A native of Kingsville, Texas, Santa Contreras Barraza is a contemporary Chicana/Tejana artist and founder of Barraza Fine Art LLC, a gallery and studio committed to furthering the appreciation of the arts in the borderlands and among isolated, rural populations by showcasing talent.
She formerly taught at Texas A&M University – Kingsville, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Penn State University at University Park, and La Roche College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the summer of 2012, she taught art courses at the University of Graz in Austria. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1975 and her Master of Fine Arts in 1982 from the University of Texas at Austin.
Her artwork has been widely exhibited in the United States, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Argentina, and France. Her vita reflects a career replete with awards, appearances and lectures, exhibitions, and publications.
Her artwork is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Texas Tech University, Mexican Museum in San Francisco, Del Mar College, Fondo del Sol Museum, South Texas Museum, Olin Museum at Bates College, the Hispanic/Latino Archives of the Tomas Ybarra Fausto Collection at the Smithsonian Institution at Washington DC, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies Research of the University of Bielefeld, Germany, The Benjamin Franklin Research Institute at the University of Alcala de Henares, Spain, University of Paris, France and other collections and various art collectors.
Her artwork has been exhibited in the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago, Austin Arts Museum, Albuquerque Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bronx Museum, Wright Art Gallery in Los Angeles, Intar-Latin American Gallery in New York City, Kohler Art Museum in Soboygen, Wisconsin, National Gallery of American Art of the Smithsonian, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Modern Museum of Art in Mexico City, Santo Domingo Museum of Art in Oaxaca, Mexico, Museum of Print in Mexico City, Centro Cultural de la Villa Madrid in Spain, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies Research of the University of Bielefeld, Germany, Casa de America of Madrid, Spain, among others. From December 8, 2012 through May 19, 2013, her artwork was exhibited in the “Women Shaping Texas” exhibition that opened at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. In June 22 through July 30, 2014, Casa de America in Madrid, Spain featured her artwork as a solo artist.
In 2001 Texas A&M University Press published the book, Santa Barraza: Artist of the Borderlands, which received the annual Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association in 2002. In 2008, she received the Women Caucus for Art Presidential Award, affiliated with the national College Art Association. In that same year, she was also awarded the Heroes for Children’s Award by the State of Texas Board of Education.
Among many awards received by Barraza are a Recognition Award for Contribution in the Arts from National Chicanos in Higher Education; the Reader’s Digest-Lila Wallace Grant, Professional Achievement Award from the Women of Color Association, 2008 Women’s Caucus for Art Mid Career Achievement, 2008 Heroes for Children Award by the State of Texas Board of Education, 2012 Suenos Cultura y Vida Recipient by LULAC Corpus Christi, and 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award by Mexic-Arte Museum of Austin. Ms. Barraza has also developed and taught visual art in Study Abroad Programs for Penn State University in Puebla, Mexico and Texas A&M University-Kingsville in Oaxaca, Mexico, Graz, Austria, and De Henares, Spain.
Barraza paints bold representations of Nepantla, a mythic “Land Between.” The term was first used by Nahuatl-speaking people of Mexico in the 16th century to describe their situation vis-à-vis the Spanish colonizers in their midst. Her work depicts the historical, emotional, and spiritual land between Mexico and Texas, between the real and the celestial, and between present reality and the mythic world of the ancient Aztecs and Mayas.
“Nepantla could also represent the ‘in-between-ness’ of Latinos, like myself, who are embracing their newfound Native American heritage and Indigenous ways,” she says.
Over her career, Barraza has explored what it means to be a Chicana. Using a variety of media, she has embarked on an artistic journey full of family portraits, watercolor dream scenes, mixed media artist books, murals, and sandpaintings that harken back to a pre-Columbian past.
According to Maria Herrera-Sobek, by tapping into pre-conquest symbols, personal memories, and traditional sacred art forms, such as the retablo and the codices, Barraza shows how Mexican artistic traditions have the power to nurture and sustain cultural identities on this side of the border. Her art has increasingly drawn on the colors and forms of Mesoamerica. Most recently, the Aztec codices have offered her a symbolic way to claim her roots and to invoke much from the ancient ways of her ancestors. She is not trapped in that past, though. She adapts these images by incorporating contemporary figures such as her own mother or labor leader Emma Tenayucca. Barraza depicts her own sister with a physical heart, representing a healing heart as she underwent open heart surgery, guarded by the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe floating on the horizon.
She proudly identifies as a Chicana, but just as proudly has traced her heritage to the 1700’s to an ancestor named Cuca Giza, a Karankawa Indian woman from the region that was once part of Mexico but is now known as south Texas.