Sounds of Cultura (SOC): Hidden Histories in Latin American Art

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“Hidden Histories in Latin American Art” exhibition features Latino and Latin American artists who investigate stories or histories marginalized by the media, historical events and present circumstances. Dr. Vanessa Davidson, Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art for the Phoenix Art Museum, talks about the exhibition.

JOSE CARDENAS: In Sounds of Cultúra, S.O.C., hidden histories in Latin American art, is an exhibition that features Latino and Latin American artists who investigate histories or stories that have been marginalized by the media, historical events and present circumstances. Here to talk about the exhibition is Dr. Vanessa Davidson, curator of Latin American art for the Phoenix art museum. Welcome back. You also have fascinating things to tell us and we're going to be showing some pictures as we go through the interview. The first two are what I think you referred to as installation shots that give us a sense for the feel and the ambiance of this particular exhibition.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: Hidden histories in Latin American art is a small-scale exhibition that's very powerful, despite its size. I've been thinking about these themes for many, many things now but the opportunity arose to focus on them thanks to a very generous gift, the piece that you see right there on your screen, the Mexican artist, the search. A piece created in 2014. And this piece which I'll talk about in a little more detail in a moment seems to epitomize an approach shared by many contemporary artists, both Latino and Latin American, a approach to sociopolitical themes that is at once poetic and polemical but not propagandistic.

JOSE CARDENAS: And the history behind this one, there's the disappearance of the women across the border from El Paso.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: So there was a residency in Juarez, and of course, it may be known to some of us because of the scourge of female homicide called femicides and disappearances of young women in that city that have been taking place since the beginning of the early 1990s. What is so significant about this piece is she went to the center and she relocated urban glass walls that you see in these images that have been papered with notices from desperate families.

JOSE CARDENAS: We've got a closeup of one of them now.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: These desperate families seeking their mothers and daughters and sisters and cousins. [ Spanish ] Help us to find her. One of the most powerful elements beyond the very powerful nature of this piece visually is it has a sound component as well and the sound is the recording of the train that crosses the city every day going to El Paso bringing goods from Mexico to the United States and from the United States to Mexico without much information or resolution --

JOSE CARDENAS: You don't just hear it, you feel it.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: It is tuned to such a frequency that it makes the glass panes themselves vibrate and tremble. It transports the viewer to the desperate family situation that so many are having to endure.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you've got a number of artists featured in this and we've got another installation shot that focuses on the work I think of Annie Lopez?

VANESSA DAVIDSON: She's actually a fourth-generation artist and the work that you see here, the dress is called naturalized citizens and what she's done is to create a series of dresses in 2013 using paper that's commonly used to make tamales.

JOSE CARDENAS: We've got a closeup and people get a better sense I think of what you're talking about.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: The intricacy, the paper that she's used, she's modified with cyanotype prints that document the evidence of her family's legal status as Americans.

JOSE CARDENAS: And her family's been here five generations. What's the point she's trying to make here?

VANESSA DAVIDSON: The point she's trying to make here and the following work which we'll show is that, despite the fact that some Mexican Americans have been living here for so long and have such deep roots in the community, sometimes, they're still made to feel like illegal aliens because of racial profiling.

JOSE CARDENAS: In some instances, families that were here when Arizona was still part of Mexico.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: Exactly, that's exactly the point. And if you'll show the second image, it's called sighting Mexicans, walking down a Phoenix street, oblivious to the targets on their heads and bodies. So this making the history of Phoenix and Mexican Americans living in this country, making it more explicit, bringing that out into the open it and discussing it in a frank way, a way that might make some of us uncomfortable.

JOSE CARDENAS: We're going to hear from Annie Lopez herself, she's going to be giving a lecture at the museum.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: She'll be at the Phoenix art museum on June 24th, which is Wednesday. It's 7:00 p.m. The museum is open free to the public every Wednesday from 3:00 in the afternoon until 9:00 in the evening. And also on first Fridays from 6:00 to 9:00.

JOSE CARDENAS: We've already had one lecture by one of the artists featured in the exhibition, we've got an image a very powerful image that we want to put on the screen of a confrontation, a political confrontation. Tell us about this.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: It's called -- [ Speaking Spanish ] It's from 2011. I think that this is one of the works that especially resonates with us on an international level because what you see in the image is a vintage image that she clipped from a newspaper many years ago of argentine protesters confronting police across a wooden barricade in 1960s Argentina and this is imprinted upon a wooden barricade, the circularity of meaning. What I think is so compelling about this work in particular among many others is the way it resonates in a contemporary context. Although this artist is deeply rooted in the sociopolitics of Argentina, this image represents protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, or the Middle East. This is a piece that's at once universal, historical and contemporary.

JOSE CARDENAS: And I should mention or ask if I didn't already when's the exhibition? What day does it run to?

VANESSA DAVIDSON: May 9th through August 23rd.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you've got something exciting, coming up after that?

VANESSA DAVIDSON: We do, as a matter of fact. I'm not sure if you know but we received a generous bequest in 2013 of almost 300 works of art from the vice royalties of Peru and also of new Spain, as Mexico was called.

JOSE CARDENAS: You've got one image that was restored here.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: Thanks to the generosity, we've been able to restore and clean many of these paintings, such as the before and after images of the virgin of Guadeloupe, in our galleries, beginning on September 5th, in the exhibition titled master works of Spanish colonial arts in the Phoenix art museum's collection.

JOSE CARDENAS: Another great exhibition. I know we have to have you back to talk about your recent trip to Cuba. Thanks so much for joining us.

VANESSA DAVIDSON: Thank you.

JOSE CARDENAS: And that is our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and eight, thank you for watching. I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.

VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Dr. Vanessa Davidson : Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art for the Phoenix Art Museum

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