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How sociology impacts Ingrid Hernández's art

In September, chapters around the world took a deep dive into empathy — what it is exactly, how we practice it, and how it informs our artistic practices. Ingrid Hernández, a visual artist born in Tijuana, grapples with empathy in her work on a daily basis. Educated in sociology, Ingrid is passionate about collaborating with individuals in her community on her projects.

Recently, she’s been working with migrant communities on self-built housing settlements. She’s hoping to subvert stereotypes about poverty and celebrate the humanity that runs through these communities. We asked Ingrid about her work, and how empathy plays an important foundational role in her process.

How do you, generally, define empathy?
I define empathy as the capacity to understand the other without being the other, the capacity to feel like the other without being the other. It is somewhat utopic, but a good rule for getting along in this society. And even though in my work, empathy hasn’t been the objective, listening, discussions and relationships have been.

Defino la empatía como la capacidad de comprender al otro sin ser el otro. La capacidad de sentir como el otro sin ser el otro. Algo un tanto utópico, por cierto. Pero un buen principio de convivencia para esta sociedad. Y aunque en mi trabajo la empatía no ha sido un fin, sí lo es la capacidad de escuchar, entrar en diálogo y relación.

How does your background in sociology affect the way you see your subjects? Inform how you empathize?
For me, the base of all empathy begins with our capacity to listen and understand each other. While listening, I believe I can construct images that are closer to what people are feeling and thinking. Qualitative research encourages using tools to generate profound dialogues with people. I am interested in those tools, precisely because you can go beyond numerical data and dive into what people are thinking and feeling, and how the world is explained and the significance they place on actions.

Para mí la base de toda empatía inicia con nuestra capacidad de escuchar y entender al otro. En el ejercicio de escuchar, creo que puedo ir armando imágenes más acertadas, más cercanas a lo que siente y piensa la gente. La investigación cualitativa, propone herramientas que buscan generar diálogos profundos con la gente. Estoy interesada en esas herramientas, precisamente porque a través de su uso se puede ir más allá de los datos numéricos para adentrarse en lo que la gente piensa y siente, cómo se explica el mundo y los significados que le otorgan a los actos.

In your collaborative projects, how does empathy play in a role in understanding and then working creatively with the social fabric of these places?
Empathy is present at the moment of having the willingness to talk and relate to someone, and then to create projects based on that involvement.

La empatía se presenta al momento de tener la disposición de dialogar, de relacionarse, de crear proyectos basados en el involucramiento.

How do you hope the public responds to your work?
As an artist, you can’t have a total control on how your images will be understood, and that is okay, but I know that I’m interested in changing the ideas that we have about people in poverty, how to stop looking at them with pity, compassion, and rejection. Instead, I’m interested in seeing them as human beings just like us: with defects, virtues, weaknesses, phobias, passions, fears, etc.

Seeing images of others doesn’t place you in their shoes, and in fact, neither does making images. If someone wants to empathize with the communities I work with or with any other group, you don’t have to talk with me. You have to have your own experience.

Como artista no puedes tener el control total de cómo serán entendidas tus imágenes, y eso está bien, pero tengo claro que me interesa cambiar la idea que tenemos de la gente en condición de pobreza, dejarla de ver con lástima, compasión o rechazo. En lugar de ello, estoy interesada en que se vea como seres humanos igual a nosotros: con defectos, virtudes, debilidades, fobias, pasiones, miedos, etc.

Ver imágenes de otro no te ponen en el lugar del otro, es más, tampoco hacer imágenes tendría por qué ponerte en los zapatos del otro. Si alguién quiere empatizar con las comunidades con las que trabajo o con cualquier otro grupo, no tiene que hablar conmigo, lo que tiene que hacer es relacionarse con ellos para que tenga su propia experiencia.


You can learn more about Ingrid and her work on her website. She spoke at CreativeMornings/Tijuana this month about her work and her views on empathy. We’ll add her talk here as soon as it’s live on the site.

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