"No son todas las que están ni están todas las que son"
The presence of Latinas and Latinos in the artistic and cultural life of American society, unless it serves some entity's commercial or political interest, is either nonexistent, insignificant, or unworthy. That has been the case in the past and continues to be so.#
—Antonia Castañeda, Arturo Madrid, and Tomás Ybarra Frausto
Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 includes works by more than one hundred artists, of whom eleven are US-born Latinas or Chicanas or Latin American–born women who were active in the United States. They represent various generations whose contributions, while of singular relevance to the exhibition, collectively point to a larger community—one that is spread all over the United States. In the spirit of current archival exhibition models, the artists discussed here provide viewers with an insight into the revolutionary activism of those times and show the ways in which the artists claimed their right to speech, turning the female body into a site of symbolic resistance. Women artists from Latin America operated, produced, and navigated in an era of social turmoil and military interventions. The work of those who moved to the United States developed differently from that of US-born artists, whose work reflects their experience of another historical, social, economic, and political reality. Yet those born in the United States and those who immigrated there while maintaining ties with their home countries, despite racial and class differences, share a legacy of developing an aesthetic that addressed the marginalization of women during the 1960s and 1970s.
In the decades after World War II, US feminism focused on the workplace, sexuality, family, and reproductive rights, and it was not until 1972 that Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Today, more than forty years later, the ERA has yet to be ratified by all the states. During the 1960s and 1970s Chicana, Latina, and Latin American women artists participated in the civil rights, antidiscrimination, antiwar, and gay rights movements, among others, fighting for equality. Although the US feminist movement focused primarily on the rights and concerns of white women, during the 1960s and 1970s, after increased protests and political battles against institutional racism, a "second wave" of feminism emerged that included those of color. Within the Chicano movement, women, although intertwined with their brothers in the struggle for equal rights, felt ignored and found themselves without proper representation as artists. From this, a Chicana feminist movement arose to respond to the complexities of Latina empowerment, often facing resistance from male Chicano leaders and organizers. At the same time gender inequality ran the whole spectrum, affecting LGBTQ Chicano/a artists as well.# By looking at the work of Latin American, Chicana, and Latina artists together, it is hoped that we can gain a better sense of Latina artists' contributions to US feminist art history and that evolving scholarly research can imagine what, if anything, "Latin American feminist art" might be.
Of the eleven artists under discussion, Celia Álvarez Muñoz, Judith F. Baca, Barbara Carrasco, Isabel Castro, Yolanda López, Sophie Rivera, and Sylvia Salazar Simpson were born in the United States, and those who were not—including Josely Carvalho, María Martínez-Cañas, and Sylvia Palacios Whitman—developed their careers in the United States in parallel with others born elsewhere, such as Marisol (Escobar), Ana Mendieta, Catalina Parra, Liliana Porter, and Regina Vater, all grouped under other geographic regions. Categorizing artists by their nationality is of course arbitrary; here, however, it serves to illustrate how their place of origin shaped their work and how the two-way cultural influence between the United States and Latin America at that time impacted their careers. Having established solid international careers, these Latin American and Latina artists surely serve as role models for subsequent generations of women artists.
In the work of Porter and Mendieta or of Martínez-Cañas and Palacios Whitman, there are connections between their origin and body politics similar to those of Chicanas and Latinas in terms of resistance and affirmation: seeking justice for artists cut off from the mainstream while resisting cultural assimilation in a complex, contentious, vibrant agenda. The distinction between the two groups, however, grows out of their divergent histories. For example, many of the California-based Chicanas countered the 1962 Chicano manifesto's patriarchal construct of "nationhood" as the mythical and spiritual Aztlán, instead substituting the territories that Mexico gave up in 1848 in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In contrast, many of the artists who arrived in the United States from Cuba or Central and South America were escaping dictatorships at home and engaged in a more international art activism. What unites the Latin American and Latina or Chicana artists is particularly evident in works of body and performance art that reflect the achievements of the US civil rights movement as well as US policy in Latin America from the 1950s to the 1970s, which involved military interventions across the hemisphere in response to the rise of left-wing governments. In some instances the United States was involved in overthrowing democratically elected governments, for example, through coups in Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973) and through its support of the Contras in Nicaragua.
In the 1950s and 1960s Latin American women artists were considered "radical" for breaking with social or magical realism and instead practicing various genres of lyrical or geometric abstraction.# During the 1960s and 1970s New York was a magnet for artists, particularly those breaking away from the old "radical" modes at home, working at the intersection of politics, poetry, body art, sound, happenings, film, and dance. The New York downtown scene was an especially fertile field for women artists such as the Argentine-born Marta Minujín and the Chilean-born Sylvia Palacios Whitman.#
Excerpted from Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985. Copyright © 2017 by the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Inc. Published by DelMonico Books, an imprint of Prestel. The full essay can be found in the exhibition catalogue, available here.
"No son todas las que están ni están todas las que son" is a well-known expression in Spanish, which translates roughly as "Not all who are here matter; nor are all who matter here." Epigraph: Antonia Castañeda, Arturo Madrid, and Tomás Ybarra Frausto, "Latino Art Still Excluded in American Society," San Antonio Express-News, February 28, 2016. For their assistance with this essay, I offer my appreciation and thanks to Anna Indych-López, Tessa Morefield, Adál Maldonado, and Armando Cristeto.
While many forms of gender inequality exposed by mainstream US feminism were relevant to women of color, overall the race and class experiences of white and brown women did not correlate. White feminists enjoyed access to racial privileges and simply did not speak to the injustices experienced by women of color. Moreover, they often failed to define themselves in terms that positively or proactively involved men, while many Chicanas remained invested in the struggles of the men in their community despite the patriarchal nature of traditional Mexican American culture. Rather than acceding to the common request that they wait their turn, Chicana feminists saw that the sexism within the Chicano movement intersected with racism in the larger society and made addressing both simultaneously a central component of their ideology. Today US feminism has expanded to focus on current social and economic inequities as well as political representation and the environment, all of which may lead to a more unified activism.
The contributions of women artists to the development of abstraction in Latin America were often relativized and seen as an add-on to those of their male counterparts under the general rhetoric that abstraction is universal and thus genderless. Despite these obstacles, many of today's celebrated Latin American avant-garde women artists remained in their home countries, while others—such as Lygia Clark, Lea Lublin, and Marie Orensanz—went to Paris instead.
See Carla Stellweg, "Magnet—New York: Conceptual, Performance, Environmental, and Installation Art by Latin American Artists in New York," in The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920–1970 (New York: Bronx Museum for the Arts and Abrams, 1988), 284–311. The chapter covers the period from 1960 to 1970.