales did just that when she married her college sweetheart. She cooked, cleaned, and went to night school so she could take care of the house and the kids. But she knew it wasn’t working. Instead of staying in a marriage where she was unhappy, Rosales did what she needed to do and left.
“I left with absolutely nothing. I left him with everything,” Rosales says. “So I had two children, nowhere to go, no car, nothing. I was literally starting from scratch. I had to rely on myself.”
After splitting from her husband, Rosales reevaluated her life and what she wanted to do with it, which was creating art like her mother did.
“My mother was a children’s book author and illustrator and she was painting all the time,” Rosales recalls. “I would sit under her art table when I was a child and she would drop brushes and I would pick them up but I would always try to recreate what she was painting. She would let me experiment with her oils and turpentine and all of that.”
The strength she found from the divorce led to her creating a collection of art about female empowerment for her daughter.
Rosales says that she purposefully decided to take classic and iconic works of art and reimagine them with black women to show the beauty and strength that exists within women of color. But, most importantly, Rosales wanted her daughter to feel comfortable in her skin and to see that her fro and natural hair was beautiful.
“My inspiration is my daughter,” Rosales admits.
“When I had her, I wanted her to accept herself. Her fro and everything,” Rosales says. “When I was younger I was wanting to have the flowing hair so I would wear my mother’s slips as the flowing hair. I didn’t want my daughter to be like that at all, just to enjoy her curls.”
The importance of having her daughter love herself as she is motivates Rosales to prominently feature black women in her artwork.
“When she started school she started noticing her skin color and her hair and noticing my skin color and my hair,” Rosales says. “She even made a comment that really put a lot of things into focus. She said, ‘Mommy. You’re white but you’re black on the indie and I’m like mocha.’”
With her daughter’s self-acceptance as her guide, Rosales aims to give all black women and women of color art that reflects their beauty that has been ignored for so long.
“When I create my work I create it for her so she sees the beautiful Venus as a black woman with natural hair and it doesn’t have to be long to be beautiful,” Rosales says. “Just in a natural state.”