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Connecting Art, Community, and Feminist Praxis: The Center Welcomes Dr. Jillian Hernandez

The Center is excited to welcome our newest faculty colleague, Dr. Jillian Hernandez.

Dr. Hernandez’s scholarship is located at the nexus of several important fields including Black and Latina feminist theory, Black and Latinx studies, art history and performance studies, media and cultural studies, hip hop studies, and critical girlhood studies. When asked how she describes her scholarship, Dr. Hernandez said, “I write about how [women, girls, queer people, and trans people of color] imagine liberatory worlds and ways of being a racialized and gendered subject. I also examine how, because of this radical potential, they are often vilified and framed as deviant and dangerous in dominant discourses.” Dr. Hernandez is currently completing a book project under contract with Duke University Press, entitled Aesthetics of Excess: The Art and Politics of Black and Latina Embodiment. It examines how the bodies of women and girls of color are racialized through cultural discourses of aesthetic value that mark them as sexual “others,” and how in turn, aesthetic value is generated through the presentation of their bodies. Her second book project will investigate how contemporary women and queer of color artists use feminine aesthetics (e.g., the color pink, flowers, glitter) to engage with the U.S. political landscape in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.

Jillian Hernandez

“I am excited to be in a space that is explicitly dedicated to feminist inquiry and praxis, and that is growing.”

Dr. Hernandez’s research also centers praxis. In 2004, Dr. Hernandez established Women on the Rise!, an arts-outreach project for girls of color, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, Florida. Dr. Hernandez created Women on the Rise! in response to an increase in the number of girls placed in juvenile detention in Florida. “When I researched the kind of educational opportunities available to them while incarcerated,” she says, “I found that none of their classes provided a space for self-expression in the midst of what was a profoundly disorienting and distressing experience. I learned that the girls were constantly being subjected to various forms of dubiously effective and at times violating state-supported group and individual counseling.” In Women on the Rise!, Dr. Hernandez utilized an “intergenerational feminist art praxis” in lieu of art therapy or forms of carceral reform. The goal was “to generate space for girls of color both in detention and at other community sites to engage in creative expression and critical dialogue, practices that they were either socially and institutionally excluded from (being artists) or believed incapable of (being theorists).”

Describing her work with the girls in Women on the Rise!, Dr. Hernandez said, “I started to consider questions regarding how the girls were negotiating embodiment, sexuality, representation, and inter and intra-ethnic and racial dynamics. The then-nascent field of girl’s studies was primarily concerned with middle-class white girls framed as being ‘mean’ due to relational aggression dynamics or in need of boosted self-esteem. These were not the issues the girls I was working with found the most pressing in their lives.” With these questions in mind, Dr. Hernandez pursued graduate studies in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, obtaining her M.A. in 2012 and Ph.D. in 2013. Dr. Hernandez hopes that both she and her students at UF can engage in community-based art projects with girls of color here in Gainesville.

Dr. Hernandez brings what she learned from the girls and artists in Women on the Rise! about “the power and politics of art and embodiment” to the classroom. Elaborating on this point, she said, “I’ve applied an appreciation for the power of creativity in my classroom, which promotes risk taking and facing complicated questions that may not have clear-cut answers. My experiences with the feminist praxis of Women on the Rise! have led me to appreciate the lessons of failure, and to acknowledge that self-reflection and critique is a major component of engaging with others in social praxis or educational contexts. I hope that these are lessons my pedagogical approaches impart to my students.” Dr. Hernandez will put this approach into practice in her Spring 2019 grad seminar, Race, Sex, and Representation.

Dr. Hernandez is “excited to be in a space that is explicitly dedicated to feminist inquiry and praxis, and that is growing” and that she “feel[s] like [she] arrived at a very important moment of expansion not just at the Center but at UF more broadly.” We couldn’t agree more, and we look forward to Dr. Hernandez’s contributions to the growth of feminist pedagogy, scholarship, and praxis here at the Center and at UF.