Unlike colonization, the coloniality of gender is still with us; it is what lies at the intersection of gender and class and race as central constructs of the capitalist world system of power.
– María Lugones
Art history is built up by many artists “we deem worthy” alias the “canon”. As one might expect, a whopping share is made up by white European or North American male artists. Although many institutions are realizing this is not the way to go, and trying to be more inclusive, the Latin American, Latina, and Chicana female artistic legacy has been tremendously neglected in the Global North.
As Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, one of the curators has stated, has said, this practice of excluding these female artists from exhibitions, research, and collections, although they have participated in shaping 20th-century art, needs to be addressed. This is one of the many reasons why Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum, is so significant.
The objective was to foster a broad and inclusive dialogue between Latin American and Latina artists in the context of art history, and contemporary art. It’s meant as a historical recuperation of Latin American, Latina, and Chicana women artists whose legacy has been neglected over the years.
As the title shows, the works on display are made between 1960-1985, a key period in the Americas. At a point that I thought could be the beginning of the exhibition, there was an overview of political historical events of the countries the artists come from. Per country, it starts with the date female voting rights were introduced in that country. It followed up by dates of overthrown governments by the support of the USA, raging dictators, mass disappearances, but also facts about birth control rights, demonstrations for gender equality etc. It sets the tone what you’re in for in the exhibit.
Although the exhibition is divided into themes (The Self-Portrait, Body Landscape, Performing the Body, Mapping the Body, Resistance & Fear, The Power of Words, Feminisms, Social Places, The Erotic), all had to do with politics on a macro or micro level (“The personal is political”). Some of the artists were living under dictatorships (such as in i.g. Argentina, Brazil and Chile), had to create their work in secret, or had to flee the country. For example, Graciela Carnevale’s Lock-up Action, in which she invited people into an empty gallery, locked them inside and left. Somebody passing by rescued them by breaking the window. For the artist, it was a metaphor for the non-existing political freedom and political resistance. Other artists reflect female or racial oppression and discrimination such as Teresa Burga and Victoria Santa Cruz.
Although the exhibition seems like a feminist show, Brooklyn Museum curator Catherine Morris said that “Some of these women didn’t even consider themselves feminists. The women who were organizing against patriarchal conditions were not necessarily embracing what was sometimes seen as ‘an American export of feminism’. The artists at the time didn’t always think that it always applied to them.”
Even though they didn’t all perceive themselves as feminists, all artists in the exhibition were groundbreaking as curator Carmen Hermo has said: “Many of the artists documented or confronted human rights abuses; the violent conditions of so many realities of these countries. These women were using powerful words and phrases in their art in a time when they were surveilled and censored by the government.”
So what to expect? Lots of spectacular photography and video art, some sculptural installations, some paintings, and to get to know a lot of artists you didn’t know before. And the exhibition marks a long overdue first step in being inserted in the art historical canon.
Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 is on view until July 22, 2018. For more information click here.