The Unsung Radical: Latina Women Artists

While studying art history in college, the department’s core classes followed the same white European arc that most of my history classes did: art began with the ancients of the Mediterranean, flourished in Europe for centuries before becoming a worldwide hodgepodge of creation as globalization occurred. Then the standard art history textbook would then include one or two token chapters for every other region of the world, usually encompassing tens of thousands of years of artistic expression into a dozen or so pages. If I wanted to learn more about Chinese Art History, I had to take a specialized class. If I wanted to learn about Latin American art, I was out of luck – my university didn’t offer that course at all.

The Hammer Museum of UCLA in Los Angeles, California is fighting to change the art historic narrative by predominantly featuring Latin American and other marginalized art communities. This fall, the museum is debuting a new exhibit called Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, an innovative exhibit shedding light on Latin American, Latina, and Chicana artists and their major contributions to contemporary art that have previously gone largely unstudied.

Josely Carvalho, Waiting, 1982

In a teaser trailer released by the museum, one of the co-curators, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, says “The very fabric of the city of Los Angeles is constituted by Latin American women, Latina women, and Chicana women. This exhibition – it’s filling a void. You know, this is also a part of our culture, and I think this is going to be a show that reveals a part of us.”[1] The exhibit argues that it is impossible to understand contemporary art in the second half of the twentieth century without studying these women’s work.

The exhibition is comprised of works by over a hundred female artists from fifteen countries, ranging from photography to performance and video art to paintings. The curators chose this era purposefully, which was both a very tumultuous and significant time both in Latin American and Contemporary Art history. These women created radically experimental styles and works of art that they felt expressed their experiences as Latina women in their unique time and place. Many of the works of art offer insight into their understanding of their lives and world, focusing on the political body they were a part of and the politicization of the female body, in particular.

Lourdes Grobet, La Doble Lucha. La Briosa. (The Double Struggle. La Briosa.), 1981.

“These themes draw together the artworks across national and geographic boundaries, making the case for parallel practices by artists often working in very different cultural conditions,” explains Andra Giunta, another co-curator.[2] The Hammer Museum also hopes to connect these themes across temporal boundaries, hosting programming both onsite and at other community and university locations on current feminist art as political tools both from 1960-1985, and afterwards to the present.

Radical Women will be open at The Hammer Museum from September 15, 2017 until December 31, before traveling to the Brooklyn Museum to reopen there in March of 2018. The museum also intends for it to travel to Latin American countries after its stay in New York.

The Hammer Museum as an institution puts an emphasis on art and exhibitions relevant to present day issues. In fact, it’s mission states “The Hammer Museum at UCLA believes in the promise of art and ideas to illuminate our lives and build a more just world.”[3] As Fajardo-Hill commented, Latin American women are inherent to the story of Los Angeles, and more broadly, the Latin American narrative, which must be understood to truly understand American and world history. The curators hope that this exhibition will bring visibility to the experience that has long been ignored.

Furthermore, this exhibit it part of a much larger project, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a $16 million initiative to turn the spotlight onto the Latin American and Latino contribution to art and architecture in South California and its influence around the world.[4] Between the 50 organizations participating, the five month event beginning in September of this year will host exhibits, film screenings, food festivals, programs, performances and more.

For class this week, we read short stories, poetry, exhibition catalogues, and scholarly works about the Latin American women’s experience in United States. The authors showed how radical these women were, whether that be in subtle or obvious ways. In “Caroline’s Wedding”, a short story by Edwidge Danticat, an immigrant mother hesitantly allows her youngest daughter to break from her Haitian traditions surrounding the role of women at home, in relationships, and marriage.[5] The catalogue from Presente! The Young Lords in New York exhibition features the critical role Latina women played in the Young Lords Organization and their activist work in New York and Puerto Rico.[6] Both involve radical actions for these women making changes for themselves, their families and their communities. These creative works all bring attention to the radical Latina women the reader – or visitor to The Hammer Museum’s upcoming exhibit – may know in our lives, and appreciate the new recognition these women are receiving and will receive as museums and artists continue to bring their narrative to the forefront.


Cover Image: Marie Orensanz, Limitada (Limited), 1978. Courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

[1] “Radical Women Sneak Preview” Vimeo video, 1:23, posted by “The Hammer Museum,” September 6, 2016. Accessed 12 Mar 2017.

[2] The Hammer Museum at UCLA. Hammer Museum Presents Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960‐1985 Over 260 Works By More Than 100 Artists From 15 Countries On View September 15–December 31, 2017. 2016. Web. Accessed 12 March 2017.

[3] “About Us.” The Hammer Museum. 12 March 2017.

[4] “About Us.” Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. 12 March 2017.

[5] Edwidge Danticat, “Caroline’s Wedding,” from Krik? Krak! (Vintage, 1996), p.157-216. Print.

[6] ¡Presente! The Young Loprds in New York exhibition catalogue

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