To Each Her Own: Interview with Gabriela Martinez
By Marjorie Ellenwood

“I’ve always had the personality of an educator, I guess,” she admits. But Gabriela Martinez had not originally planned on teaching—in fact, she recalls a time in graduate school when her professors were asking her class what they planned on doing, and she didn’t indicate teaching as a goal. Now, as the Curator of Education for the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), and in the art and curating she does on her own time, she is every bit the educator her mentors believed her to be.
 
 But the journey to that realization was a necessary one, according to Gabriela.  When she first started out at La Sierra as an art student, she worked primarily in painting, but she found outlets in poetry, in mixed media—she once painted a woman right onto the bed of a trampoline to demonstrate the ways women are treated—and in print-making. Professor Mejia-Krumbein remembers Gabriela as outgoing, passionate, and as an extremely active advocate for women on the La Sierra campus--a leader in the Student Association for Gender Equality, and an artist determinedly exploring gender roles and identity issues within society and religion. Gabriela smiles as she remembers creating her art: writing poetry, painting, creating blocks for print-making, all the while listening to the tunes of P.J. Harvey, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranko, and Fiona Apple. 
 
The social justice issues Gabriela advocates for are many as well; she describes her work as “exploring gender and identity issues, highlighting the multiple roles women play in society and religion, and delving into the human body and our methods of self-expression.” In her work for MOLAA, she describes her main goal as wanting “to make art relevant, for people to participate in some way.” She wants to get people interacting with art—talking about it, writing about it, making their own—and in some cases, that happens right there in the museum’s exhibits. But when we asked her how she likes to participate in art, she hesitates. “I’m introverted—I take my time to process art. I’m usually not ready to talk about it or analyze it right away. I prefer to explore things on my own time, in my own way.”
 
Her open-minded approach to life, to art, and to story-telling mirrors this approach—that life is different for everyone, but each person’s experience is valid and valuable. Her postmodern approach on her own art—in one print, she incorporates German text, southern Californian plants, the a story of a dead cat, and the concepts of a young person emigrating to the United States—speaks to the multiplicities of the individual’s personal and cultural experiences. She enjoys collaborating on art projects with other artists—she was even able to work with her mother in an art class they took together at La Sierra, and later they marched down the aisle to receive their Bachelors degrees together—her mother’s in nursing, Gabriela’s in the Visual Arts. She cites her mother as one of her greatest sources of inspiration for her art and her strength, and it is quite clear that Gabriela’s family—her father and sister as well, are lead characters on the stage of her life.
 
In addition to her family life, Gabriela’s educators have made a marked difference on her life. “They encouraged me to be inquisitive, to explore” she says. Professor Mejia-Krumbein bubbles over with praise for Gabriela. “I’m very proud of her—she and I share a bond as artists and activists.” She remembers Martinez’ art fondly—and talks about how much she appreciated Gabriela’s drive to create and to protest the social injustices she saw in the world. But Gabriela remembers it differently. “Did she tell you what she first said about my art? She called it boring!” recalling a portfolio she proudly put together to present to Professor Mejia-Krumbein, and the less-than-eager reaction it received. But ultimately, that criticism gave Gabriela the permission she needed to take risks, and her art has evolved in creative ways in the years since.
 
Taking her time is something that helps frame Gabriela’s current outlook on life—in fact, when we asked her what advice she would have for current students, her two responses were “slow down” and “study abroad.” She went on to explain that she dealt with the mental and physical stress of hurrying in her undergraduate degree, pressuring herself to graduate within four years, to get into graduate school, to make a career for herself, only to realize that her life was more about the process than the end result. “This is the only time in your life for what you are doing right now–enjoy it. Explore it.” she urges. “Find what you like doing, and figure out later how to make it a career.”
 
When we ask Gabriela about her position on the current debate on women’s responsibilities in the home and the professional field, her response is to suggest a solution which incorporated everyone. “I think we should have a four day work week,” she explained, citing the need for everyone to rest, to find time for their families and personal relationships, regardless of gender. She sees inspiration in Liza Ronzulli’s choice to bring her infant daughter with her to her work at the European Union, saying that as a society we’re not allowing people to “be fully human,” adding that dogs ought to be allowed at work as well. But while work and personal life are not allowed to mix much, Gabriela admits to turning her phone off when she is at home for the weekends—“and just living,” appreciating her two rescue cats and her partner.
 
 She mentions future goals, beyond her curator position.  “I think I might like to get back into painting, when I have time.” Her passion for creating, for bringing the “stories in [her] head” into reality continues to generate new adventures and ideas for her life and her work.  There are still dreams waiting to be realized, paths to be taken and explored. There are new experiences to live, and spontaneity to be seized. She’s all for it.


 
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