NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A new exhibit in New York explores identity and social injustice as the artists demand cultural equality in the world of superheroes.
Artist, author, activist and educator Alitha Martinez is a comic book veteran, telling art students about her success story, which began two decades ago.
“When I first started, there were no women aside from Amanda Connor, and she was drawing Barbie,” Martinez said. “I’m the first woman of color to draw a flagship title for both Marvel and DC Comics.”
Her work is in the Color of Power Exhibit at the Caribbean Cultural Center in East Harlem.
“You know, there’s something lacking in the superhero world. Heroes that look like us,” she said. “We need to be represented in comics.”
The main characters of her books, “Yume and Ever,” are of Mexican and Cuban descent, and the storylines expose political confusion and hypocrisy.
Artists of color exhibited at the cultural center explore identity, social injustice and threats to the environment.
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez created “La Borinquena,” whose superpowers are gifts from spirits of her native Puerto Rico, which is also Miranda-Rodriguez’s homeland.
“I wanted to show real Puerto Rican history,” he said.
An early story saw his La Borinquena saving sea turtles. Later, the character partnered with DC superheroes in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
“In this book, La Borinquena teams up with Wonder Woman, she teams up with Superman, and she brings these characters that have been around for 80 years, for the first time ever, she brings them to Puerto Rico,” Miranda-Rodriguez said.
Miranda-Rodriguez is guest curator of the exhibit.
He showed attendees panels from Luke Cage and Black Panther from the 1970s. Those works are owned by corporations.
But that’s not the case for Ronald Wimberly, whose Prince of Cats, a take on Romeo and Juliet, is all his.
So he will soon reap the rewards.
“It was just announced, just a few weeks ago, that Spike Lee will be making this into a major motion picture,” Miranda-Rodriguez said.
The students learned their experiences and talents are needed in the comic book industry. Meeting the artists had them feeling inspired.
“I think they’re talented and I wanna be like them when I’m older,” art student Ashlin Cruz told CBSN New York’s Dave Carlin.
At 14 years old, Ashlin is already an artist storyteller.
“Mostly, it’s just me telling my story through characters, so basically it’s like another persona for myself through my artwork,” she said.
So she is a superhero, part of a new generation of artists finding the pen mightier than the sword to demand cultural equality through art.