“I’m a strong woman,” says Julia Rivera, “but this has been very hard for me.”
As the Bronx-born artist contemplates the aftershocks of the pandemic, and the deep divides of a country facing an upcoming election, she has thrown her energies into art – and a body of work dedicated to persuading people to use their voices and vote.
In a new solo exhibition titled Your Vote is Your Power, at MAISON 10, she portrays women’s faces – their eyes obscured by the map of America. “Because it’s like we’re blind,” she says. “We're not seeing what's going on. And, still in this country, men earn more than women.
“The map is about the colors,” she adds. “I recycle all my paint – I don't like to throw it in the sink. So I let them dry, then I use them, and put them in the map. And they're in different colors because America is a country of immigration. We don't care what color you are – or, at least, I think like that.”
Born in New York, Julia lived in Puerto Rico for 20 years before moving to Italy, where she won a scholarship to study 17th-century art conservation. Her work is collected widely, and sits in permanent collections across the world, in Texas, Madrid, and Paris. But, in the aftermath of 9/11, she returned home, to New York. “I'm a New Yorker,” she says. “I came to support my city.”
Her work wasn’t always so political. “But, since this president won,” she says, “I was so disappointed with everything, with what's going on in this country, and I decided to have a voice. I don't have the time to protest and be in the street, but I am using my work like protesting.
“Right now, we have a president that doesn't respect women. He can grab them by the pussy whenever he wants. So that's what made me paint women. I put this woman here, standing up with the map, to give us respect. We shouldn't let anybody, not even a president, talk to women like that.
“I will do this until we get this president out of this country.”
Come November, she says: “Make the right choice. Do you want four more years of this crap? Or you want to vote for someone who gives you inspiration? Who gives you hope? Right now, we need to calm down. Everything is crazy. So when you vote, choose someone you know is good for this country. Or do you want four more years of this craziness?
“That's why I'm trying to push people to vote.”
When you get political, however, you risk losing friends. Or, crucially, collectors. “Yeah, I remember when I started doing this series, people said, ‘Oh, you shouldn't get political. You shouldn't get into this.’ And I said, ‘I don't care.’ Because I really want my voice out there. And I don't want a painting that just decorates; I want to paint a story. And right now, this is a story. This is part of history, what we're living through. I want to put that in a painting. So I took risks.”
Those risks paid off. Her work has soared in popularity since. “I think a lot of people think just like me. And the most important thing is that it's women supporting. Now I see more women artists putting their voice out too. Art is about that, right? It’s about expressing what you feel.”
Julia Rivera’s Your Vote is Your Power is on view at MAISON 10, 4 W29th St, New York until the end of November 2020.