“I am a storyteller,” Jovanny Hernandez Caballero says firmly when asked how he describes his art practice. I was able to connect with Jovanny after his photojournalism assignment with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel documenting a rally responding to the not-guilty verdict of the murderer of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber. Facing and responding to the political climate has been a prominent element of Jovanny’s journey. At a very young age he identified his calling—helping others. At one point he even considered pursuing law to become an immigration lawyer. But during his sophomore year in high school, a photo assignment changed his way of seeing himself and the world around him. It was 2016, the US presidential election was in full swing. The country was becoming visibly more polarized and divided. “When I saw people who look like me represented in the media, they were always shown in a bad light,” he shared with me. Being able to capture the beauty of the street in which he grew up, motivated him to continue to explore and expand on what he could capture next, and what he could reframe to more adequately represent his community.
At just 19 years old, he became a lead artist on a project with Leaders Igniting Transformation, which would engage high school students during the 2020 elections. “Since I wasn’t that much older than them, I was able to understand what they were going through. We were growing up in this weird political time and I understood that because I grew up in the same environment and the same community,“ he said. Jovanny photographed six high school students and asked them to share a quote that was significant to them which would later be incorporated into the portraits. Inspired by socially engaged photographers like Chip Thomas and JR, these portraits were printed in large-scale and installed on the exterior of two art spaces in Milwaukee: 5 Points Art Gallery and Studios, and at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts (WPCA) for the public to see. These photos centered the importance of BIPOC youth voice within civic engagement. “What came out of this was so strong because of the connection that I was able to build with the students,” Jovanny stated proudly. Although most of the youth were not able to actually go out and cast a vote because they were not old enough, it was important for them to understand that what they had to say still mattered, and that it was worth sharing.
Not only was he able to prove to himself that he could lead and successfully execute a public art installation project, he also reassured his parents that his photography was a part of his life’s work. “My parents were able to see that my photography was so essential, not only to me, but to my family and to my community. They were able to see that I was not only there to get paid to do a photo project, but that I was actually making a difference.”
About Xela Garcia
Marcela “Xela” Garcia is a Xicana artist, innovator and cultural warrior that currently serves as the Executive Director at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts in Milwaukee, WI. She brings broad experience in arts and culture administration, education, philanthropy and organizational sustainability. She earned her BA in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing & Chicanx/Latinx Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also holds a certification in Nonprofit Leadership. Xela was awarded Board Sources’ National Emerging Non-Profit Leader Award in 2012, was recognized as Wisconsin’s Most Powerful Latinos in 2018, was selected to the 2020 class of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award, and the 2020-2021 Arts + Culture Leaders of Color Fellowship with Americans for the Arts.