OUR AMERICA AT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, ST. PETERSBURG SPOTLIGHTS COMPELLING WORK BY GIFTED LATINO ARTISTS FROM ONE OF THE COUNTRY’S BEST COLLECTIONS
Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art is one of the most expansive exhibitions of Latino art ever presented in the Tampa Bay area. It features 75 works by 62 gifted modern and contemporary artists, drawn entirely from the illustrious collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Our America opens Thursday, October 27, 2016 and continues through Sunday, January 22, 2017. Local sponsors are Bright House Networks; Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP; Telemundo Tampa; and the Tampa Bay Times.
The art is as diverse as Latinos themselves. Some works, including vintage posters, respond to political issues and the relationship of Latinos to the dominant Anglo culture. Others correct historical narratives, reclaiming the role of Latinos in the foundation and development of North America. Dr. E. Carmen Ramos, Curator of Latino Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, organized this traveling exhibition. Latino artists have always been part of the American story, but they began to assert their presence more fully in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights era and the struggles of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers Union. Along with other minorities, Latinos have struggled for equality, which is often chronicled in the works on view.
A number of Mexican-American artists looked to the great Mexican muralists—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—and began producing murals in Los Angeles. They celebrated their Mexican heritage, as well as their bicultural roots. John Valadez’s Two Vendors (1989), for example, looks like it would be at home in a mural.
Luis Jiménez (1940-2006) remains one of our most heralded sculptors for his dramatic use of painted fiberglass. His early, heroic Man on Fire (1969) recalls an anti-Vietnam War protest, but also conveys the Mexican-American spirit, which cannot be quenched. Margarita Cabrera’s soft sculptures of appliances bring to mind women toiling in maquiladoras (factories) on the Mexico-U.S. border, but they also humanize and feminize objects of steel, aluminum, and plastic.
Puerto Rican artists have explored their ties to the island, as well as to the vibrant Nuyorican culture now spreading to cities like Orlando and Cleveland. Juan Sánchez’s mixed-media work Para Don Pedro (1992), Marcos Dimas’s painting Pariah (1971-1972), Sophie Rivera’s photographic portraits, and Joseph Rodríguez’s C-prints are prime examples.
The Cuban exile and dreams of a homeland loom large in the work of many Cuban-American artists. In her installation El Patio de Mi Casa (1990), María Brito, who lives in Miami, explores the attempts of the exiled to establish a new home. María Magdalena Campos Pons mines the strong African dimension of Cuban, Latin American, and North American cultures in her photograph Constellation (2004).
Familia y fe (family and faith) have played a large role in Latino cultures and art, as exemplified by Muriel Hasbun’s evocative photographs, Carmen Lomas Garza’s telling works on paper, and Jessie Treviño’s affectionate tribute to his brothers, Mis Hermanos (1976). Emanuel Martínez’s Farm Workers’ Altar (1967) resonates with memorials created in the home.
Like their peers, Latinos have been influenced by North American and European artists, movements, and styles. Olga Albizu’s abstract Radiante (1967) radiates color and light, and the geometric paintings of Freddy Rodríguez, who was born in the Dominican Republic, have an infectious energy.
Our America places Latino art and communities squarely within the fabric of art history and the country at large. As photographer Joseph Rodríguez eloquently explains, “I come from a place of hope and that’s where the tenderness comes in. I want the reader to see ‘us’ not ‘them.’ ”
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