“Because the system’s so biased and so restrictive, so much wonderful art has [gone] completely unnoticed.” With these words, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill succinctly described the impetus for an upcoming exhibition – Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 – at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The last few decades has seen progress for female artists, but the art world hasn’t reached parity, with men still basking in the limelight far more often than women.
As LA Weekly notes, the Guggenheim dedicated 86 percent of solo shows to men in 2014. And between 2007 to 2014, the Tate Modern in London only featured female artists’ works in solo exhibitions a quarter of the time. Radical Women – which Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta curated together – exclusively focuses on Latinas and Latin American women who US museums don’t typically feature. “The reason for this is not a question of talent, but of a patriarchal matrix placed on the history of Latin American and Latina art,” Fajardo-Hill tells LA Weekly. “In other words, the system was even more biased than we knew it to be.”
In 2010, When they began looking into this topic, the curators found themselves having to defend the need for an exhibit that closely looks at Latin American and Latina art. Detractors told them that only a select number of women were worth highlight. But they refused to buy into this misguided notion, finding instead, that these women’s stories are necessary to tell.
“We are looking at a lot of women that have been completely overlooked,” Fajardo-Hill told the Los Angeles Times. “These are women that have shaped how we understand contemporary art today, how we use our bodies, how we can think about our bodies at a conceptual level.”
The exhibition will feature 260 works from 116 artists from the countries like Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the US. Radical Women is part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA project meant to explore the connections between Latin America and Los Angeles. In fall 2017, museums in Southern California will see an unprecedented number of art exhibits delving into this relation.
Radical Women doesn’t open until September 15, 2017, but in the meantime, here’s a small peek at some of the artists who will be showcased:
🇵🇦 Sandra Eleta 🇵🇦
Photo by Sandra Eleto
In the last five decades, Sandra Eleta has become one of Panama’s most important photographers. She’s known for her connection to Portobelo, which began with an interaction at age 5. One day, her mom dressed her in ribbons and laces for a visit to Portobelo, where she expected to visit the Ambassador of Spain. Instead, they spent time with a man named D’Orcy, who had saved her grandfather’s life. The white-bearded man from the French Antilles helped her forge a connection with Portobelo. Years later, when she went back to visit him, she found out he died, and she ended up staying.
Guggenheim describes her photography as strictly about people: “Not just any people; it’s exclusively about those at the very fringes of society. She never uses her camera for mere anthropological, aesthetic (even if she is an exquisite stylist), or voyeuristic reasons. The shutter is triggered only after a deep bond of mutual trust has been established.”
🇺🇸 🇲🇽 Patssi Valdez 🇺🇸 🇲🇽
Patssi Valdez’s storied career spans decades. She’s particularly known for her work with Asco, a collective of Chicano artists that came together in the 1970s. “Before I met the men that I worked with in Asco, I had grand ideas about being a great painter,” she told the Huffington Post. “But then I worked around Willie [Herrón] and Gronk and they seemed to paint so effortlessly while I had to struggle. I was not a good colorist at all, I couldn’t mix color properly – I always say that I made mud paintings. So that’s why I worked in installation, performance, and all these other mediums.”
But she taught herself color theory, and one day after seeing a David Hockney Retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), she thought that she could do what he did, too. So she did.
In 2012, she said she hoped that in her lifetime, she’d get to see a major retrospective of her own work. “People don’t know the whole range of my work,” she said. “I’m an installation artist, I’ve been a performance artist, I was a photographer for 10 years, I make short films, I do iPad drawings, I sculpt, and I paint. I have all these bodies of work and my dream is to be able to see them together in one museum space at the same time. That’s my dream. So, to the museum world out there: Can we start working on that, please? While I’m still on planet Earth?”
🇲🇽 Graciela Iturbide 🇲🇽
Photo by Graciela Iturbide
The motivation behind Graciela Iturbide’s photos is simple. “Everything that surprises me in life,” she said in Art21 series Investigation. “I am interested in what my eyes see and what my heart feels.” Her eyes and heart have led her to produce breathtaking and poetic black-and-white photos. She began her career in the late 1970s when she photographed el pueblo Seri, then the Juchitán indigenous group in Oaxaca.
There’s also a documentary quality to her images, which might be a credit to her beginnings. Before she studied photography under Manuel Álvarez Bravo, she studied cinema.
🇻🇪 Antonieta Sosa 🇻🇪
Cas(A)nto by Antonieta Sosa
New York-born Antonieta Sosa’s known for recreating her apartment for the installation Cas(A)nto at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas, which she decorated with dust from her actual bedroom. She called the reinterpretation, a “game between reality and fiction.”
She prefers to call herself an art investigator. “I dislike the Kantian concept of the artist as a genius, since that often results in total megalomania accompanied by many frustrations, when someone believes themselves to be a genius and does not achieve the level of recognition they believe they deserve,” she told Bomb Magazine.
🇵🇪 Victoria Santa Cruz 🇵🇪
Victoria Santa Cruz grew up in a bilingual household – her mother spoke only Spanish, but her father was fluent in both English and Spanish. She read Shakespeare in English, and her family listened to Wagner and Puccini in her home. Her mother danced marinera. By 1960, Victoria and her brother, Nicomedes, had started a theater company named Cumanana. Their cousin, Octavio Santa Cruz – an art historian – once said that Victoria and Nicomedes had “revitalized the Afro-Peruvian culture.” Victoria, for example, is credited with boosting Zamacueca – an ancient dance with roots in African Spanish, and Andean music.
Her decima cantada Me Gritaron Negra rejects Eurocentric beauty standards. It’s inspired by her first taste of racism when she was just 7. “One day there was a little girl among them with blond hair,” she said in a 2007 interview. “And she immediately said, ‘If the little black girl wants to play with us, I’ll leave.’ And I thought, ‘Who is she?’ She had just arrived and was already dictating the law. What a surprise it was when my friends told me, ‘You can leave, Victoria.’”
🇨🇴 Alicia Barney 🇨🇴
Yumbo by Alicia Barney
Ever since debuting as an artist, Alicia Barney’s work hasn’t lacked environmental or political commentary. She became the first artist to denounce the environmental damage being done to Valle del Cauca.
Yumbo – which featured 29 glass boxes – became one of her most defining pieces. She wanted to capture the smell of the small Colombian municipality of the same name. Every day she’d drive or take the bus to Yumbo and then close it there to trap in the air. By the end of it, when she held her hand at the bottom of the see-through boxes, she couldn’t see it. “This was the air that the people breathed there,” she said, according to El País. “How was it possible that no one had said anything?”
Check out the full list of Latin American and Latina women whose work will be featured at the Hammer Museum here.