We Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World features profiles and portraits of 50 artists and art entrepreneurs challenging the art world’s status quo.

In 2012, Jasmin Hernandez launched Gallery Gurls to amplify BIPOC voices in the art world. She participated in panel discussions, profiled and interviewed burgeoning artists of color, centering their influence on art & culture and pushing for a long-overdue balance. And now, she’s translated that fire into a book you need to get.

Hernandez’s We Are Here builds on Gallery Gurls’ energy, profiling some of the most dynamic and influential BIPOC artists and curators working today. It focuses on queer, trans, and nonbinary artists, photographed by Sunny Leerasanthanah and Luupe photographer Jasmine Durhal, with an introductory essay by the legendary Swizz Beatz.

She focuses on a diverse group of artists, collectors, curators, and fashion icons who are making an ongoing impact on art and pop culture. Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels – director at Jack Shainman Gallery and founder of We Buy Gold, for example, appears with her impressive art collection including work from Leslie Hewitt, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kerry James Marshall. Then there are curatorial luminaries like Legacy Russell, whose acclaimed 2020 book Glitch Feminism goes deep into the relationship between technology, art, and gender.

We speak with Hernandez to discuss the important mark this book makes amidst a gallery-shuttering pandemic and a global reckoning on institutional racism which has been no stranger to the art world since day one.

Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels in her Brooklyn home. Her art collection includes Mel Bochner, Leslie Hewitt, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Hank Willis Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Jackie Nickerson. Photograph by Sunny Leerasanthanah © Jasmin Hernandez

The Luupe: How did you go about selecting the featured visionaries?

Jasmin Hernandez:  I worked very organically. There were some people I absolutely envisioned being in the book like Patrick Martinez, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Mashonda Tifrere, María Berrío, Hein Koh, and Derrick Adams. Folks, I already knew, who I had written about in the past, and I was lucky enough that they agreed and said yes.

There were a lot of IG crushes too, people like Tourmaline or Jamea Richmond-Edwards, who I’d followed for years on social media, and met for the very first time at the shoot for the book. KT Pe Benito, who is on the cover, I discovered on the QUEER|ART website when I was researching LGBTQIA+ artists. I had never heard of them or followed their work, but was instantly floored when I saw their art online. I didn’t overthink anything with anyone. I never do.

Legacy Russell in a colorful corner next to her personal library in her Brooklyn home.
Photograph by Sunny Leerasanthanah © Jasmin Hernandez

The Luupe: That’s amazing! This book comes out at an interesting and critical time – many galleries are closing or finding new ways to operate amidst the pandemic. Does this influence how you think about the book, the art world, creating, and the role of so many of the amazing visionaries featured?

Hernandez: Yes it’s a very interesting time! We are dealing with two pandemics. Since all of us can’t make it out to museums, galleries, or artists’ studios, this book is a deep dive into 50 creative spaces. In a way, We Are Here, is kind of like 50 studio visits that can sit on your coffee table or sit on your bookshelf, and that you can read through at your own pace.

Aside from the Covid-19 pandemic, the other ongoing pandemic of systemic racism and white supremacy, firmly entrenched in this country, is being challenged with brute force. We are holding white supremacy in the art world accountable yet also creating our own spaces. In the end, Black and Brown folx will take care of our own.

Meet Jasmin Hernandez. Photo by Sunny Leerasanthanah © Jasmin Hernandez

 

Black joy at its finest. Essence Harden outside their Los Angeles home. Photograph by Jasmine Durhal © Jasmin Hernandez

The Luupe: What is the most important way the gallery and art world needs to change?

Hernandez:
Hire more Black womxn in all roles, from curatorial roles to museum/gallery marketing, to art pr/publicity, museum leadership/directorships, social media managers, etc.

The Luupe: To that end, what is the most inspiring piece of progress over the past couple of years?

Hernandez: Seeing big appointments like Ashley James ( in 2019 she became the Guggenheim New York’s first full-time Black curator) and Naomi Beckwith ( who was just named Guggenheim New York’s new Deputy Director and Chief Curator).

Firelei Báez in her Bronx studio, wearing an Akris jacket, surrounded by her epic art, all works in progress. Photograph by Sunny Leerasanthanah © Jasmin Hernandez

The Luupe: What excites you most about the present and future of the art world?

Hernandez:
As exciting as it is to see these high profile appointments on a macro/structural/institutional level. I’m also here for the everyday victories. Following IG accounts like Black Women in Visual Art, which does an amazing job at celebrating and documenting Black womxn in the art/cultural sector, or seeing all the dopeness ARTNOIR unleashed during the pandemic with their virtual studio visits/artist takeovers.

Or simply The Underground Museum just thriving and continuing to do the work and be such a powerful and cultural voice/space for Black Los Angeles. Or The Black School which uses art to amplify radical Black history. These are all wins.

Kia LaBeija during her residency at Performance Space New York in the East Village, New York City. Photograph by Sunny Leerasanthanah © Jasmin Hernandez

The Luupe: Gallery Gurls is and was such a powerful project and platform. How do you see this book tying into, building on Gallery Gurls’ original mission?

Hernandez: We Are Here reinforces Gallery Gurls’ ethos and essence in physical book form. Centering BIPOC and QTBIPOC with Black womxn always being centered.

The Luupe: What’s the most inspiring, surprising, and/or revelatory moment from working on this book?

Hernandez: There was so much synchronicity in people’s answers. A lot of people listed yellow as their favorite color, or maybe purple as their favorite color. (Based on the question: What is your favorite color?) Because most of us in the book are peers, friends, homies, collaborators, etc. There are many close-knit members of the LA and NYC BIPOC art communities featured in the book. Many of us are in dialogue with each other.

Naima J. Keith in front of Levitated Mass, a large-scale public art sculpture by Michael Heizer at LACMA. Photograph by Jasmine Durhal © Jasmin Hernandez

The Luupe: Beyond the inspiring stories and important mission, we love the photos by Jasmine Durhal and Sunny Leerasanthanah. Jasmine is actually a Luupe photographer! How did you come to select them as the main photographers?

Hernandez: Thank you! Yes, this is another example of working organically and following your gut. Sunny photographed studio visits for Gallery Gurls, so when the book opp arrived, I wanted to share this opp with an organic collaborator. I found Jasmine on IG! I was researching Black photographers in LA and stumbled onto her IG. I emailed her that same afternoon. It was very very important to me that this opp went to Black womxn and womxn of color. I wanted the people behind the lens to look like the folx in front of the lens that they were shooting.

The Luupe: What do you hope readers come away with?
Openness, expansion, and for the privileged to share their privilege, but from a non-hypocritical place in their heart. But most importantly for Black and Brown artists/creators ( of any age) to be inspired and do the damn thing!