“Progressive Transitions”: Latin American Art as Acts of Resistance
Bronx Hispanic Festival Inc. presents: The New York Latin American Art Triennial 2019: “Progressive Transition”
The 2019 New York Latin American Art Triennial, “Progressive Transitions” shows us that the act of creating art for many Latin Americans is more than just an outlet for expression, but is also a means of survival.
This exhibition provides these artists with a platform to reveal their stories, showcasing over 100 Latinx artists and representing 20 different Latin American regions. The work on display touches on many different themes - climate change, the burdens of capitalism, gender identities, immigration, emigration, Hurricane Maria aftermath, and much more. The way each artist depicts their work is an act of resistance, especially as we recognize the importance of reclaiming narratives that are in danger of being lost.
Puerto Rican artist Dhara Rivera shows us that the idea of climate change isn’t new or radical, but has been a matter of survival for many cultures with close ties to their indigenous roots. Rivera’s video, Homenaje al Pterocarpus (Homage to the Pterocarpus) is about “Sangre de Dragon” or “Blood of the Dragon” - a tree with red sap, known in the caribbean islands for its healing properties. This amphibious tree has been a dominant part of the region’s ecosystem and is now facing extinction due to global warming and the demands of tourism. The video shows the artist working with students to form webs of glass spheres. Within each sphere is a replica of the trunk and roots of the blood tree. These globes float delicately on the water, paying homage to this endangered ecosystem and revealing how the caribbean islands are connected - both culturally and ecologically. Rivera’s work acknowledges the severity of climate change, but even more so demonstrates how this is hardly a new concept for communities who are most affected by it.
Dhara Rivera, Homenaje al Pterocarpus, 2009
Consistent with the theme of uplifting oppressed voices, Mexican artist Victor Mora explores how capitalism and its demand for consumption and mass production is felt most by minimum wage workers in Latinx communities. Regimen de Vida is a large installation of colorful woven shopping bags.
The large collection of empty bags examine the repetition of production and consumption, and how this continues to leave many in poverty and unable to meet basic needs, such as food and healthcare. As decorative and alluring as these bags may seem, their sheer quantity and the weight of their emptiness is enough to make the viewer sense the sick irony of this economic reality. Mora’s installation is a tangible representation of the burden of capitalistic greed, sharing the narratives of its victims in ways that words in a news report often fall short. Mora shows us the importance of uplifting voices that have been perpetually silenced, like that of low income, minority workers who are forced to work demanding jobs for incredibly low pay just to keep up with the demands of capitalism.
Victor Mora, Regimen de Vida, 2018
There are a few points in the exhibition where artists talk about how crucial stories are often intentionally manipulated or silenced, thus emphasizing the necessity for our communities to bring these realities to light. A very recent and tragic example is the US government’s refusal to acknowledge and claim responsibility for the loss of 4,645 lives from Hurricane Maria, of which several Puerto Rican artists in the exhibition discuss.
Antonio Martorell holds the country accountable for this tragedy in the piece, Números “¿Quéslaque?” “Es que la.” This large painting of white numbers on black felt is both a tribute to the thousands who died, and also a critique of the government’s attempt to conceal these numbers from the public. Martorell states that “the attempt to deny death as evidence of the government’s inability to handle the crisis cannot be ignored. We have ‘to tell’ it, as we have to count the dead, because the dead count… the departed are our memory. If we deny our memory, we accept oblivion.” Martorell brings to surface the importance of sharing these tragic realities, and encourages us to reclaim our narratives in order to not be erased or forgotten.
Antonio Martorell, Numeros “¿Quéslaque?” “Es que la”, 2018
Adriàn Viajero Romàn, another Puerto Rican artist created a mixed media and found objects sculpture called Caja De Memoria Viva II: Sobreviviente, Digna Quilles or “Picking Up the Pieces” after the hurricane’s destruction of Puerto Rico. This hanging cube depicts the face of a woman who survived the storm, Digna Quilles. Inside the hollow structure is a curation of found and donated objects left discarded by the hurricane. These artifacts were once the belongings of many Puerto Ricans, compelling the viewer to recognize the humanity in a tragedy that is often reduced to a death toll number. The display puts a person and a face at the forefront to illicit the attention and empathy for the victims affected by the tragedy.
Adriàn Viajero Romàn, Caja De Memoria Viva II: Sobreviviente, Digna Quilles, 2018
The New York Latin American Art Triennial 2019’s, “Progressive Transition” is about celebrating the strength and resilience of Latinx cultures by uplifting and dignifying our collective experiences. If you are a Latinx person, you will likely feel seen in any one of these shows from the 7 participating galleries. If you are not Latinx, you will have the opportunity to hear from people who are usually talked about, rather than with. As we continue to uplift and validate each other’s narratives, we must always center the most marginalized voices. As I reflect on the exhibition, I must say that the narratives of the LGBTQ+ community were mostly overlooked, thus reinforcing this need to seek out voices at the forefront of resistance. In upcoming triennials, I look forward to viewing more artwork from our queer and trans Latinx art community whose work is a critical part of this “progressive transition.”