by Jessica Geddes
Latin art in America today unveils a culture rich in emotion and charged by everyday influences. The art produced in the Latino community reflects the emotional bonds to family and earth. The artwork gives the viewer a glimpse into very personal experiences and unique viewpoints of Latino heritage. All of this is aptly displayed in Arte Latino, the current exhibit at Park City’s Kimball Art Center.
Although there are only a small group of artists of Latino heritage in Utah, their legacy is becoming full of high acclaim and rich with notoriety. Though Utah Latino artists can encounter difficulties in being represented within the arts community, the Latino movement onto the Utah art scene is becoming a reality to many artists who are sharing their stories and appreciation of art itself. There are several vibrant artists who are currently emerging onto the Utah scene and many can be seen at the Kimball exhibit. Most importantly, these artists are giving their audience information and in depth views into their culture and heritage.
Many geographical regions define the Latino community and most of these areas or countries are represented within Utah. Arte Latino, which opened on March 12th, presents the work of fifteen artists from all over North and South America. They come from many walks of life and work in several media and styles: from the photography of Guadalupe Sandoval Rodriguez (1) to the stone sculptures of Felix Saez(2); from folk-style works such as Elena Sepulveda’s Waiting for the Carriages (3), to the surreal qualities of Guillermo Colmenero’s Matador (where a skeleton matador dances with a raging bull) (4), and the abstract work of University of Utah professor, Kim Martinez. Both men and women of Latino heritage have come together in one extraordinary exhibit to reveal their commonalities and differences. Hopefully everyone will take the time to discover the abundant art which comes from this rich heritage and appreciate all that it has to offer.
In reading the artists biographies for the Kimball exhibit, I found the one common thread to be the influence of daily activity and the importance of family. The constant reminder of ancestry and family tradition plays the most important role in forming these artists. Intense relationships are bound in a single word, familia. In Elena Lazary’s Mujer Boliviana (5) the happiness of a mother glancing at her baby is felt with the help of soothing colors. Even the mention of the word “mother” can mean the family matriarch or the mother earth, from which all things come from.
Artists become influenced by the way their family members perceive them and how they grow together with their siblings. One of the exhibiting artists, Ruby Chacon, tells how her brother implied she was turning her back on her culture when she went to college because she was moving further into the mainstream American way of life. It wasn’t until later that she came to understand the definitions of the term “brown.” Chacon tells us, “I am deeply touched by my roots. I am an artist who paints her Mexican family, the people around her, and the experiences that come from that. I have always been connected to the term CHICANA because it embraces my history.” The viewer can sense the many dimensions of Latino culture in Chacon’s Self as Mestiza (6) through the swirling image of this self portrait.
There is strong communication within the culture on the importance of the family unit. The importance of verbal communication within the Latino family shows us how special the relationships are. It seems as though if a problem may arise, it can be solved through verbalization. This way of communication leads to storytelling and becomes the way in which history passes from generation to generation. The stories are the lives of ancestors from long ago. In Michael Trujillo’s The Player, (7) the image’s unique viewpoint reveals an understanding of the existence of life. The “player” is seated in a calm palette of warm earth tones. You cannot see his face but know that behind the hat he is seasoned with music and memories. The love of family and culture is portrayed in Latino art with such intense force that even the starkest white or boldest colors seem too weak. Latino art holds the viewer’s emotions through an underlying need to feel experience and question all that is around. A small figure piece by Andrea Corwin shows a woman standing and holding a book with a somber face; although she is shades of gray, her blouse reveals an emotional palette of bright colors. As sad as she may be perceived, you leave feeling hopeful through the bold use of color.
Just as there are no family boundaries, there seem to be no boundaries within the geographical regions of the art. The art that comes from Latin America and Latin countries feels connected although divided by miles. Pilar Pobil’s Pueblo de Montana (8) and Carlos Matamoros’ Arising from my Land (9) show a common feel within the landscapes although they are depicting two far away places. Pobil’s painting shows the mountains of Spain while Matamoros’ shows the mountains of his homeland, El Salvador.
In addition to family and the land, tradition is a central part of Latino art and also becomes a strong part of the creator and the process of developing art. Even a “gringa” such as myself can understand how important these traditions are to the culture. It becomes everything and is the glue that holds the artwork together. Traditions are shown in genre paintings like Selytin’s Callas (10), showing the tradition through the types of flowers and the way they are arranged. Tradition can be seen in the references to the bullfight and dancing. Even the santos or icons the Latinos create are treated as sacred and spiritual — as though they hold the keys to past ideals and spirits of ancient tradition. Everything about Latin art begs to be seen and experienced with contrast of bold colors and raw appeal of the earth in color and subject. As a viewer you feel as though you are being welcomed into a new family or culture. Ernesto Apomayta has created his personal style to express the “side-by-side harmony of East meeting west, past meeting present, nature meeting industrialization”. His approach, like so many other artists of this genre, becomes his hands on experiences. There are no limitations and possibilities for interpretation are endless.
This tradition provides a concrete base for the creativity platform. Without the cultural traditions, the emotion in the artwork would not be as evident. We think of American traditions like Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday and shopping the day after Christmas. These seem superficial compared to Latino traditions, which become a guide to show the importance of our time here on this earth. As a viewer, the artwork makes you feel special and singled out from the common thought process. You have to ask yourself about your own thoughts on life, death and acknowledging mother earth. It seems so obvious in Latino art that our role as humans is to protect mother earth and provide family, which in return forms invaluable relationships. The experience becomes humbling when you look at the core of the influences in Latino art. We then understand how important it is that we appreciate and acknowledge this vibrant art form.
One of the most remarkable occurrences is the ever emerging population of women artists from this culture. These women have to push through the strong traditions of family, religion and society and tailor their art for their own circumstance. They are taught to play the role of mother and only that. To embrace another outlet for emotional and physical strength such as painting or sculpture is a hard battle to win. We begin to understand trials and triumphs when looking at the many roles women are required to play in the traditional Latino family. They are raised to become mothers and raise their children in a traditional environment. Little time is left when raising children for other things like painting and sculpture. However, there is a desire within the women of Latin communities to create, not only life, but beauty in art as well.
There are many emotional angles in Latino art. One person can create art for art’s sake and never be recognized, while the other creates for profit. The Latin artist does whatever he or she feels and the objective is to give the viewer a glimpse of their heritage and culture. Educated or not, the commonality remains the same in Latin art, the passion for discovery both within oneself and without is forever burning bright. The process from idea to viewer becomes clear through the openness of one human to another. Ernesto Apomayata’s Salsa Dancing (11) shows a group of open and free figures dancing in a circle. Latin art wants you to relate and appreciate all of the great and perplexing things in the world.
The colorful, joyous world depicted in Apomayata’s piece was recreated on March 12th at the opening of Arte Latino. A festive atmosphere was created with wonderful food and the live music of Salsa Brava, not to mention the lively art that graces the walls. This atmosphere will continue over a six week celebration of Latin culture, including poetry readings, a film series and a mural project.
There are no limitations when it comes to the commitment of the Latin artists to portray subjects in an honest and pure way. These fabulous artists want their chance to be seen and give as much information to the audience for a complete connection. At the Kimball opening, Ruby Chacon, who has been a professional artist in Utah for a number of years and who has even operated her own gallery of Latino art, said, “I didn’t know there were so many of us!” Arte Latino is not only bringing Latin art to the community, but also helping make a community out of the Latin artists. We should embrace their differences and applaud their efforts in the everchanging world of art.
Arte Latino is much more than a celebration of Latino visual arts. The exhibit is just the launching ground for a six-week long celebration of Latin culture, including poetry readings, a film series and a mural project. On Wednesday, March 23rd, join the artists participating in the exhibition for a round-table ArtTalk discussion at 6:00pm. For more information visit www.kimball-art.org
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.