El Salvador artist Sonia Lazo’s wry feminist illustrations contain a certain charming decorative and narrative quality that drew me immediately to the work. Yet, things are more complex it seems, there are themes of self-reliance, and an absolute rejection of traditional feminine stereotypes as well as the letimotifs of Latin culture and Mayan women leaders.
Sonia Lazo Diseño de mural basado en la conquista de El Salvador.
Much of Sonia’s work has an autobiographical element intersected by various motifs, including interpretations of the richness of regional flora and fauna, such as –Insectario.
Other symbols refer to the occult, Mayan culture, and traditions of folk dance such as El Torito Pinto and El Tigre y El Venado.
A primary function of the artist’s practice is the redefinition of a strong femininity. Works like Safo de Lesbos celebrate female protagonists whether mythic or ordinary. For this tribute to Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, organized by the feminist collective Reborn Witches, Barcelona, each artist selected a heroine to illustrate. Sonia choose Sappho as her subject because the poet’s story allowed the artist to explore aspects of her personal life, and artwork simultaneously.
The large scale commission Guerrera (Warrior) measures about 1.5 x 1 meters and represents women’s empowerment and intuition. Sonia depicts a powerful warrior riding a jaguar, a reference to Mayan symbolism. In one hand, she holds a sword, and in the other, a pouch containing her fears and inner demons which start to emerge, representing in turn her internal battles to contain this element. A heart on fire represents the warrior’s strength, determination, and passion.
The idea of fear and inner battles is further explored in Sonia’s work for Phillip Dearest’s sine project There’s No Relief or Release from Sorrow. Sonia’s illustrations are intended to serve as a form of art therapy to facilitate expression and a venting of trauma. The pictures portray depression, self-sabotage, and the feeling of entrapment.
The strength of an ordinary woman is a reoccurring theme, such as the character in Una Pequeña Zine who the artist calls an “a tiny tattooed woman in a red bathing suit.”
Una Pequeña Zine
“I really liked her so I thought of making a series of her engaged in daily activities. I guess it was appealing to me because tattoos are also something I like and have myself, and there is still a stigma here about them. I wanted to show this woman as a regular person doing normal activities like everyone else, and yes, including the fact she got her period in one of the illustrations, because that’s also a normal thing and shouldn’t be seen as gross or secret.”
Rosa: Many of the images of women are about personal strength and are sometimes quite archetypal yet have a very contemporary and lyrical look. Tell me more about this style.
Sonia: Representing women is a major part of my work. I want to contribute to the eradication of stereotypes and defy gender roles. The archetype is a strong, passionate, angry (in a way that is not someone that tolerates discrimination, injustices, etc.). She is an independent woman and is quite sensitive and emotional, yet that does not makes her weak.
Rosa: And the different types of women and issues of gender?
Sonia: Yes, there’s also the part of making them with different body shapes, body hair and skin colors, I find that type of representation is necessary to eliminate beauty stereotypes because it’s just tiring how society has this standards of how women should be and it keeps making women feel bad about themselves and that makes no sense.
Other issues include gender identity and sexual orientation, it just seems natural –after all, we are all people and we all deserve respect. Because I live in a highly sexist and traditionally religious country I do try to express all this through my work and in doing so, hopefully raise awareness about these issues.
Rosa: In keeping with these intentions, can you tell me about the work Don’t Rely on Men?
Sonia: This piece is one of my personal favorites, what I mean by the title is that women need to learn to trust and rely on themselves, basically achieving your goals by your own means and not waiting for a man to come and help you.
Self Portrait by Sonia Lazo