Alibi V.25 No.32 • Aug 11-17, 2016 

Wonder Women

Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Jodie Herrera

Jodie Herrera
Jodie Herrera

Maggie Toulouse Oliver: You and I are in very different career fields at this point in our lives … I would love to hear from you how you understand your place in the world personally, professionally and what brought you to this place in your art career.

Jodie Herrera: A lot of my family members are artistic, so I guess it was kind of in the blood. … My first memories are of doing art and growing up around it and my family was always supportive. … I'm a very emotive person and I've a very observant person. I feel like my work is just me trying to translate [my] feelings for other people.

Toulouse Oliver: So you've always considered yourself an artist—is there any one thing that happened in the course of your life that made you feel like this isn't just a hobby for you, but what you want to do with your life [and] your career?

Herrera: I had a lot of insecurities [growing up] especially around education because I'm dyslexic, and so [art] was the one thing that I felt confident in. It was the one way that I felt like I could actually express myself in a way that was done well.

I know you have two children that you're raising in Albuquerque. … Have you learned anything through them about the state of New Mexico, the educational system, the arts or the way that we are changing?

Toulouse Oliver: I've learned that even though our education system has suffered cuts in a lot of areas, and I know that the arts are sometimes viewed as additional, I think for many kids they're really fundamental. And sometimes for kids, they're the one thing that motivates them to go to school. … It's not just about the art itself, it helps stimulate thinking and stimulate learning and I think we need to continue investing in that in our schools. I've definitely, through my own experience and my kids' experiences, learned the value of that.

So, I know you've worked as an illustrator and more recently you've focused on oil painting as your main medium … and your work has been more geared toward one project. Please tell me about this project and the inspiration for it.

Herrera: The project is basically geared towards telling the story of the female experience. A lot of the models want to be a part of it because they have a story to tell or I feel very inspired by who they are and I ask them to be a part of the project. A lot of them have gone through very traumatic experiences—everything from heroin addiction or addiction in general to surviving cancer to sexual abuse. Things that we deal with as women and as human beings. Basically, it's kind of a platform for them to tell their story and to not be ashamed of it, to have power over it … this is their chance to tell their story and be proud of themselves that they've gone through it and that they've persevered.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver
Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Toulouse Oliver: Is there anyone in particular that stands out for you … that really resonated with you?

Herrera: It's so hard to pick just one … I've made a lot of really long-lasting friends and connections through this. … But my friend Lan, she survived cancer twice. She's just such a badass—a really strong, good-hearted human being. In her painting she's wearing this shawl and headdress that [Vietnamese people] usually wear for their engagement ceremonies. She's Vietnamese [and] when she was engaged she didn't get to have the ceremony because she had to go through a really intense surgery and she and her now-husband wanted to get married immediately because she might not have survived. … So, basically, in the painting she wanted to wear her engagement garment. She was actually taking that moment back and having the ceremony within the painting.

I know you were raised in New Mexico where you attended public schools and later received your master's degree in political science from the University of New Mexico, and since 2007 have served as Bernalillo County Clerk. What is it that made you stick with New Mexico?

Toulouse Oliver: I graduated from Highland in '94 [and] literally the first thing I did was go to Mexico for a month for a Spanish immersion class. I came back and was driving to the mall one day and I drove by Senator Bingaman's re-election campaign office and I thought, I've always, always, always been interested in government and politics—like you said, it's always been in my blood. [I] really viewed it as a path for justice and change. I spent the rest of the summer between high school and college interning on Senator Bingaman's campaign and loved it. … I went away to school in Texas [and that made me] realize how much I loved New Mexico. And I loved Albuquerque. It was going away that me realize how much it was truly inside of me.

Herrera: In 2014 you ran against Republican candidate Diana Duran for Secretary of State and lost. In August of 2015, Duran was shockingly charged with fraud and embezzlement and resigned before she pled guilty. … How do you think this kind of scandal could be avoided? Is there something we should learn from this?

Toulouse Oliver: I think theres a lot of irony tied up in that situation with our former Secretary of State because she was charged with this very important role in overseeing accountability and transparency of our elected officials and ensuring that they live up to the highest of ethical standards that we expect and deserve as citizens. … I think that's the reason it was so shocking [and] why for a lot of people it felt very personal and like a violation. … I ran for the position because I care very deeply about my work overseeing elections and I wanted to take my vision to the state level—and my vision is of ensuring that every eligible voter in the state casts a ballot and ensuring equal access for voters across the state. I truly believe that our government is only at its best when everybody's voice is being heard. … People sometimes don't want to participate in a system that they think validates that kind of corruption.

“I've learned that even though our education system has suffered cuts in a lot of areas, and I know that the arts are sometimes viewed as additional, I think for many kids they're really fundamental. And sometimes for kids, they're the one thing that motivates them to go to school.”

Herrera: You're running for Secretary of State again this November against Republican candidate Nora Espinosa. What are some defining issues that set you apart from her? What are the issues that you'll focus on if elected?

Toulouse Oliver: I think the main difference between she and I [is that] I've got nine-and-a-half years running elections in the largest county in the state. I'm deeply knowledgeable and experienced about the majority of the duties of the office … so I'm going to be stepping into the job on day one with a very clear view of the work that needs to be done and having had direct experience with the subject matter of the office. … Besides that, [Espinosa] has been very focused on what I think are some of the most divisive issues to be brought up in legislature in the last 10 years. She's been a sponsor of very anti-choice legislation such as invasive ultrasounds for women who are seeking to have an abortion. She's been a sponsor of bills that would ban Hispanic heritage literature in our schools, which, in a place like New Mexico, we value and embrace our Hispanic heritage, to try to ban literature that speaks on that subject in our schools is sort of antithetical to who we are. And this year she was the sponsor of a bill called The Religious Freedom Act that would have given businesses the right to legally discriminate against the gay and lesbian community in our state. … We need somebody in the Secretary of State office that's going to be focused on moving in the right direction, moving the office away from this unfortunate history of corruption, focusing on putting rules in place to administer ethical guidelines [and] … to continue to modernize and improve our election system and make it better for the people who use it.

So, when you create your art, you're giving something back, helping these women work through something that's really hard … but have you had your own personal growth experience through doing this too?

Herrera: Absolutely … I've gone through a lot of experiences and I didn't want to be a victim of those and I felt almost judgmental of myself and everything that I've gone through. So, this was a way to shed light [on those experiences]—just because we have these experiences doesn't mean that we are forever scarred in a bad way, we are scarred in such a way that we hold those as badges. We persevered and we are resilient as women. I wanted to share that about myself but also about women in general, because I feel like we always are shown in a light of [purity] or the slut or the damaged. We're never this in-between. We're never regarded as just human beings. I want to show that we are the full picture, and we are proud of that. [That] should be honored.