Colectiva Cósmica of New York City ✨

Colectiva Cósmica, (Cosmic Collective), is as beautiful and badass as it sounds. This art collective out of New York City is made up of seven Latina artists who came together in 2013 to create a group that makes art, teaches and works to create validation for each other within a white, patriarchal world.  Their work revolves around the idea of a young girl in her bedroom doing art, and what it would look like for us to explore that creativity instead of dismissing it.  I sat down and ate tacos with a few members of Colectiva Cósmica to talk about zine-making, Latina icons and reclaiming digital space.

Can you introduce yourselves and talk a bit about how the collective came to be?

I: I’m Itzel, I’m from the border town of El Paso and Juarez. I’ve been in New York for seven months. I do mostly video work and photography, right now I’m a freelance editor.  

B: I’m Barbara, I’m a freelance writer.  I’ve been in New York for about five years. I started out getting my Masters at Pratt. I have a Library Science degree so I’m also a librarian. And yeah, I’m a freelance writer but I also do a lot of artwork- a lot of collage and mixed-media.  

A: I’m April. I’m an artist, mainly. I come from San Diego. I’ve been in New York for three years, so I came to study library science, that’s how I met Barbara at Pratt. So I’m a librarian and I also do user experience design. I’m interested in the intersection between advocacy (librarianship and advocacy) and user experience and social change. So I try to incorporate it in my work as much as I can.  

B: Originally it was us three and Maribel, and we have three other members, Lauren, Nevena and Jessica.  Last summer– summer of 2013, we all just wanted to do creative things. So we were like let’s do a show. Let’s do an art show and in August of 2013 we had our first Cósmica show, and it was amazing, a lot of people came out, a lot of our friends. It wasn’t just our work we had other women. The feelings there were just so amazing and supportive. Our community just came.

I: We reached out to a lot of women who we knew made art, or would want to write something.

B:And the whole idea of our first art show was talking about a little girl in her bedroom making shit, and it was a tribute to that whole image- that’s not supported necessarily when you’re little. And I think that if we maybe put some more value in that, we could explore a whole different part of being.  So then after the show was done we were like, we’re establishing as a collective we’re gonna continue doing shit no matter what it is.  Whatever projects, we’re going to get together and aggravate our talents and our efforts and our networks and just do shit around this idea of women creating, especially women of color and validating our work.

So the whole mission of Cósmica was that we’re going to support the arts, creativity in all feminine spirits, inclusive but focus on women of color in whatever they do and supporting it in whatever way we can. What we did from there, we were part of the Allied Media Conference in Detroit- that was the next big project that we did. We did workshops with media people.  We did collage workshops and gif-making workshops.

I: There was a self portrait one! It was self-portrait, social justice and goddess- there were three. It was really good!

B: Yeah so we want continue with that spirit and continue to have shows and continue to to these workshops or see what comes up.  With the Instagram, that’s another project that we’re really excited about and really proud of.  So with the Instagram we’re just trying to promote women in the arts and expose

I: their history

B: and their work. And kind of of led people to see something that maybe their art history didn’t cover. And kind of widening the lens of art history– what is considered art of art history. We’ve been organizing to have another art show in that space because we want to have a space with us that works with our mission.  

A: We’ve had several experiences where we go to gallery, we show them our work and they’re like – well that one guy, “I’m not really interested in this work.  Can you show me something else?” This is who we are.

I have a question about that.  I just moved here seven months ago so it’s really bizarre, the art scene looks and feels really different from where I’m from, New Mexico. Can you talk about what it’s like being artists, women of color in New York City?

I: I’m from El Paso so it’s like the same thing, and I came here thinking there would be more Latin American stuff- you know, Chicano, everything, and I felt the same way. Because you know you think of New York as the certain cultural place and you come and it’s like, well, it’s like this.  

B: You know you think of the Harlem Renaissance and the Nuyorican Poets and shit and that’s in a corner. You know?  That’s what Cósmica was about.  Alright, you all do yall’s thing, I don’t care.  You don’t like me or like my work, we’re going to create our own space and shift the vision. And we don’t necessarily have a fine arts background, is the thing. And that’s really essential to this not knowing, or not participating in those structures of like, knowing we have to submit the proposal [to get into a gallery] a year in advance.  We’re more about what we’re doing in a more organic way.

A: And since we didn’t study it we don’t know the gateway, or exactly what we’re doing, but we’re doing it anyway.

I: And I think that’s what we wanted to create more within ourselves– validating each other’s work instead of seeking validation otherwise. It’s more creating that support system within ourselves.

So can you also talk about, you mentioned your gif-making workshop. In a lot of the scenes I find myself in, I notice digital art spaces replicating white masculine/ heteronormativity. Not even necessarily that white, but definitely replicating these archaic ways of viewing art– even online.  

I: But it’s interesting, the Internet has democratized so many things, but yet it hasn’t.  You know? And still, I liked gifs and I made gifs ever since Myspace started and I was always about it.  But the people who make gifs, the people who are in technology development, etc., it’s still dominated by males, and I feel like my workshop, I wanted to put women in the center because I was like, what else would I make gifs about? LIke that’s what I already do. Anything else just seems not me.  I wanted to do that but I also wanted people to know that a gif is not something that is unreachable.

Scrolling through your IG, I see a lot of Frida, MIA, Selena, Kali Uchis– what is the importance of focusing on not only women but women of color.

B: That’s so important to us. The bodies of women of color are constantly being disrespected, sexualized, exoticized, anything but intellectualized. And that’s really sad. Fuck that.  We’re going to try and provide a different image.  A different perspective.  

I:  I think also with our Instagram, there’s museums that provide this kind of art history but it is male dominated.  But then it gets stuck in the past, so what you’re saying in including MIA and stuff,  it’s who we are.

A: I think it’s also about not waiting until they’ve reached the canon of art history. LIke, we’ll see if they make it to a text book or whatever. We’re not going to wait for that to happen.

B: Also about women of color, this is such a pertinent question also because last week I had a run-in with another art writer or blogger, who posted this picture of this sculptor who had a show at Museo. And he posted  a photo of her holding her work, and he had written something about her. And he included lyrics to a Tribe [Called Quest] song and it was referencing her fat ass. And at that point I was like, this is a guy, this is a contemporary of mine, who is supposed to be a conscious art writer, and he’s talking about an artist–somebody’s who’s recently made strides by having a solo exhibit at museo, and you’re putting a lyric about fat asses in the caption to describe her? Yes, she is a respected artist, she is a badass.  She isn’t trying to sexualize herself so why are you?  This is so cliche.  

So can you also talk about, you mentioned your gif-making workshop. In a lot of the scenes I find myself in, I notice digital art spaces replicating white masculine/ heteronormativity. Not even necessarily that white, but definitely replicating these archaic ways of viewing art– even online.  

I: But it’s interesting, the Internet has democratized so many things, but yet it hasn’t.  You know? And still, I liked gifs and I made gifs ever since Myspace started and I was always about it.  But the people who make gifs, the people who are in technology development, etc., it’s still dominated by males, and I feel like my workshop, I wanted to put women in the center because I was like, what else would I make gifs about? LIke that’s what I already do. Anything else just seems not me.  I wanted to do that but I also wanted people to know that a gif is not something that is unreachable.

Scrolling through your IG, I see a lot of Frida, MIA, Selena, Kali Uchis– what is the importance of focusing on not only women but women of color.

B: That’s so important to us. The bodies of women of color are constantly being disrespected, sexualized, exoticized, anything but intellectualized. And that’s really sad. Fuck that.  We’re going to try and provide a different image.  A different perspective.  

I:  I think also with our Instagram, there’s museums that provide this kind of art history but it is male dominated.  But then it gets stuck in the past, so what you’re saying in including MIA and stuff,  it’s who we are.

A: I think it’s also about not waiting until they’ve reached the canon of art history. LIke, we’ll see if they make it to a text book or whatever. We’re not going to wait for that to happen.

B: Also about women of color, this is such a pertinent question also because last week I had a run-in with another art writer or blogger, who posted this picture of this sculptor who had a show at Museo. And he posted  a photo of her holding her work, and he had written something about her. And he included lyrics to a Tribe [Called Quest] song and it was referencing her fat ass. And at that point I was like, this is a guy, this is a contemporary of mine, who is supposed to be a conscious art writer, and he’s talking about an artist–somebody’s who’s recently made strides by having a solo exhibit at museo, and you’re putting a lyric about fat asses in the caption to describe her? Yes, she is a respected artist, she is a badass.  She isn’t trying to sexualize herself so why are you?  This is so cliche.  

Yeah and I mean that’s why I ask. Because, if you’re a woman of color it’s so obvious, for me it’s even obvious how men of color who are “conscious” will not even hesitate to throw a woman of color under the bus. But it’s not clear to everyone.  

B: And also using women of color to their advantage, when it’s helpful for them. The icons, our icons. We gotta keep that shit safe.  People tend to tap into our stuff, just to market to Latinas.  Don’t use our fucking icons for your stupid shit. Why? Because you don’t have anything to allude to in your culture? Stop. It’s not yours to use. l think the best word is cheapening.

How do you pay homage differently?

I: I’ve done several series of different women that I’ve wanted to pay homage to. And the candles I did for another exhibit two years ago in Houston.  I did one on Frida, MIA, Bell Hooks, the Internet…Dolores Huerta. I kind of wanted to honor women who had influenced my understanding of the world, and I felt like all these women had contributed in different ways.   So I always try to do it in a respectful way I do these things in college it’s always with things that represent them.  I want to be respectful but I also want to honor the person that I’m representing in a full way, in a way so that if they saw it they’d say, “oh that’s badass, that represents me.”   

B: Also remixing the image. With taking away parts and adding parts you need to be very careful because you run the risk of cheapening.

There’s this tequila add I saw on the subway that uses the loteria cards-

I: I saw that! It’s everywhere. In which station is it? I don’t know where I saw it too but it’s a whole big campaign it’s everywhere. The cards are kind of interesting but they’re still using it to sell tequila. How do you feel about it?

It’s so beautiful, and when I think of it it conjures up memories of a lot of cultural things in my life.  It’s weird seeing it to sell alcohol. But there’s also a lot of positive culture shift and reclaiming happening.  It’s cool I’ve noticed this new wave of recognition of women of color doing zines.   

I :For us it’s exhibits, but also it’s about community.  When we did the workshops a bunch of little girls did zines about their dreams and what they want to accomplish in life, their set of goals. It’s good for someone to tell them, this is good, we’re supporting you, we’re giving your tools.  If I had that it would have sped up the process, because I feel like I tossed a lot of my artwork out because I was like, “whatever, I have to go to college it’s not important, I guess.”

As librarians how do you see zines?

A: Super important.  

B: To publish things [the mainstream way] is so hard. Zines are super important for marginalized communities to share their stories, their resources,

A: and to define their histories. I feel like, writing your story is so powerful because you get to define yourself.  

In fourth grade my teacher had us make little books and write a story, and I realized I made my first zine when I was in fourth grade and I just didn’t remember.  So I grew up with that, you don’t have to wait for someone to like, give you opportunity or want to publish. There’s this idea that history, there’s a singular perspective and it tells all right but so many different voices needs to be a part of any history.  Zines definitely provide alternate perspectives and alternate records. We want to show that you have all the tools there.

We also encourage everyone to check out Cósmica’s Website to check out some of the work of the other members! Follow them on ig: colectivacosmica