Women, Mothers & Goddesses

A look at the vision of gender in the work of
Laura Hernández


How are we different? Weren't you made,
after all, from my side? Don't you hurt for me?
When I am inside of you, when I make myself small
And you hug me and envelope me
And you close on me like the flower to the insect,
I know something, we both know something
The female is always larger, somehow.

Jaime Sabines, Adam and Eve.


Laura puts forth her conception of the Cosmos, her vision of the life and death cycles, and of the origins of the world through her images of woman. That is why the theme of fertility is constant in her work, and she makes reference to it not only through form and texture, which give her work great power, but also through a symbolic code in the use of color. In Yael, Goddess of Fertility, a voluptuous female form made of earth and light prepares to be fertilized by multicolored fish, the dual symbol of fertility and death. These head towards a primitive uterus in ultramarine blue, a color that represents for the artist the origin of the Cosmic cycle: birth, life, death, regeneration. Somehow her women are all "Eves", mothers of humanity, a superior, active element in the primordial couple, embodying the first expression of knowledge and freedom. Upon deciding to try the forbidden fruit, Eve embraces existence in all its aspects, she becomes a participant in good and evil.

For Laura, woman is the "warehouse of the universe", and her greatness lies in the ability to create, to make life in her own body, to transform herself, like nature itself. The First Beat refers to maternity the instant after fertilization, at the moment of gestation of a new being. A dark, black, unknown uterus, in a blend of the primary colors of the origins of the earth vibrates and expands, evoking woman's dream of reproducing. This painting is particularly symbolic, as Laura conceived of it upon' learning she was pregnant with her daughter, Sabina, thus reinforcing her own personal experience of maternity. The woman's face is red, the color of blood and fire, generators of life.

The changing nature of women's bodies has been linked for centuries with the phases of the moon, and the worship of the female body originates in ancient Egypt with the goddess Isis who represented the Cosmic future, the link between earth and the heavens, weekly and monthly cycles, biological rhythms and the different phases of female fertility.

This worship spread across several cultures and in ancient Rome it was linked to Melenis, the black nocturnal Venus, the stone that fell from the skies. Laura Hernandez's Venus takes on the same attributes -feminine, passive dark, but she rules over the terrestrial order through her power of attraction. Her body, in indigo blue, ultramarine and black reminds one of the vastness of the Universe and at the same time of its mystery. As a symbol of reflexive knowledge, of the unconscious, of the imagination and of memory, Venus holds in her hands at the level of her forehead, the ying/yang, the fundamental cosmological principal embodying masculine/feminine duality, darkness/light, negative/positive, all opposing, but eternally dependant principals. She seems to reflect from her condition as a woman on the very origins of the division between the genders.

In her representations of goddesses, the artist questions why the feminine has to be only dark when it can also be light. Her Aurora speaks to us of woman as the full manifestation of the first light of dawn, of the breaking away from darkness and ignorance. She seems to emerge from the body of Venus like a nocturnal mantle welcoming the day.

Laura Hernandez's paintings seem to eliminate the differences. Her work affirms woman's power to produce, while never forgetting that we are governed by a dual principal. Like the earth, woman's body needs man's seed to be able to become the "warehouse of the universe"; it fills up and becomes full through the union of two distinct beings that end up being one.


How are we different? That question crops up several times in the work of Laura Hernandez. On the one hand, there are, of course, the strictly biological differences, but beyond that, there is the question of gender differences that are the result of culturally imposed sexual roles, of the masculine and the feminine, whose origins lie in the myths that attempt to explain the creation of the Universe and establish a social order.

Laura goes back to the origins of life, to the primitive order of the Cosmos, for the answers. In the beginning, everything was "one", and the first step of Creation was to separate the primordial elements: light from darkness, the sun from the moon, water from the earth, and finally from the earth emerge man and woman. In Timaeus, Plato describes how the Demiurg created the human gender using the four different types of earth found at the four cardinal points. Thus the earth became the primordial Mother, the protective universal womb, the symbol of productiveness. Its engendering function lies in the ethymological roots of the word "humus", the Latin term for earth, which has the same derivation as the word "homo" meaning man. In this attempt to integrate the human being with its origins, the artist fills the canvas with vitality, using earth colors of Oaxaca, of India and of Cambodia, and even of the earth her feet were caressing at that time to create the characters of her stories that speak of the union of the Being and the Cosmos.

This cosmic vision of the earth as the primitive substance in the creation of the Being can be seen in the work Generation. Mother Earth, bearer of the origins, becomes the element that separates light from darkness and the earth from the waters. The significant body of this Being, the syncretism of the male and female anatomy, carries an enormous snail that emerges from its body. For the artist, the spiral symbolizes the possibility of evolution, of knowledge and of Creation by means of the union of both genders.

The representation of mothers, women and goddesses is a constant in the artist's work. These images are repeated time and again and they originate not only in Oaxaca but also in ancient Greece, India, in mythology and in the History of Art. The female shapes in her work form a dialogue with the work of Paul Gauguin during his time in French Polynesia, a dialogue that the artist has explored in depth in the study of her art. Both try to return to the origins, albeit by different routes and for different reasons. Gauguin's "Golden Eves", with their rounded voluptuousness, their robust limbs appear to be anchored to the ground and they know they are being looked at; they are objects to be enjoyed and they look away, they never confront. Laura's women, on the other hand, although they share a similar physionomy, appear to be lost in thought with their eyes, either closed or open; they always look inwardly, unaware of what is going on around them; they look for the essence of their being inside themselves.

VIrgen de Tierra