Each year we are ushered into Women’s History Month, a time designated to celebrating women’s contributions in society. This March, the women of Bronx Women’s Photo Collective, Rhynna Santos, Sandra Ayala, and Lizzy Alejandro debuted their first photography exhibit, Living Latina, a visual documentation of the unique lives of Latinas in New York City.
Rhynna, a former UCLA Women’s Studies major and an avid feminist realized she was a minority among photographers as a woman and a Latina. “I understood this [dynamic] well, but experiencing it in 2015 was maddening and depressing. I had a few negative incidences happen to me that summer with male photographers and I decided, instead of waiting for a safe creative space for women, to start my dream organization which would include my love for the Bronx, photography and female creative spaces within photography.” Soon after, she joined forces with Sandra Ayala and Lizzy Alejandro to create Bronx Women’s Photo Collective, which went public January 1, 2015.
They recently partnered with Lincoln Medical Center, earlier this month, to showcase their exhibition, which catalogued the identity and culture of latina women. “Who really creates culture and nurtures culture but women? We wanted to pick a specific theme on how Latina women live in New York, how we think, and the issues that surround us. It was really important for us to host our debut during Women’s History Month,” exclaims Santos.
Santos, who prefers to use photojournalism and portraiture, was able to capture this style of shooting in her recent work, “A Transcendent Calling: Latina Muslim Portraiture,” a collection of photos that reflected the rise of Islamophobia and the negative stigma placed on Latina muslims. She asked herself, “what’s happening in the United States right now? What is the most disturbing issue that people are talking about? And that was the rise Islamophobia in our country and abroad.”
Ayela created a re-imagination of famous and influential Latinas in her piece titled, “Inspired to Dream.” Rhynna shared, “[Sandra] chose to deal with luminaries, those who inspired us when we were little and even now, as adults. Women such as Rita Moreno, Celia Cruz, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.”
Described as a “trophy to reward women for not fitting a small Latina stereotype,” Alejandro, the youngest in group, focused on identity and expectation of women in the Latina community. She chooses to draw focus to women whose non-traditional roles challenge stereotypical societal norms in her project Untraditional Latinas. I think, regardless of age, every Latina has been faced with those kind of questions about what are going to do with your life. Having certain levels of expectation from other generations, from other people period, on being Latina and what you can and cannot do, what choices you can and cannot make,” she states.
Although the purpose of Living Latina is to give us a glimpse of what it means to be a Latina in New York, the exhibit will also speak to many women and their experiences. In addition to the exhibit, Bronx Women’s Photo Collective would like to connect with women creatives who may be interested in pursuing photography, “we want to expand the organization, there are a lot of women shooters out there. We specifically want to work with women who haven’t had any kind of exposure and are from the Bronx. We’re going to start social events for Latina women from all of New York to talk, network, and encourage each other to create work.”
Living Latina will be available at the Lincoln Medical Center Exhibition Space until April 14 and will be displayed in the Poe Center in August with additional pieces. They’ve also confirmed another exhibit in Taller Boricua.