Jasmin Hernandez of Gallery Gurls Debut Book ‘We Are Here’ Celebrates Black & Brown Folks in the Art World
By Johanna Ferreira
Our new Bomba Profile Series aims to empower our shoppers, supporters, and followers by featuring inspirational women of color who are doing great work in their respective fields, and servicing their communities.
Photo by Sunny Leerasanthanah, Copyright © Jasmin Hernandez
Jasmin Hernandez may not have any credentials in the art world, but that’s never stopped her from pursuing a career that celebrates Black and brown artists. After years of working for traditional media outlets doing everything from working as a fashion show producer to a photo editor, Hernandez found herself wanting more. She was born a storyteller but wanted to tell stories that celebrate, uplift, and elevate folks in her communities. A first generation American born and raised in NYC to Afro-Dominican parents, Hernandez was constantly inspired by the city she grew up in. She’d plan visits to museums and visit gallery shows on Thursday nights in Chelsea and in the Lower East Side. Before she knew it, she was connecting and befriending a lot of the artists she was admiring. In 2010, she started a lifestyle blog that eventually transitioned to her site Gallery Gurls, a digital space that celebrates womxn, BIPOC, and QTPOC creators in the art world. Hernandez who is both the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Gallery Gurls, eventually felt inspired to lean into her connections in the fashion and art world to curate her debut book, We Are Here, which features a collection of breathtaking photography and interviews with 50 Black and brown artists and art workers. Published by Abrams, this extraordinary coffee-table photography book even includes a foreword by esteemed music producer, DJ, and art collector Kasseem Dean (professionally known as Swizz Beatz).
Hernandez believes that her love of art and passion for celebrating her communities, along with her 15 years of experience working at elite media outlets, in many ways set her on this artful path. In a recent chat with Hernandez, she shares with us the inspiration behind her digital platform Gallery Gurls, how it led her to publish her debut book, and how her own identity as a Black Latina has influenced the kind of impactful work she does today.
Q&A with Jasmin Hernandez
What inspired you to launch Gallery Gurls?
Gallery Gurls is a digital platform where I celebrate Black and brown people in the art world doing contemporary art — it’s my baby and it’s 9 years old. It started because I wanted to focus more on art. After spending 10 years working in fashion and media, I was ready to move into art but didn’t know how. I didn’t want to go to grad school because I didn’t want to have to take out more student loans for a second degree when I still owed so much from my first degree. Instead, I began to take continuing education courses as a way in and as a way to network in the art world. One of the classes I took had around 25 students and the only two Black people were myself and a Jamaican woman I quickly befriended. We started going to museums and art shows together and eventually started Gallery Gurls together. But she worked in law and had a very demanding career so she eventually fazed out of it as I continued shaping the site. I would review art shows, interview artists, I would do studio visits and always with the focus placed on Black and brown artists. So many artists I’ve featured on Gallery Gurls went on to blow up and become very famous in the art world over the years. Seeing so many of them in the book brings me so much joy.
How did Gallery Gurls become a full-time career for you?
I walked away from media completely in 2018 — I was just done. I had been in media for 15 years and was ready for something new. My last role was at the NY Post working as a photo researcher. When that ended I was 38 at the time — I’m 40 now — and had decided I was going to be a full-time freelance writer. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I had initially imagined living off articles and getting a book published one day. In order to finance that I decided to take a part-time job in retail. I worked at Madewell — the one across the street from the Whitney Museum of American Art — and I was there three to four times a week. On my days off I started working on my book idea which is now We Are Here and I would write articles for magazines and media outlets. Through connections I was able to find a non-fiction book agent who was really excited about turning Gallery Gurls into a book. She saw the potential and she saw the value and started pitching it to publishers. It was acquired very quickly and it was actually a blessing that I was working part-time in retail at the time because it gave me the flexibility to work on the book. I think a lot of people when they hit 35 — or even 30 — and find they haven’t hit a certain point in their lives they start to feel a certain way about themselves. They get hard on themselves. But I was 38 and saw it as a positive experience — as an opportunity to focus on what I really wanted to do.
What inspired your book We Are Here?
The book is basically an extension of the website. It’s a continuation of that ethos — always centering Black and brown women artists. It features 50 artists — 40 from New York and 10 from LA — who are all icons of color in the art world. It was also really important for me to feature queer, trans, and non-binary folks. I’ve been part of the LGBTQIA community since I was a teenager in the 90s and going to voguing parties and voguing balls. That’s a world that I’ve always known and it’s a world that’s embraced me. On the website a spectrum of LGBTQIA folks were always represented and I wanted to continue that with the book that features artists and art workers like queer Afro-Dominicana Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, who is the Senior Managing Educator of Audience Development and Engagement at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Courtesy of Abrams
What was your journey to embracing your Black Latina roots like?
I love that question. It’s a simple question but yet so profound. I was born in 1980 in a household where we watched channels like Telemundo and Univision that often referred to us as Hispanic. My mom would say nosotros somos Hispano. So in the 80s that’s how I was identifying. Then in the 90s I started to embrace terms like Latina. I had a subscription to Latina magazine. Then in the 2000s, we had terms like Afro-Latina and I remember being like wow finally, yes that’s me. I immediately embraced that because yes, I am a Latina of African descent. Then Latinx came and then Afro-Latinx came and that was like five or six years ago and I immediately connected to that especially Afro-Latinx. The X is just inclusive for many folks. It’s for non-binary folks, but I also feel included in that because of my African ancestry. From Afro-Latinx I’ve graduated to Black Latinx because I was seeing that so many non-Black Latinas were adapting the term because it’s “soft” and “exotic.” Blackfishing is something that a lot of non-Black people do because people want to see Black features on non-Black people because our bodies, our features, and our Afro-textured hair is the shit. But they still don’t want to see them on our bodies. You see so many white women — even white Latinas — adapting and appropriating our look, while also taking up space and pushing darker Black Latinas to the back of the line and all while becoming the representation. This is why I now say Black Latina to make it loud and clear.
What was the process of embracing your natural curls like?
I’m the daughter of a Dominican woman and so unfortunately, there was no escaping the desrizado. My mom who is a dark-skinned Black Dominican had her hair relaxed — it’s practically a rite of passage in our culture. When my hair was first relaxed in 1992, I was only 12-years-old. I remember initially liking how long and silky my hair looked. Then I was introduced to the upkeep of the weekly blowouts and weekly wash and sets and spending like 8 hours of my life every Saturday in the Dominican salon. It was literally the entire day! You had to get there early before the salon opened otherwise there would be a number of women that would be seen before you. When I hit 24, I had already spent 12 years of my life relaxing my hair and going to the Dominican salon every single Saturday and I was done. Around 2004/2005, I started my natural hair journey, back when the movement was still young and the only curly hair brands available were Miss Jessie’s and Carol’s Daughter. This was before the natural hair market exploded and we have all the great options we have today. In 2006, I did the big chop and now this is what I have and I love it. I’ve never looked back.
What’s your curl routine like?
Right now, because I’m in quarantine, my hair is usually pulled back. I haven’t been styling it as much. But before the pandemic, I would style it and use products that were loaded with moisture and had ingredients in them like coconut oil, carrot oil, ginger, and avocado. Natural ingredients are important to me. My wash routine is simple. I wash my hair, detangle it in the shower, then I leave in a deep conditioner for 20-30 minutes before rinsing out. During the pandemic I haven’t been leaving my hair out. I’ve been doing protective styles like braiding to avoid tangles. I’ll leave my hair in a bunch of little braids and just rock it. I’ve also been doing a lot of home-made masks. I’ll do a mask using coconut oil, mayonnaise, and olive oil. It leaves my hair so hydrated.
How does the work you do play a role in anti-racism work?
My work constantly centers Black people. Not because it’s Black History Month and not when it’s Latinx Heritage Month. I actually hate how those months have become so capitalistic and have been about brands just caring about our communities that one month out of the year — like what happens with Pride month. This is why I do content that celebrates Black people, Black women, Black trans women, and Black non-binary folks 24/7 no matter the time of year. I do it on the Gallery Gurls website, I do it with the articles I write, and now with the book. It’s about constantly centering our stories all the time.
What does self-care look like for you?
It’s simple things that go a long way for me. It’s hydrating, drinking water, running, and reading. Reading is huge for me. I read like 30 novels during quarantine in 2020 and mostly by Black women authors. It’s also about stillness. It’s about financial comfort. It’s about having quiet time and stillness in my house and being able to carve out 8 hours a day to write and read.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
Authenticity by a Black Latina who is unapologetic and reps and cares for her community.
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