ASU alumna pursues activism through art

Jewell Medina's work is up at ASU's Fletcher Library until Oct. 14

Latina artist and activist, Jewell Medina, employs “artivism” in a multitude of colorful art pieces currently on display at Fletcher Library on the West campus.

Medina, who graduated from ASU in 1999, said she is a “cultural art productions visual scholar, with research interests in art as it relates to social justice.” She was born to two immigrant workers in south Phoenix.

Her artwork consists of all recycled materials, including match and cigarette boxes, painted in bright colors and decorated with a variety of stickers and images. These pieces display important Hispanic figures, Hispanic traditions and a myriad of strong women.

She said her passion for art comes from growing up around “community problems, like poverty, drugs, and disparity among people.” She knew she wanted to be part of making a difference, but she “didn’t want to be like a preacher.” 

Art “speaks for itself” and can “transform things from a deep level,” she said. 

Medina cites her artwork not only as a depiction of the power of women, but also as a reflection of her culture. This, she believes, is important to Hispanic students and their success.

As a young college student, Medina says she found comfort and motivation in having a professor of the same culture. Medina was initially intimidated at ASU until she met Alejandra Elenes, Ph.D, an associate professor of ethnic and gender studies at ASU, who she said “looked like her.”

She shadowed Elenes and went to many of her classes. She said Elenes became her mentor.

Medina said the ability to relate to her professor and connect to someone within her culture drove her success in college. She graduated with honors for both her bachelors in women's studies and, later, her masters degree in social justice and humanities. 

Medina hopes Hispanic students at ASU will see themselves in her art. She said she wants to “instill ideas and transform different knowledges about communities and (the) marginalized.”

Gisselle Gregorio, a Latina medical studies freshman, said the art is “very vibrant and colorful, and that (it) speaks a lot about the culture, since we’re very vibrant and expressive people.” 

In admiring Medina’s displays, Gregorio said she recognized several Hispanic figures in the paintings. Gregorio said she can see Medina’s love for the culture and added that the art appears to be a way to inspire other Latinas.

Claudia Mesch, an ASU professor of art who has written a book on the intersection of art and politics, explains that art has a "close relationship to society" and can "address its viewer and try to persuade (them)." 

Medina's art will serve to instill a feeling of belonging and being a part of a community in students at ASU, Mesch said. 

"It can serve to unite us," she said. The art serves the purpose of empowerment, especially by highlighting to Latina students that "other Latina women work hard and they advance."

Medina said she is most inspired by social justice movements and women's issues. She said that she believes women should not have to give up their femininity to be strong and have a career. 

Medina uses her art and her activism to “negotiate women’s place in society,” especially those of color. She said that she sees women of color putting on "makeup" to cover themselves and their culture, and that they ultimately will have an “inner revolution” and begin to accept who they are and their culture. 

She said she feels these women should not have to blend in, but instead should embrace their cultures. What they perceive as weaknesses, she said, are actually their strengths.

Medina’s artwork will be on display until Oct. 14 on the second floor of West campus' Fletcher Library. She also has a permanent collection of her art and papers in the Chicano Archives of ASU


Reach the reporter at brittlcampbell98@gmail.com or follow @britlcampbell on Twitter.

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