Artist: Sheila Garrett Rodriguez
Exhibition: Were We Even Here
Media: Oil on Canvas, Acrylic, Embroidery, Plaster, Metal Screen, Mixed-Media
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Gatov Gallery East
About the Artist
This week at the SOA galleries, I visited CSULB student, Sheila Garrett Rodriguez, where she was showcasing her exhibit Were We Even Here in the Gatov Gallery. Rodriguez had previously obtained her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting, and after finding a love for embroidery with the help of her grandmother, she returned to CSULB in order to complete her MFA in Fiber Arts. She began her career at CSULB in 2011 after being a stay-at-home mom for years. She described how all of her art is based on the idea of a “house” and “home” because she has moved over thirty times in her life and had to make a new “home” in numerous different locations in Southern California.
Rodriguez was able to incorporate some of her Chicana cultural history into her exhibition by showcasing the embroidery patterns her grandmother taught her in the paintings. She described how she grew up in a household that worked very hard to “remove the Latino culture from the outside yet embrace it once at home.” She believes that identity in your home is what defines who you are in some ways, and the people around you may make their judgments based on that. As she grew older and started a family of her own, she really wanted to instill cultural identity in her children because this connection to culture within her home is where she said she finds a majority of my personal identity.
Were We Even Here is part of Rodriguez’s thesis project for her MFA in fiber arts.
Rodriguez’s exhibition features intense pops of color from her embroidery work, created with embroidery floss and hand-dyed yarn. These delicate, floral patterns had been stitched into her oil on canvas pieces, and the colorful fibers contrasted with the neutral tones of the paints that she used. She mentioned that you usually don’t stitch through an oil painting, so creating this piece was rather difficult and brought about a wave of emotions.
Rodriguez also displayed furniture items from home in her pieces “Here Take This Seat” and “But It’s Your Great-Grandmother’s Bed”, which included her grandmother’s chair and an old, wooden bed frame. She had removed the frame from her grandmother’s house after her passing. These pieces were also decorated with the hand-dyed yarn and embroidery floss.
Rodriguez’s exhibition also features a piece hung on the wall titled “House For Sale.” It featured a window screen, embroidery floss and paper. There were also other pieces hung on the surrounding walls, such as “Folding Rubble” and “From the Rubble”, which were created with metal screens, plaster, yarn and embroidery.
In the Gatov Gallery West, Rodriguez had also projected “When I’m Gone”, an iPhone video documentation of Rodriguez making the dye that she used to on her yarn. It shows her crushing cochineal and turning it into cochineal extract. The red-dye pigment produced is turned into cochineal extract. She mentioned that this documentary was like “little Snapchats” or clips of the process.
Rodriguez’s exhibition ultimately explored the role of the “physical and symbolic act of home-building and how that ties into the construction of one’s identity. She defines identity “through experiences and acknowledgement of who we are and where we find ourselves in this life.” This all connects back to how Rodriguez had lived in over thirty homes in her lifetime, causing her to wonder if any of the changes she had made could still be a part of the house that she had once called her own. She described how some people grow up not really thinking about all the lives that have touched them and molded them into who they are today, so she emphasizes that we become more aware of all of those things as we get older and mature.
Rodriguez was also able to tie in her culture by dying the frame red with the cochineal scales. She mentioned that back in colonial times, the native Mayans would use this dye frequently. Prior to that, this red color could not be found. This dye is still being used today.
This exhibition portrays the message that houses can change from one family to the next, so certain ties to tradition can be found in how a home is displays itself or is decorated, and certain messages can be communicated through the inhabitants’ status, taste, values, and culture. Rodriguez revealed that she purposefully did not put a question mark at the end of the title of her exhibit because she is making a statement. She truly feels that she was once part of every home that she has lived in in the past, so she now chooses not to question if she was even there before.
Synthesis / My Experience
As a student studying fashion, I have a special place in my heart for beautiful embroidery. Rodriguez displayed beautiful embroidery throughout her exhibition, which is what ultimately led me to learn more about her and her work.
After digging a little deeper into the message that Rodriguez was trying to display through her Were We Even Here exhibition, I did some thinking about the places that I have felt most at home. The first house I ever lived in probably felt the most like home to me because I lived there with my parents and my sister from when I was born to when I was six. This was the place where my sister and I played pretend, my parents would prepare home-cooked meals with love, and we welcomed family through an open door with open arms. The house I currently live in with my parents and my sister has been called “home” for more than ten years, but it took a long time for it to actually feel like home. As I got older and experienced life more, I began to see my home shaped me. But even today, I find myself wanting to leave the house and drive back to our old one, even it’s just to park outside and look at how the exterior has changed.
But that brings us back to Rodriguez’s message. I don’t know how many families have lived in my old house after us, but just like my family, they had their own traditions, tastes, values, etc. That house definitely shaped me into who I am today because it showed me what family truly is.