Artist: Sheila Garrett Rodriguez
Exhibition: Were we even Here
Media: Mixed Media
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Max L. Gatov Gallery East
About the Artist:
Sheila Garrett Rodriguez is currently a graduate student at CalState Long Beach and is working towards obtaining her MFA from the School of Art’s fibers program. When she was an undergraduate student, Rodriguez attended CalState Long Beach and was part of the painting and drawing program. She enjoys eating Mexican foods such a tamales and claims that her grandmother makes the best. While her grandfather came from Mexico City, her grandmother’s side of the family has lived in California for generations. The effects of the two different cultural backgrounds of her family can be seen in her exhibition as it represents her trying to piece together her heritage.
Entering Sheila Garrett Rodriguez’s exhibition was like stepping into and being shown the personal and behind the scenes side of her heritage. An old and traditional styled wood bed frame sits within the center of her show and on the walls surrounding it is her other art works such as her flower embroideries and large painting of a body with a house for a head. On the other side of her exhibition, there is a video which brings you into a kitchen and shows someone making food and displays different cooking utensils the person is using.
Rodriguez’s grandparents came from two different lifestyles: one came from Mexico City and the other has lived in the states for generations. She mentioned that when her grandparents got together, there was still segregation between Mexicans and Americans and she shared that the only time she was able to embrace her Mexican heritage and culture was behind closed doors with her family. When she was out in public, according to Rodriguez, the goal was to display American tendencies and act as American as possible on the outside. The inside of one’s home can say a lot about a person and it tells a lot about that person’s heritage. The way the interior of a home is decorated can be associated to the culture and heritage of the owner and that can be seen in Rodriguez’s exhibition. Within it, there are brightly colored embroideries of flowers which is typically related to Mexican culture and in the video shown the food being prepared is that of Mexican descent as well. Rodriguez’s art shows her trying to piece together her heritage and her struggle can be seen in her oil painting piece that shows the naked back side of the body with its hands roped and held out. The design of the house can be seen as the typical American styled house and on the naked body and house are the bright and colored flowers representing Mexican heritage. The house and tied hands show how she had to act Americanized and the flowers on top of it represent who she truly is on top of just being American.
Being a first generation Vietnamese American, I can relate to Rodriguez’s attempt in piecing together her heritage. The closest connection I have to Vietnam and my heritage is my parents. They share stories of how Vietnamese society is like and what it was like growing up there when they were younger but, stories are only stories. Its hard to connect to my heritage when I’ve never been able to experience it first hand myself. While my parents brought Vietnamese traditions with them when they came over, it became mixed with American traditions in order to assimilate easier into American society. It’s hard for me to identify what my heritage truly is as it is not fully American nor is it fully Vietnamese–it’s a mixture of both.