Atlántica # 60

I
The last two years have seen the rise of a worldwide feminist consciousness, and as a corollary, of a militancy on behalf of women’s rights that has taken on unsuspected dimensions and effects. In the US and Europe, the most obvious sign of this renewed feminist commitment was the Women’s March. Held in Washington DC in January 2017 to protest against misogynist and racist statements by newly-elected president Donald Trump, the initiative quickly spread to 673 cities around the world.1 Likewise and a little over a year earlier, in June 2015, Ni una menos (Not One Woman Less), the first mass rally against feminicide, was held in Buenos Aires, leading to immediate repercussions and mass replicas in other Latin American countries, including Peru, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay. In addition, in October 2017, social media were taken over by the #metoo campaign, which seeks to cast light on how sexual abuse against women is normalised in various professional spheres.


Violence and discrimination against women is, of course, an age-old problem, but the activism to fight against it—reinforced by the viralisation of information on social media—has taken on new proportions and is beginning to permeate various spaces of public life, the art world being no exception. On the contrary, the art sector ability to respond to these situations was demonstrated on 30 October 2017, when in response to allegations for sexual coercion against Knight Landesman, one of the editors of the journal Artforum, some 1,800 art professionals signed a public letter denouncing abuses of power in the scene.2

 


In the midst of this unsettled situation, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985,3 an exhibition co-curated by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta,4 opened at the Hammer Museum in September 2017. It should come as no surprise, then, that the show has been the most commented-on and the one which has received most media coverage within the framework of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,5 an initiative organised by the Getty Foundation that swims against the tide of the current xenophobic climate in the US and whose goal is to cast new light on the cultural and artistic legacy of Latin America.6


Indeed, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 strikes a highly sensitive chord, as it is the first systematic attempt to research and make visible the experimental practices of Latin American, Chicana, and Latina women artists between 1960 and 1985, artists who, to a greater or lesser extent, have been overlooked by the grand historical narratives of Latin American and North American art. As such, it is a project aimed at historical recovery that follows the guidelines laid down by other exhibitions organized by feminist curators and art historians in the US to fight against the erasure of the contribution of women in the art field.


From the outset, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 has been described as a project that will mark a before-and-after regarding studies with a gender perspective in Latin America. Nonetheless, in this article I wish to argue that the reach of the show far exceeds gender studies, and makes possible nothing less than a new genealogy for Latin American art. At the same time, I wish to examine how the practices of the artists included in the exhibition interrogate the present and reflect about the challenges that, inevitably, the project leaves pending.


Radical Women | Atlántica

Teresa Burga (Peruvian, b. 1935), Autorretrato. Estructura. Informe, 9.6.1972 (Self-portrait. Structure. Report, 9.6.1972), 1972. Mixed-media installation with drawings, photographs, documents, electrocardiogram results, phonocardiogram results, luminous object, and sound. Installed dimensions variable; approx. 40 linear ft. (12 linear m) M HKA / Collection Flemish Community. Photo: Brian Forrest.

II

We are welcomed into the first hall of Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 at the Hammer Museum by Me gritaron negra (They Screamed Black at Me) (1978), piece by the choreographer, composer, and tireless promoter of Afro-Peruvian culture Victoria Santa Cruz (1922-2014). Straddling poetry and video-performance, this autobiographical artwork gives an account of an episode of discrimination and racism experienced by the artist during her childhood.


As a group of young performers shout the word ‘negra’ in unison, Santa Cruz recites: “I was barely seven years old. Not seven, I was not even five! Suddenly, voices in the street screamed ‘black’ at me. Am I perhaps black?, I wondered. What means to be black? I didn’t know the sad truth lurking there. And I felt black, like they said. And I retreated, like they wanted. And I hated my hair and my thick lips and looked sadly at my brown flesh …”


Making the spectator experience emotions like shame, rage, and indignation, Santa Cruz shows how racism is such a structural and omnipresent reality that is internalised even by its victims, transforming them into involuntary accomplices of their own oppression and making the construction of racial identity a traumatic moment.


In spite of the formal experimental character of Me gritaron negra and the fact that it operates as an aesthetic critique of the structure of racial and patriarchal oppression in Peru, this is only the second time that the piece is shown in a contemporary art exhibition.8 And, what is worse, the true is that very little has been done to assess Santa Cruz’s contributions to contemporary culture in Peru, beyond her aspect as a folklorist.


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Anna Bella Geiger (Brazilian, b. Argentina, 1933), Brasil nativo, Brasil alienígena (Native Brazil, alien Brazil), 1977. Photography: Luiz Carlos Velho. 18 postcards. 46 × 17 1/8 in. (116.8 × 43.5 cm) overall (framed). Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria, New York.

Santa Cruz is just one of the 120 artists included in the exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 whose work has been silenced by official art history. Steeped in a consciousness of this vast operation of censorship,9 through the exhibition the curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta assumed the commitment of lending visibility to the artistic production of Latin American, Chicana, and Latina artists while, at the same time, setting in place a theoretical and interpretative framework for those practices.


In fact, Fajardo-Hill and Giunta are renowned art historians, who have led projects re-reading Latin American art from the aesthetic programmes proposed from the region, subverting the categories of European art history.10 Nevertheless, this endeavour became complicated when it addressed a mapping of artistic production in Latin America from a feminist perspective. In fact, unlike many art movements, feminism cannot be defined by a particular support, focus, or style, but moreover, with the exemption of Mexico, feminism has not been a driving force for the arts in Latin American countries.


The curators affirm that the widespread militancy of women artists in left-wing parties relegated feminism to a secondary cause. However, this by no means implies that social representation of women has not been interrogated in the visual arts. On the contrary, throughout their research Fajardo-Hill and Giunta found that during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Latin American, Latina, and Chicana artists produced work that not only introduced a radical transformation on a formal level,11 but that also changed the way in which women’s bodies had been previously represented, both by the conventions of nineteenth-century academic art and by the modernism of the early twentieth century.


The time span for the show (1960-1985) was chosen precisely to address the beginning of this transformation: in other words, the historical moment in which the revolution of bodies was produced and multiplied in countless iconographies. At the same time, it helps us to understand how, for these artists, the exploration of the body—in its sexual, racial, and social specificity—became a vehicle to intervene in the public sphere and to challenge the censorship imposed by repressive governments. In consonance with the above, the political body is the category suggested by Fajardo-Hill and Giunta as an interpretative framework to group together those practices which—located between an intense interrogation of the representations of the body and of the violent reality of dictatorships—redefined the language of contemporary art in the region.


Radical Women | Atlántica

Paz Errázuriz (Chilean, b. 1944),  La Palmera (The palm tree), 1987 from the series La manzana de Adán (Adam’s Apple), 1982-90. Gelatin silver print. 15 9/16 × 23 1/2 in. (39.5 × 59.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Galería AFA, Santiago. ©the artist.

III

Installed in such a way as to break with the classic walkthrough based on chronology and national representation, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 includes more than 280 artworks divided into nine thematic sections featuring a variety of different media:12 Self-Portrait; Body Landscape; Performing the Body; Mapping the Body; Resistance and Fear; The Power of Words; Feminisms; Social Places; andThe Erotic.


The logic underlying the installation of the show was not predicated on making formal connections between the various artworks or ultimately grouping them together under one single category. Even less did it seek to inscribe the artists within the very narratives that overlooked them or which selected only a few on the basis of their similarities of their male counterparts. On the contrary, the exhibition proposes a model of rewriting genealogy based on understanding the political struggles that these practices represent, the ways of confronting power structures in each of the countries where they were inscribed, and the type of subjectivity they fought to make public.


In her essay How to Install Art as a Feminist,13 the art historian and curator Helen Molesworth asks whether it would be possible to introduce feminist discourse into the museum in such a manner that it would have a real impact on the ways in which historical narratives are constructed through the spatial logic of the exhibition. Molesworth holds that the manner of constructing influence, production, and historical interpretation has been based on a fairly conventional family narrative. That is to say, on the Oedipal narrative, whether in the version of the “son who kills his father” (the metaphor of the triumph of one style over another) or that of a “mother and daughter” (where the idea is rather to conserve tradition).


Molesworth claims that, because of the constant threat of invisibilisation, women artists have historically sought connection more than separation. In other words, they have tried to consolidate relationships with their predecessors instead of striving to overcome them. In place of the Oedipal model, she invites us to rethink what it would mean to “spatialise” a historical queer narrative, one in which the attention is displaced from our fathers and mothers towards our contemporaries, and in which the “family” is chosen by shared struggles and not by acquired commitments.


This is precisely the sensation that leads one through the various halls in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 at the Hammer Museum. Rather than a vertical, hierarchical, and evolutionary history, the exhibition proposes a rhizomatic non-linear walkthrough open to unexpected interchanges. In the Self-portrait section, for instance, it is exciting to see in the same space Autoretrato. Estructura. Informe. 06/09/72 (Self-portrait, Structure, Report, 06/09/72) (1972), a series of diagrams and medical reports by the Peruvian artist Teresa Burga (1935-) which give an account of a scientific examination of her own identity, and Antes y Después (Before and After) (1981), a photo-performance in which the Mexican artist Silvia Salazar Simpson (1939-) portrays herself with her head and face completely covered with plants, soil, and even worms, evoking a return to the organic.


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María Evelia Marmolejo (Colombian, b. 1958),  11 de marzo—ritual a la menstruación, digno de toda mujer como antecedente del origen de la vida (March 11—ritual in honor of menstruation, worthy of every woman as a precursor to the origin of life), 1981. Photography: Camilo Gómez. Nine black-and-white photographs. Five sheets: 11 3/4 × 8 1/4 in. (29.8 × 21 cm) each; four sheets: 8 1/4 × 11 3/4 in. (21 × 29.8 cm) each. Courtesy of María E. Marmolejo and Prometeo Gallery di Ida Pisani, Milan. ©the artist.

In Social Places, the section showcasing artists seeking to visibilise socially marginalised groups, one can find Brasil Nativo, Brasil Alienígena (1977), a series of postcards by Ana Bella Geiger (1933-) in which the artist confronts portraits of indigenous women with portraits of herself and her friends; the famous photographic record of the transsexual community in Chile in the mid-1980s by Paz Errázuriz (1944-); and a series of photo-performances by the Chicana artist and former member of the Asco collective Patssi Valdez (1951-), who parodies and subverts the representation of Latino identity in the public sphere in the US.


At the same time, Mapping the Body, the section that explores the social place of the female body, features such disparate works as Barrigas (Bellies) (1979-1983), an ambiguous mise en scène of maternity by the Peruvian artist Johanna Hamann (1954-); the performance-tribute to menstruation by the Colombian artist María Evelia Marmolejo (1958-) entitled 11 de marzo – ritual a la menstruación, digno de toda mujer como antecedente del origen de la vida (March 11—Ritual to Menstruation, Worthy of All Women as Antecedent of the Origin of Life) (1981); and O eu e o tu (1967) a latex suit for two people in which the celebrated Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920-1988) sought to reinforce mutual exploration and the potential of sensorial perception through the integration of the body in art.


Among the many pieces on display in the Resistance and Fear section we find the documentation of the action El encierro (The Lock-up) (1968) by Graciela Carnevale (1942-), in which the artist literally locked the audience up inside the exhibition hall; É o que sobre (1974), a piece in which the Italian-born artist Anna Maria Maiolino (1942-) portrays herself with a pair of scissors seemingly about to cut her own tongue and nose, alluding to the climate of suffocating repression in Brazil during the years of the dictatorship. Also included is Rape Scene (1973) by the Cuban-American Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), a performance in which the artist exhibits her body, naked from the waist down, with her hands and feet tied and blood on her legs, with the purpose of evoking just how extended the culture of rape is among us.


Radical Women | Atlántica

Graciela Carnevale (Argentine, b. 1942),  Acción del encierro (Lock-up action), 1968. Ciclo de Arte Experimental, Rosario, Argentina; Photography: Carlos Militello. Black-and-white photographs. Fifteen sheets: 3 9/16 × 5 1/2 in. (9 × 14 cm) or 5 1/2 × 3 9/16 in. (14 × 9 cm); one sheet: 6 7/8 × 9 7/16 in. (17.5 × 24 cm). Collection of Graciela Carnevale/Archivo Graciela Carnevale. ©the artist.

In The Erotic section we come across the surprisingly humorous Cama (Bed) (1974) by the Colombian artist Feliza Bursztyn (1933-1982), a sculpture of shiny red fabric wrapped around a trembling mechanical mass that suggests constant copulation. We can also find Ruido (Noise) (1984) by Karen Lamassonne (1954-), an installation showing a naked woman reclining in front of a television screen in an intriguing game of autoeroticism. Following the same line is Colchón (Mattress) (1964/1985) by the Argentine artist Marta Minujín (1943-), a soft, coloured sculptural volume that operates as a metaphor for the sexual liberation since the late sixties.


Unfortunately, there is no space here to review all nine sections conceived by the curators, and even less so to give an account of each of the artworks and of the manifold dialogues struck up between them. However, we must acknowledge that Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 proposes an alternative genealogy which is more coherent with feminist ideals—in opposition to narratives based on exclusion, rejection, and triumph—and which revolves around the body, inviting us to rethink the lines of influence. The result is a history that makes visible the experiences and conditions of production shared by the artists in spite of geographical and temporal distances.


IV

In contrast to the exhibition design, and possibly due to didactic reasons, the catalogue of Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 is laid out following a linear criterion. A series of articles, specially commissioned from a group of experts,14 seeks to afford broader and deeper insights into the intersections between art and feminism in each of the countries of the region. The publication also includes biographies of the artists written by a group of researchers,15 as well as a portfolio of images of the works shown in the exhibition.


Radical Women | Atlántica

Ana Mendieta (Cuban, 1948–1985), Rape Scene, 1973 (estate print 2001). Suite of five estate color photographs. 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.6 cm) each. Courtesy of The Estate of Ana Mendieta. Collection, LLC, and Galerie Lelong, New York.

The catalogue, unfortunately available only in English, is a forthright document that proves that it is no longer possible to exclude women from the history of Latin American, Latino, and Chicano art, and that including them within historical art narratives requires a process of deconstructing categories predicated on masculinist modernism—categories such as “good taste” and the “quality of the work”—as an expansion of our way of understanding the aesthetic and political theory of images.


At the same time, during the symposium The Political Body in Latina and Latin American Art, held at the Hammer Museum just three days after the opening of the exhibition, the curators invited a number of artists and theorists to jointly rethink the challenges posed by the exhibition project. In this context, the Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa wondered how it is possible to continue with the task of visibilising the practices of these artists who, undoubtedly, have been overlooked in their home countries. Meanwhile, the curator Miguel A. López highlighted the fact that Victoria Santa Cruz is the only black artist included in the show, and also emphasised the absence of indigenous artists. Underscoring that curatorial decisions can interrupt or perpetuate the logics of exclusion, during his intervention the Peruvian curator asked what it would mean for our curatorial methodologies to include the voices and experiences of Latin American women distinct from the predominantly mestizo and middle class feminist movement.


Certainly, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 leaves many pending challenges: the urgency of continuing the task of revising art historical Latin American narratives and the duty of dissecting relationships between race and artistic production in the region. Indeed, speaking of a critical or decolonising curatorial practice from Latin America also involves recognising the role that colonialism and racism continue to play in the construction of the modern and contemporary artistic canon; and the consequent process of “subalternisation” of the art histories and the aesthetics of the “non-Western” civilisations of the subcontinent. Perhaps only a curatorial work committed to a feminist and intersectional16 ethical position can subvert these hierarchies and promote the visibility of the forms of artistic creation of indigenous, afro-descendant, peasant and working class Latin American women artists, who undoubtedly are the most vulnerable to the modern and patriarchal system.


Radical Women | Atlántica

Feliza Bursztyn (Colombian, 1933–1982),  Cama (Bed), 1974. Assemblage with stainless steel scrap, cot, satin sheet, and motor. 43 5/16 × 70 7/8 × 27 9/16 in. (110 × 180 × 70 cm). Museo Nacional de Colombia. Artwork ©the artist. Photo ©Museo Nacional de Colombia / Andrés Mauricio López.

Having said this, it is equally important to recognise that the exhibition has been able to outline an alternative genealogy for Latin American art which, at the same time, enables us to discern new parameters for discussion, exhibition, and artistic research in the region. As Fajardo-Hill and Giunta say in a recent interview in the online magazine Artishock,17 “an exhibition like this invites us to review what has been sidelined and abandoned, and asks us to re-evaluate it from a historical dimension as a core of innovative aesthetic experiences in their time and with profound consequences in the present.”


The revolution in the representation of bodies undertaken by the artists included in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 anticipated the shift from macro- to micro-politics and the problematic of the production of subjectivity. In this regard, one could argue that these artists paved the way for the agendas and demands formulated by the lesbian, gay, trans, and queer communities in Latin America. In the present, and given the new force of right-wing governments, new nationalisms and fascisms, it is increasingly necessary for us to recognise the achievements of women artists who, with few referents—and without the rights we take for granted today—dared to confront, parody, and subvert omnipresent regimes of representation and who catalysed processes of social transformation. The fact that these same regimes remain active in the art world and in other fields is evidence that the feminist struggle to give a voice to new subjectivities and other forms of being in the world is today more important than ever.


Radical Women | Atlántica

Marta Minujín (Argentine, b. 1943), Colchón (Mattress), 1964/1985. Acrylic on fabric, foam rubber (reconstructed). 59 1/16 × 34 1/4 × 21 1/4 in. (150 × 87 × 54 cm). Collection of Jorge and Marion Helft.

1 – See: www.wikipedia.org

2 – See: www.news.artnet.com

3 –Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 was originally open to the public at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles between September and December 2017. It will be presented at the Brooklyn Museum in New York from April to July 2018 and at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo from August to November 2018.

4 – It is important to point out that the research and curatorship of the exhibition relied on a network of collaborators, notably Marcela Guerrero (assistant curator) and Connie Butler (chief curator at the Hammer Museum).

5 – In 2014 the Getty Foundation announced funding for art institutions in Southern California for the research and planning of an ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art entitled Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA. This funding led to more than 70 exhibitions and programmes which were opened simultaneously in September 2017.

6 – Since 2001 Latinos have been the largest demographic minority in the US.

7 – For instance, Global Feminisms: New Directions in Contemporary Art (2007), curated by Maura Reilly and Linda Nochlin at the Brooklyn Museum; Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution (2007), curated by Connie Butler at MOCA Los Angeles; and We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985 (2017), curated by Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley at the Brooklyn Museum.

8 – Santa Cruz’s work Me gritaron negra, has previously been shown at Lee mis labios (Read My Lips), an exhibition curated by Miguel A. López, between 21 October 2015 and 27 February 2016 at TEOR/ética (San José, Costa Rica).

9 – In “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes,” an article published in 2015 in ARTnews, Maura Reilly denounced the inequality between men and women artists, reaching the conclusion that there is implicit censorship of women, who, in the best of cases, represent about 30% of the art world.
See more at: www.artnews.com

10 – Fajardo-Hill is a former chief curator and vice-president of curatorial affairs at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in California (2009-2012) and a former director and chief curator at the Cisneros Fontanals Arts Foundation (CIFO) and the Ella Fontanals Cisneros Collection (2005 and 2008). She is also the curator of the Sayago y Pardon initiative Abstraction in Action, a multi-platform project on contemporary abstraction in Latin America. Giunta, for her part, is a former director of the Center for Latin American Visual Studies (CLAVIS) at the University of Texas, Austin. A researcher at CONICET and at the Instituto de Teoría e Historia del Arte Julio E. Payró (FFyL-UBA), she has written, among other books, Vanguardia, internacionalismo y política (2008) and Poscrisis. Arte argentino después de 2001 (2009). She recently curated, together with Agustín Pérez Rubio, the show Verboamérica at MALBA.

11 – Ironically the same qualities celebrated in the work of her male counterparts throughout the twentieth century—namely, an anti-systemic stance, experimentalism, originality, and non-conformity—were the signature features of this previously overlooked group of works.

12 – Painting, drawing, and sculpture, but, above all photography and video.

13 – Helen Molesworth, “How to Install Art as a Feminist,” in Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art, Cornelia H. Butler and Alexandra Schwartz , eds. (New York: Museum of Modern Art MOMA, 2010), 499-513.

14 – The essays were commissioned from Rodrigo Alonso, Julia Antivilo Peña, Connie Butler, Rosina Cazali, Karen Cordero Reiman, Marcela Guerrero, Carmen María Jaramilloo, Miguel A. López, Mónica Mayer, María Angélica Melendi, María Lauira Rosa, and Carla Stellweg.

15 – The biographies were written by January Parkos Arnall, Dorota Biczel, Leslie Cozzi, Mariana Von Hartenthal. Michael Nock, María Rodríguez Bennie, and Courtney Smith.

16 – That means, able to dialogue with other political and theoretical subaltern projects

17 – See: www.artishockrevista.com