Curator Miyo Stevens-Gandara Meditates on Destruction and Revival in “Utopia/ Dystopia”


By Gabrielle Garcia

Serving as a professor of photography at Rio Hondo College and long time contributor to nonprofit arts outreach programs, Miyo Stevens-Gandara is an artist of many hats, working in photography, drawing, embroidery, and printmaking mediums. With a BFA from the California College of the Arts and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, she has had her work exhibited both domestically and internationally. Several of her pieces now belong in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) Riverside Art Museum, and various private collections. At the core of her work, Stevens-Gandara deep dives into themes of environmentalism and its connections to humanity, community, feminisms, cultural identity, migration, and ancestry.

Miyo Stevens-Gandara serves as both Artist and Curator for Self Help Graphic & Art’s “Utopia/ Dystopia” exhibition, which features twenty-six artists whose works forms a portfolio of prints in the form of a deck of 52 playing cards. Each artist created two of those playing cards, which presented their interpretation of utopia and dystopia. The concept of a deck of cards is intended to reference many things—games of chance, luck, fortune, war, solitude, precarious situations (house of cards), magic, empire, and divination. The deck of cards allows the project to bring many different artists and styles together creating one unified artwork—a full deck, redefining a traditional portfolio.


Staying true to her core themes, Stevens-Gandara directly examines the natural environment and the nature of our connection to it in her two prints, “Dystopia” and “Utopia,” which feature the king of spades and the eight of clubs. Both prints depict the Sequoia National Forest, based on photographs taken by the artist, in two vastly different environmental states. 

Stevens-Gandara’s “Dystopia” depicts the Sequoia National Forest in a state of destruction, “a forest devoid of life,” as if touched by a ravaging fire or war. This scene is framed by a border comprised of barbed wire, guns, factories and oil rigs, pills, and droplets of blood near the spades. She makes direct correlations between technological developments in our society in areas of weaponry, industry, and drugs and the decline of the natural world, which is our connection to life itself. 

On the other hand, “Utopia” depicts the Sequoia National Forest in a state of flourishment and health. In this lush forest sits a deer, which is a Buddhist symbol of peace. This scene is framed by a border comprised of various plants and animals, including bees, birds, and butterflies. For Stevens-Gandara this print “represents the revival of life once mankind has destroyed itself.” From this we can not only gather that it is humanity in its most vile and destructive form that has become a dystopian harbinger of destruction to the planet, but also that nature has an immense power to restore, survive, and transform.

Through this contrast of prints, Stevens-Gandara asks viewers to truly examine what is happening to our forests, oceans, skies, and landscapes throughout the globe due to war and capitalism, and what can be done to preserve what remains and to restore what has been lost. Reflection and action are essential to this process in order to strive towards a stronger connection to our world. 

The Utopia/Dystopia exhibition will remain on view through August 10, 2019 at the Self Help Graphics & Art Gallery. The SHG Gallery is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM- 5:00 PM and select weekends during public programming. To view prints for sale or view the exhibition, please visit SHG during gallery hours Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM- 5:00 PM or shop prints and merchandise at the online shop anytime. Interested in making a donation to the organization? Visit the online donation page or text “SHG1973” to 91999.

Gabrielle Garcia is a Self Help Graphics & Art Getty Marrow Undergraduate Intern and recent graduate of Scripps College.