Having a gift often comes with responsibility. This is the case with Brenda Barrios: with her art she has helped various associations fighting for social justice.
Barrios is a UCLA student who transferred from PCC. She’s from Pasadena and her parents are from Mexico, so she considers herself Mexican American. She uses art as a medium for activism, because she wants to be involved with her community and she cares about social justice issues.
Her art and paintings are a way to bring awareness for certain causes. In the case of her collaboration with “The Farmworker Project” her paintings made a statement about essential workers’ rights. The Farmworker Project has raised nearly $30,000 for hazard pay which went directly to farmworkers’ families affected by the fires. This was last August, when California fires had farm workers working in the heat and smoke, with no hazard paid for days.
“Thank you so much for all your hard work,” wrote the Farmworker Project on Instagram, after Barrios made prints for essential workers’ rights.“I know that each one of us at the Farm Worker Project will have one of these hanging in our homes to remember your efforts for a long time to come. Truly amazing how your art has generated such emotion and movement.”
Barrios also supported the street vendor community by making some stickers and selling them online. Fifty percent of the profit went to The Street Vendor Emergency Fund.
“I use my art as a medium for activism to be involved in my community in how I care about specific social justice issues that are important to me,” Barrios said.“I have made art prints and 50 percent of the profit always goes to the organization that I’m trying to help or talk about.”
Her pictures are being displayed in New York and in London. Her “Medicare for All” painting, portraying her mother working, was projected on the side of NYU Langone hospital in New York City Manhattan and on Oxford Street, in London, UK.
Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit association dedicated to building the political power of young people, reached out to Barrios to do two art works: one encouraging voter turnout in the Latino community, and the other giving thanks to all the election essential workers.
As an artist, Barrios thinks it’s important to express social justice issues through her work, now more than ever. She considers art to be a powerful tool for change. Now we are living in a digital world, so many of her projects are done virtually. Within the multitude of mediums Barrios uses, she focuses specifically on sculptures, illustrations, and paintings.
As a student, she wants to continue learning different mediums in order to expand her career. Right now she’s taking a class called “new genre” which inspired her to use her body as an art tool, through performance pieces, for example.
“I am a first generation non-traditional student, now with a disability. I got diagnosed with a condition, and I was in the hospital for 6 days,” Barrios said. “I was thinking about how my life could be over in a second. And I realized my passion for art is strong, that I want to continue not only with my practice, but with my career in higher education. My motivation is my health and the strength I got from overcoming depression and anxiety daily.”
Linda Nuves, a friend of Barrios says that she admires her a lot. They both share a love for the arts and she acknowledges how passionate Barrios is about her creations and her career.
“I love seeing her artwork, particularly in making itself known in activism, I admire that she made something for her mom, she made something for the farmworkers,” said Nuves. “I think it’s important for those artists who have platforms to speak on such topics, because we ultimately belong to the community, and for an artist to make a statement in whatever form. We have to take a look at that, and really admire and examine the kind of commentary that is being presented by the artist.”
Nuves described Barrios as a “luchadora”, a fighter. Whether it’s battling with her chronic illness or trying to get ahead in school, Barrios is a role model for Nuves, because in spite of all the obstacles that have been presented to her, Barrios confronts them and excels with flying colors.
“Brenda Barrios’ art and activism is imperative, in her work she broadcasts the voices of those that too often have been ignored,” said Maria Trujillo, Barrios’ coworker at the Bruin Resource Center at UCLA, where Barrios does art illustrations for Instagram. “Brenda’s art inspires and reminds us that there is work to be done—because progress is crucial.”
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