Hammer Museum's 'Radical Women' to showcase Latina artists on the politics of the female body

Latina and Latin American women artists rarely get air time in U.S. museums. That changes next fall when the Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions devoted to art from Latino and Latin American artists around the globe touches down in Los Angeles.

Of particular note will be “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985,” at the Hammer Museum, set to take place in the fall of 2017. Today the museum released the list of participating artists — a lengthy lineup that includes 260 works by 116 artists (all women) from the U.S., Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Even Paraguay, never a contender in surveys about Latin American art, has two artists represented in the show.

“We are looking at a lot of women that have been completely overlooked,” says Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, one of the exhibition’s guest curators. “These are women that have shaped how we understand contemporary art today, how we use our bodies, how we can think about our bodies at a conceptual level.”

The exhibition will feature well-known artists such as Ana Mendieta, the Cuban American artist known for her earthy body works, and Lygia Pape, the Brazilian sculptor known for her psychological approaches to space. (The recent exhibition of sculpture by women at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in downtown Los Angeles featured an ethereal installation by the latter, consisting of near-invisible gold threads woven into a corner, so that they appear like a shimmering mirage of a prism.)

And the show will also explore the early works of artists who are by now familiar to art historians. For example: Patssi Valdez, one of the core members of the 1970s Los Angeles art collective Asco, a group known for its staged photographs and cinematic street performances.

“Many people know her as part of this group,” says Fajardo-Hill. “But I was interested in understanding who Patssi was before Asco. And before Patssi was in Asco she was working with all of these ideas of masquerade, of being a Chicana, of looking into the camera, of dressing up.”

The show also promises to put a spotlight on the histories of lesser known artists, such as Sandra Llano Mejía, of Colombia, who staged performances that employed medical equipment, and Isabel Castro, a Chicana photographer whose images, from the early ‘80s, touch on the societal issues facing young Mexican American women.

One particularly intriguing story revolves around the Colombian artist María Evelia Marmolejo, who was known for staging radical performances on topics such as menstruation and violence. Though she had been well-known in the early ‘80s, she had been inactive for a long time. Marmolejo’s whereabouts and the whereabouts of works were unknown. Through some sleuthing, Fajardo-Hill was able to track her down in New York City, where she now lives. 

“She had been out of the art world, but our conversation reactivated her,” says the curator. “She was able to recover two of her videos and her negatives. She basically recovered her work. Before this moment, María Evelia was completely invisible. The history of art in Colombia had been written without her in it.”

Other artists include Gloria Camiruaga, a Chilean who made video that touched on militarism; the Argentinean Margarita Paksa, whose conceptual objects explored themes of repression and fear; and Brazilian Carmela Gross, whose abstract sculptures spoke to issues of absence and loss.

And, of course, there are the many artists who straddle the Latin America/U.S. divide — such as Monica P. Mayer, a feminist performance artist from Mexico, who, for a time, participated in the Feminist Studio Workshop in Los Angeles.

An exhibition that spans a continent and an infinite number of social, racial, political, economic and environmental realities has the potential to be unwieldy. But Fajardo-Hill says it will all be brought together by a focus on the body — “how the body can be political and conceptual, how through the body you can say certain things.”

And it unites the experiences of Latin American women with Latina women living in the U.S.

“Chicana and Latina artists have often been kept separate from other artists in Latin America because they were speaking different languages, the social conditions were different,” says Fajardo-Hill. “But they were all fighting for something — fighting oppression. They may not all have been fighting dictatorships, but they were often fighting prejudice. And their work was often sidelined.”

With “Radical Women,” Fajardo-Hill hopes to bring some of these voices out of the sidelines and onto the main stage. This will be done, in part, through the publication of a detailed exhibition catalog that will provide additional insights into the social and political contexts from which each artist emerged.

“This will be a really important contribution,” she says. “A lot of the histories of art have been written in a really hierarchical way. ‘Who did it first?’ ‘What was the epicenter?’ But what you see with conceptual art, with performance, is that it happened all over the world — in much harsher conditions and in very exciting circumstances. Integrating this into the history is so important.”

At a time when the work of women remains marginalized at many prominent arts institutions, this richer, more complete version of art history should help fill out some yawning gaps.

Sign up for our weekly Essential Arts & Culture newsletter »

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

MORE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS

Plácido Domingo on playing Macbeth in L.A. Opera's season opener

At a Houston museum filled with coffins and hearses, it's time for 'Death 101'

The most striking thing missing from last night’s debate stage

An earlier version of this article stated that there will be 118 artists featured in "Radical Women." The number is 116.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
80°