On March 16-19, the Chicago Cultural Center held its second Veteran Art Triennial and Summit, with a Bakersfield local’s sculptures on display until June 4th.
Gina Herrera is a teacher at Arvin High School, a professor at Bakersfield College, and a practicing artist for the past 10 years. Originally from Chicago, she moved to Bakersfield almost 18 years ago to become an art teacher. Before that, she served in the US military for 25 years, amidst the Iraq conflict.
“My love for nature, my love for animals, my spiritual side, my ancestral Native American side, and the beauty that mother nature gives us inspires my art. And also, when I was in Iraq, I saw the amount of trash that we left behind. It didn’t inspire me, it just made me upset, but it helped me to hone into what type of artist I wanted to become,” said Herrera.
During her time serving in Iraq, she came across a graveyard of the waste left behind by the United States military and this experience had a great impact on the focus of Herrera’s art: “Going to Iraq and seeing that graveyard of trash was a starting point for me as an artist.”
She explained that she used found materials for her sculptures, “I’m really talking about the environment, how much we waste, about consumerism, and how we need to shift because mother nature is really upset with us…I’m hoping it can be a commentary on that but on the flip side, I don’t want to make dark work. My work has always been noted as being whimsical, and fun. There are a lot of components to it. You really have to look very close because I add a lot of things, a lot of trinkets.”
She noted how she likes to make her sculptures large to give them a human presence, sometimes adding mannequin arms and legs as well. She also plans on incorporating casts of her own arms and legs to immerse herself further into her pieces.
Herrera has been an artist since she was about 4 years old, and even at that young age, she was always in touch with her spiritual side, always drawing angels. This art show has been a culmination of all her hard work and also a new starting point for what is to come.
“Well honestly when I walked in there and I saw it, I just cried. I was just so overwhelmed with like, oh my god, it was like breathtaking. It was incredible. You know, when I see my sculpture in my studio it’s one thing, it just has a different look, it’s like a family member you know. And seeing it in a public space that’s so big, and the way they displayed it, I mean, you couldn’t not notice them when you walk in and I was just in awe,” shared Herrera about seeing her sculptures displayed.
Art has always been part of her, and within the past 10 years, she has worked to pursue it more seriously.
“My dream is to be a famous artist and that is my driving force,” said Herrera.
Through this art show, she hopes to transition into a new phase in her life, to slowly move away from teaching and further into the art world. Her art is a way for her to leave not only a physical legacy behind but also to leave her spirit behind: “When I die, I will still be present through my art.”