It had been seventeen years since I had returned to NY. There must be a law against that for art enthusiasts. I remember walking around as a kid and feeling the size of an ant in that concrete jungle. Despite the fact that I’m older and aware that Manhattan Island is only 24 square miles, I still got that same feeling. Central Park was as beautiful as ever and I managed to get lost there on Friday morning.

Tati in NYC

I am still trying to process everything from the conference. The time flew by and there was so much to be said, it was almost overwhelming. I will only attempt to highlight the aspects that were memorable for me, meaning the good, the bad and the ugly.

My absolute favorite presentation was the contribution by the Cuban-American art historian Alejandro Anreus titled “Contranotas.” I wish I had recorded his talk–it was brilliant. He began by giving us the current Grove Art Dictionary definitions of “Latino artist” and “Latin American artist.” And through the course of his 20-minute lecture he managed to expand their definitions and create a complex web of relationships that revealed their commonalities and their context in the global arena. Often times we forget that art movements are not created in a vacuum, they are part of a larger cultural moment or reaction, and that cultural production is not bound by national or physical geographies. One of the things that really struck me was his call to learn from the African American experience. I believe he is right, as their struggle runs parallel to ours. Since the late 70s, Hampton University has published the International Review of African American Art, a platform for the discussion of African American art, artists and collections. This is something that we are really lacking in our field, a scholarly journal dedicated solely to the documentation of Chicano and Latino art. Aztlan has in some ways filled this void, but it is an interdisciplinary journal dedicated to Chicano Studies.

I was really impressed with the curatorial presentations. Elvis Fuentes, Curator at El Museo del Barrio, gave an excellent talk on Cuban artists from Miami. The same was the case with Carmen Ramos, Curator at the Arts Council of Princeton, who spoke on Dominican artists. The lunch workshop offered by Natasha Bonilla-Martinez on “Appraising Your Art Collection” was really eye-opening and very useful for artists, art historians and collectors. She is one of a handful of certified art appraisers with a specialization in the Latino field. She explained the intricacies of appraising and some of the difficulties within the Latino field because of the lack of documentation and published material on artists, particularly catalogue raisonnés.

One of the aspects that I found disappointing at the conference was that everyone came with their own agenda. And I’ll be more specific, Chicanos came to represent Chicano interests, Salvadoreños for Salvadoreños, Dominicans for Dominicans, Latin Americans for Latin Americans, etc. Most of these groups showed a great deal of resistance to the homogenization of the term Latino, which is perfectly understandable. However, in the grand scheme of things it is defeatist to come to a conference such as this one and bring along your own nationalist or ethnocentric agenda. The purpose of these gatherings is to come together and form a national coalition of artists, art historians and cultural workers.

It makes me so upset to think that we spend so much time pointing out all the differences amongst ourselves, and yes, there is beauty in all that difference but there is no power. How can we bring about institutional change when we waist our time on these ridiculous discussions? A great case in point is Jose Falconi’s divisive rhetoric and his new book What About the Other Latinos? I’ve not had the time to read this Peruvian intellectual’s work, but when I do I’ll make sure to publish a review on this site.

I must clarify that not everyone in attendance came with this frame of mind. There were many young people in their 20s and 30s who really embrace a Pan-Latino, Pan-Latin American, or even hemispheric view of our cultural production. There were also elders and visionaries like Tomas Ybarra-Frausto whose interests move beyond borders and colonial constructs. These are the people that give me hope.

Another highlight for a print junkie like myself was the Latino Printmaking Panel on Saturday morning. The panelists were all part of Consejo Gráfico, a national network of ateliers that focuses on the preservation and advancement of Latino printmaking. One of the hot debate issues was the use of digital printing technology. Some of the participants, such as Pepe Coronado favored the use of a hybrid technique, while others kept to more traditional printmaking.

In conclusion, Latino Art Now 2008 was a terrific conference, I learned a great deal and feel very lucky to have attended. I want to acknowledge the organizing committee: Yasmin Ramirez and Pedro Pedraza from Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (CUNY), Gilberto Cardenas from the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, and Tomas Ybarra-Frausto for this massive undertaking on a shoe-string budget. Dr. Cardenas mentioned that Latino Art Now 2010 will most likely be held in Los Angeles. I hope the next stop is Austin, TX.