Kaneko hosts exhibit that celebrates the power of femininity


"In the Spirit of Itzpapalotl Venceremos," by Ruby Chacon hangs on display in the Kaneko Gallery on Jan. 17 at American River College in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone)

Jennah Booth

Saturated in its modern femininity, mythological inspiration and academic backbone, the vibrant artwork of two Chicana activists has found a temporary home at American River College.

The Kaneko Gallery opened its newest exhibit, “In the Spirit of Itzpapalotl, Venceremos,” Tuesday, Jan. 16. It features photographs and paintings from Utah artists and community activists Ruby Chacon and Flor Olivo.

The exhibit is a collection of portraits of the first Chicana editors of the University of Utah’s newspaper, Venceremos.

“It’s pretty multifaceted,” Chacon said. “It has many layers because it not only recognizes those women but also the scholarly research Sonya Aleman and Flor Olivo did about Venceremos and what their driving force was.”

The painting “In the Spirit of Itzpapalotl Venceremos,” by Ruby Chacon hangs on display in the Kaneko Gallery on Jan.17 at American River College in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone)

Chacon is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah and now lives in Sacramento. Although she was never a part of Venceremos, she is a University of Utah graduate.

“I’ve always been doing art since I was a little kid. It was kind of my way to process the world, to make sense of the world,” she said. Creating social change is the inspiration behind Chacon’s work and she believes that it’s important to tell impactful stories through her art.  

Olivo is a photographer and teaches gender studies at the University of Utah. Although they have never worked together before, Chacon and Olivo knew each other through activism within their community, said Olivo.

The project began when Olivo and Venceremos advisor Sonya Aleman, who is featured in the exhibition, researched the history of the newspaper and the women behind it.

“The research … centers around them using their feminine energy to really move the newspaper forward for the ten years that women were editors,” said Olivo.

The artist and the photographer’s collaboration began with Olivo’s photographs, which Chacon then painted and collaged from.

“Essentially she had me take pictures of the women doing whatever they’re doing in their life now and then we used my research to find the things that she painted in the background or on the women,” said Olivo. Chacon included symbols and images from the fields the women are currently in, as well as the stories the women covered during their time working on the newspaper.

Chacon used bright colors and varying textures to create her paintings and channel the Aztec goddess Itzpapalotl.

“Each and every one of them is a symbol of Itzpapalotl because she is the driving force that gives us strength to move forward through our work,” she said.

According to Olivo and Chacon, they worked closely with each other and their subjects for inspiration.

“We worked through the whole process collaboratively so that if [Chacon] needed an idea for the painting I would reach out to the editor and ask her ‘What do you think about this?’” Olivo said.

The exhibit will run in the Kaneko Gallery through Feb. 14. More information can be found on the gallery’s Facebook page, which can be found here.