The American activist and multimedia artist Yolanda López was born in San Diego in 1942 and currently resides in San Francisco. López studied at San Diego State University (BA 1975) and the University of California, San Diego (MFA 1979). Beyond her formal education, López's early experience as an activist greatly informed her artistic practice. She participated in student movements of the late 1960s, particularly the Third World Liberation Front Strike at San Francisco State University, which was essential in establishing an ethnic studies department at the university. She also fought for the defense of Los Siete de la Raza, a group of seven young Latinos from the Mission District of San Francisco accused of killing a police officer in 1969 and later acquitted. As a third-generation Chicana living in the United States, López identifies as a feminist and activist, a self-declaration important to her multimedia work and conceptual artistic practice, especially visible in her enduring interest in challenging social constructs and racial stereotypes.
At UC San Diego, López's professors Allan Sekula (1951–2013) and Martha Rosler (b. 1943) encouraged her to embrace conceptual practice and strive to achieve through her work a social, political, and educational impact. Starting with her graduate thesis, López has focused on certain themes: domestic labor and labor more generally, the preponderance of racial and gender stereotypes in the media, and the realities of everyday life among Latina women. López has used a wide variety of mediums to challenge the notion of high art, producing traditional paintings as well as posters and assemblages and utilizing found materials, photocopies, and "Mexicana" objects from popular culture. Her work often incorporates appropriation, the act of borrowing known ideas or images and transforming them in form or context to interrogate their presumed meaning. This is clearly seen in her expansive Virgin of Guadalupe series, begun in the late 1970s. One of the first, and best-known, works within this series, Guadalupe Triptych (1978), presents the artist, her mother, and her grandmother within the form of an iconic Latin American religious figure, the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her artistic work often features political content, such as in the 1978 poster—Who's the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?—featuring her version of an Aztec god crumpling immigration papers in a pose that evokes the army's Uncle Sam Wants You recruiting poster.
López is also deeply invested as an educator and seeks to increase media literacy among students. She served as director of education at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco and has taught at the University of California, Berkeley; Mills College, Oakland, CA; and Stanford University. López's work is included in the collections of the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Oakland Museum of California. Her video When You Think of Mexico: Commercial Images of Mexicans (1986) has toured internationally, and her installation Women's Work Is Never Done (1994) was featured at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.
—January Parkos Arnall
1993 La Frontera / The Border: Art about the Mexico / United States Border Experience, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
1997 Mirror, Mirror… Gender Roles and the Historical Significance of Beauty, San Jose Museum of Art
2008 A Declaration of Immigration, National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago
2008 Yolanda Lopez, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, San Francisco
2011 Mex/L.A.: "Mexican" Modernisms in Los Angeles, 1930–1985, Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, CA
Cisneros, Sandra. "Guadalupe the Sex Goddess: Unearthing the Racy Past of Mexico's Most Famous Virgin." Ms., July–August 1996, 43–46.
Davalos, Karen Mary. Yolanda M. López. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2008.
Grynsztejn, Madeleine, and Patricio Chavez, eds. La Frontera / The Border: Art about the Mexico / United States Border Experience. San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1993.
LaDuke, Betty. "Yolanda Lopez: Breaking Chicana Stereotypes." Feminist Studies 20 (Spring 1994): 117–30.
Ruiz, Vicki L. From out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.