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The Feministing Five: Dey Hernández

This week, we spoke with Dey Hernández, an artist, activist, and educator who uses art and cultural works to fight against injustice.

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Dey is based in the greater Boston area and is a leader across communities in the US, the Caribbean, and beyond!  Her work is a fantastic example of how art and activism can be intertwined to build and sustain social movements. Her work to fight gentrification, displacement, racism and beyond combines community organizing with sculpture and performance pieces. We are so happy to learn more about her and her work.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Dey Hernández!

Suzanna Bobadilla: Could you introduce yourself and your work? Are there any current projects you are really excited about working on?

Dey Hernández: Hola! My name is Dey Hernández and I am an interdisciplinary artist, a cultural worker, and an educator. I design and direct art workshops with AgitArte, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating projects and practices of cultural solidarity with workers and marginalized communities in grassroots struggles to protest injustice and propose alternatives that, in turn, generate possibilities for fundamental transformations in the world we live in. We work in communities threatened by under-development, displacement and gentrification, using the arts and cultural work to educate and to organize for social and economic justice.

I am committed to art as a transformational practice. My work addresses political issues, reflecting on race, identity, language, and community. My interdisciplinary practice–which in most cases tends towards a collaborative practice–engages the visual, theater, and performance arts, specifically puppets, masks, performative objects and installation. I am a puppeteer with the radical workers’ theater collective Papel Machete, which is based in Puerto Rico. I identify with the long history of working class, Puerto Rican, and black liberation movements who always embrace the interconnectedness of all of our struggles for freedom. Currently, I am a collaborating with Danza Orgánica on “Running in Stillness,” a dance theater suite based on the impact of mass incarceration on women in our community through a close collaboration with formerly incarcerated women and daughters of incarcerated parents.

SB: You were involved with the publication of  “When We Fight, We Win!,” a book that tells the stories of artists and activists joining together to make change. What were some of your favorite moments with it?

DH: When We Fight, We Win! emerged from a partnership of more than 20 years between my dear friend and colleague, Jorge Díaz, artistic director of AgitArte and Greg Jobin-Leeds. As a resident artist with AgitArte, in this particular project I directed and curated the art of the book. I approached the curating process in the same way that I approach art making: through rigorous research. I wanted to both introduce the readership to visionary artists who are accountable to their community and acknowledge the labor that goes into culture-making. I centered artists of color, particularly those representing the most marginalized communities, who are at the front lines of these movements and often go unnoticed. I specifically selected the artists committed to lifting up these counter-narratives in their communities in ways that proved transformative.

In When We Fight, We Win!, AgitArte highlights projects of cultural solidarity with the movements featured. These organizations, activists, and artists create art to call attention to injustice and propose alternatives that generate possibilities for fundamental transformations in our world. We created the art narrative featured through images, captions, artists interviews, pull-out quotes, and the overall design which amplifies the stories of the movements that speak truth to powerstories which reflect on our alternative media, performances, street actions, and artwork which are committed to the front lines of the struggles against the terrible alienation of our times.

The book tour was definitely a highlight in the process of building and strengthening relationships for further collaborative work. I’m looking forward to our next collaborations with Southerners of the New Ground and CultureStrike, to mention a few.

SB: How does art intersect with your activism? 

DH: I am interested in cultural work as a practice of freedom. I have experienced time and again as both a participant and maker how essential art and culture are to create narratives that not only challenge oppression and the status quo, but also build movements in order to create sustained change. Papel Machete has without any doubt served as the fertile formative ground for my radicalization. Papel Machete performances in communities, theaters, streets and protests employ puppets, masks, objects and music to denounce exploitation, build solidarity, and agitate people to bring them to action in the struggles of the working class.

SB: Who or what inspires you to complete your work?

DH: Commitment to the work as a practice of freedom. Of course, it is a consistent challenge often plagued with contradictions. Also is my way to contributing to the legacy of women of color who have been doing the work for so long, individually and in formal organizations, which are often erased from both the art world and politics.

SB: Let’s pretend you’re stranded on a desert island. You get to bring with you one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you choose?

DH: Ouch, just one of each? How can you make a party with such restrictions? I am Afro-Caribbean, so assuming coconuts, fish, plátanos and conch are already given gifts from Mother Earth, I’ll like to bring some noodles. As a drink, probably dark rum for a rainy night. I was recently introduced to the work of Claudia Jones.

Images are provided by Dey Hernández. 

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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