Sandra Eleta (Panamanian, b. 1942), Edita (la del plumero), Panamá (Edita [the one with the feather duster], Panama), 1977

When the Future Comes

December 10, 2017
– By Beatriz Cortez

Throughout the run of Radical Women, we offer weekly gallery talks by artists, scholars, and writers who discuss specific works from the exhibition that inspire and provoke them. In this post, Beatriz Cortez recaps her talk.

Immigrants have something that I imagine to be a super power—the ability to be in two places or in two different moments in time at once. Simultaneity is our imaginary, our temporality, our vision, and our landscape.

As I arrive at the Hammer Museum to see the exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, I immediately think about the disconnect between the art world and the daily reality faced by the majority of immigrants here, some of them from the countries included in the map and timeline at the entrance to the galleries. It is impossible not to think about it. After all, the show opened here, in the southern part of California, a region of great diversity where the majority of the population speaks Spanish. After Mexican immigrants, Salvadorans make up the largest group of Latinos in the city. This exhibition not only reinstates the place that these women artists deserve within the international history of art, but also takes on the difficult task of coming here to tell many of us about ourselves.

Latin American countries have a colonial history of racism, conquest, decimation of Indigenous populations, slavery, as well as newer, more recent migrations. Because of this, just as we struggle against racist policies and behaviors here in the US, we resist the remnants of a history of colonialism that impacted us in our countries of origin. Our movement through time and space opens up the possibilities to question concepts that once defined us in our previous home. Resisting chronologies, I try to look at these women artists not as my predecessors in the chronology of the history of art, but as my contemporaries, as the interlocutors of untimely conversations happening out of joint with chronology, at once collapsing time and opening simultaneous possibilities for space. 

Sandra Eleta (Panamanian, b. 1942), Edita (la del plumero), Panamá (Edita [the one with the feather duster], Panama), 1977
Edita (la del plumero), Panamá (Edita [the one with the feather duster], Panama)

A photograph in the Radical Women exhibition by Panamanian artist Sandra Eleta, Edita (la del plumero), or Edita (the one with the feather duster)—originally part of a series titled "Servitude"—evokes a nation occupied by the United States, and a Canal Zone where Panamanians were not welcome, except as service workers. The ironic parallel with some nearby neighborhoods in Los Angeles does not escape me. Edita sits on an elegant chair, and I imagine a future where she will no longer occupy these spaces only to clean them, just as I imagine a future when immigrants who clean and beautify the spaces of Los Angeles will also get to own them. I look at this photograph, and I imagine Edita in a future far from that moment—the rightful owner of a similar chair, her make up still fashionable, her clothes transformed. When the future comes, immigrants in Los Angeles will have full access to education and health care, and will no longer be forced to work as gardeners, domestic workers, or day laborers. When the future comes, we will have our dignity intact. I know it because I can see it in the pose, in the beauty, and in the way Edita looks at me from the gallery wall.

This post is dedicated to Nancy Perez.