Groove is in the Heart
December 19, 2006
The Smithsonian American Art Museum recently launched ¡del Corazón!, an online catalogue of Latino art from the United States. The variety of artists highlighted just goes to show that there is no monolithic "Latino" visual art mode, any more than there is a single "Latino" culture. The artists are immigrants and hyphenated Americans with backgrounds in many different countries, and the artworks are every bit as varied.
But you wouldn't be wrong to say that there are broad trends that govern these artists' work: the political, social, and economic challenges that immigrants to the United States may face, or the shared historical legacy of Spanish settlement across Central and South America. A single work may crystallize the traditions of the old country with the realities of the adopted one. In Sun Mad, Ester Hernández marries a familiar muertitos image with a corporate brand, creating a disturbing commentary on pollution and migrant labor.
I think, though, that too often artworks by minorities are pegged as being about that culture first and foremost, and are secondarily recognized as part of the broader conversation in art. I appreciate that the Washington Post's Blake Gopnik focused on the art historical aspects of Ana Mendieta's work, putting her art in the context of postminimalism and performance art, instead of just narrowing in on the cultural references. Some lines from Gopnik's review:
Throughout her work, Mendieta sets her body down in nature and then records its simple presence on the planet. There are photographs that document her lying naked on the ground, almost hidden by the wildflowers stuck between her legs and clutched between her arms and body.
A three-minute color film, shot on the modest Super 8 stock Mendieta always favored—and now preserved on digital video—shows the naked artist floating in a burbling creek.
Other pieces leave the artist herself out of the picture, but record a trace she's left behind.
In one series, begun in the early 1970s when she was still a student in the experimental "intermedia" program at the University of Iowa, she dipped her hands in red paint mixed with blood, then dragged them down the wall or along a piece of paper stuck to it. This is art's fundamental proclamation, "I was here," captured using everyone's most basic tool, the hand, in our most immediately available and instantly impressive pigment, blood.
No one questions when someone says that an artist draws on Latino references, even if those references are not made explicit; there's a vague and agreed-upon understanding of what that pool of references includes. That context should be a tag that incorporates an artist within a tradition, and not a means of prejudging the work or of excluding it from broader art trends or conventions.
- Latino art, Ester Hernández, Ana Mendieta, Jesús Moroles, Blake Gopnik, American Art,
Smithsonian American Art Museum
The comments to this entry are closed.