Response: Latino Art Now Conference 2008 Sunday, Mar 2 2008 

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.

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Latino Art Now 2008 Tuesday, Jan 22 2008 

I’m very excited about this conference. Here are the details:

Latino Art Now banner

January 31-February 2, 2008 @ The Americas Society

In the spring of 2005, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College and the Inter-University Program for Latino Research hosted the first national Conference on the Assessment and Valuation of Puerto Rican, Chicano, Latino and Hispanic-Caribbean Art.

Due to the success of the 2005 event, Centro and IUPLR along with The Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA, The Americas Society and El Museo del Barrio will host the Latino Art Now! Conference on January 31- February 2, 2008 at the College School of Social Work and the Americas Society in New York City.

Conference Title
and Theme

The Latino Art Now! Conference will explore the valuation of Latino art within a global context. Lectures and panels will address such topics as: the historical evolution of Latino art; the artistic manifestations of specific geographic areas; Central America, South America and U.S. Latino/a artistic expression and the inter-relations among them and their entanglements with North American visual culture; critical evaluation of the production of individual artists and artists’ groups; the U.S. Latino art infrastructure; theoretical and cultural frameworks in the presentation/reception of Latino art and media.

 

For more info visit:

http://www.nd.edu/~iuplr/LatinoArtNowConference.htm

 

Artists and students with valid ID: $25

 

 

 

 

The Racial and Cultural Politics of Reclaiming Cherokee Kin Thursday, Nov 15 2007 

The Indigenous Studies Speaker Series at UT Austin hosted a lecture by Dr. Circe Sturm from the University of Oklahoma. Her research centered on the growth of the American Indian population since the 1960s and the shifts in racial demographics. She focused on an interesting phenomenon called racial shifting, which entails a person of a certain race choosing to switch over to another racial category on the census data. Since the 60s, a growing number of Whites are claiming Native American heritage, a majority of which claim Cherokee kin.

If we have approximately 500 federally recognized Native American tribes in the continental United States, why would someone choose to claim Cherokee heritage? Sturm mentioned the following reasons: Cherokees have a reputation for civilization and cultural syncretism, high rates of exogamy, lenient tribal enrollment policies, and the fact that Cherokees are understood as potentially being White.

Sturm described the current scholarship in racial shifting as focused on reasons of economic gain, and she agreed that would account for some of the shift. However, her research led her to believe in other themes that could influence such decisions. As she interviewed some of the self-identified Cherokee tribes certain patterns began to appear. Many of them addressed their Whiteness as cultural emptiness and they found the social or communal aspect of Indian culture most appealing.

Sturm concluded by reminding us of how culture is a social construct that has been racialized. Her lecture and the discussion that followed was intellectually stimulating and reminded me of my experience at the National Museum of the American Indian. I recalled how most of the museum-goers were White and how many of the exhibits felt romanticized, even though they had been curated by tribal community members. Sturm’s work poses interesting questions for the politics of museum display.

The Association of American Cultures Conference Sunday, Jul 22 2007 

I want to thank James Early, Director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Smithsonian for inviting me and the Western States Arts Federation, under the direction of Anthony Radich, for hosting The Association of American Culture’s (TAAC) Open Dialogue XI: Global Connections to Cultural Democracy Conference. This amazing gathering took place from July 12 through 15 at the Magnolia Hotel in Denver.

Some of the highlights of the conference for me were the first open dialogue held on Thursday, July 12. Justin Laing, Program Officer for the Heinz Endowment, and I facilitated the discussion and were able to get the crowd to share their views and expectations of the conference. By opening up with this dialogue the TAAC reaffirmed their belief in engaging in a participatory democratic process. After this dialogue we had a better sense of topics that would be selected for the following two days.

Doudou Dienne
Doudou Dienne, Photo courtesy: http://www.ciranda.net

The other highlight for Thursday was the keynote address by Doudou Dienne, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance for the High Commission on Human Rights. Mr. Dienne was originally born in Senegal and now lives in Paris with his family. He spoke eloquently on the history of racism and slave trade. He reminded us that diversity was first used by scientist and intellectuals to divide and categorize, but also with the development of inferiority theories to offer some form of validity to the enslavement of Black and Brown people all over the world. He urged us to move past the notion of promoting cultural diversity because it is simply a fact of life. Most of us live in diverse communities. His message was centered around cultural democracy.

He went on to define culture based on three values: Aesthetic, the multisensory expressions such as visual art, textiles, music, food, etc.; Ethical, the right and wrong based on the culture; and Human value which is intrinsic to all groups.

Tabassum Haleem
Tabassum Haleem, Director, Organization of Islamic Speakers Midwest.
Photo Courtesy: mtfellows.uchicago.edu

On Friday, July 13, we had open dialogues as well as a symposium covering four different areas. The presentations by Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto and Tabbassum Haleem during the Changing Culture Scapes session were both very enriching. Dr. Ybarra-Frausto is such a great storyteller, my favorite story was the “Cup of Coffee and Cake”. He reminded us about the changes in language and culture from one generation to the next and about the challenges immigrants face when beginning a new life in this country. Tabassum Haleem offered her insight as Muslim American living in a post 9/11 era. I appreciated her honesty and willingness to share about her family and Islam. She ended her presentation with a beautiful, oft-repeated verse from the Qu’ran. Chapter 49, verse 13 states:

“O Mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come together and know each other (not so you despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things.”

Sangeeta Isvaran
Sangeeta Isvaran. Photo Courtesy: narthaki.com

My other two favorite presenters were Sangeeta Isvaran, a dancer, choreographer and activist from Chennai, India, and Gabriella Gomez-Mont, independent curator and writer from Mexico City. Sangeeta goes all over the world and does workshops with displaced or often times abused children and youth. She uses dance as a form of empowerment. Gabriella Gomez-Mont, a member of Laboratorio Curatorial 060 works with contemporary artists in Mexico City and she shared with us three of the projects they recently worked on. James Early described the work as a visual insurgency and I would agree with his remarks. The curatorial group blends the boundaries between curator, artist and activist. Visually it was the most exciting work presented at the conference.

I feel blessed to have been there and met such wonderful people who are all working towards protecting and promoting cultural democracy. It is empowering and reassuring when faced with adversity or isolation to know that there are others out there who care and who are slowly but surely making a huge difference in the world.

Please visit the The Association of American Cultures website for more information on this conference, membership information and upcoming events. You may also visit Western States Art Federation for specific conference details.

Global Connections to Cultural Democracy Friday, Mar 16 2007 

I am participating this year as a panelist in this Dialogue and I would like to encourage emerging arts leaders to attend…

Open Dialogue XI: Global Connections to Cultural Democracy – Denver, July 12-15

The conference is a biennial convening of arts organizations and artists from communities of color and their supporters in America. The Association of American Cultures is working with WESTAF to produce the gathering this year.

Who should attend?
* Emerging and established leaders of color working in arts, culture and other creative industries
* Professionals interested in ethnicity and its impact on the arts and cultural policy

Stimulate both sides of your brain!
* Network with younger and seasoned community leaders
* Influence and reposition policy issues
* Explore contemporary national and global topics related to the arts

Engage in meaningful dialogue on:
* Progress and challenges for arts organizations in communities of color
* Changing demographics, global migration and the influence of these factors on a new generation of leaders

Conference Program Advisor:
James Early, Director of Cultural Heritage Policy, Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution

More info visit: http://www.westaf.org/taac2007

Abriendo Brecha Conference @ UT Austin Tuesday, Feb 28 2006 

It was an honor to be part of the Arts Activism panel at the Abriendo Brecha conference at The University of Texas at Austin. Rudy Cuellar and I presented some of the Royal Chicano Air Force silkscreen posters. I addressed the artist as a citizen and art collaboration, and Rudy described the work with details about the process and his funny anecdotes.

RCAF image
I felt really proud to be representing these Sacramento artists who have been mentors and friends for several years now. We also had the opportunity to interact with 4 other artists on the panel. Bernice Montgomery, a painter from Dallas, TX was one of my favorites. She really spoke from the heart, and addressed the many daily life issues that artists are faced with in this country, just to be able to survive as artists. There was also a wonderful muralist Joshua Sarantitis from Tuscon, AZ who presented beautiful monumental murals he creates with different communties all over the country. He described working with school children, as well as homeless people and gentrified communities. His work reminded me of the beautiful murals Juana Alicia does in the Bay Area.
I thought all the work was high quality and offered a promising outlook on the future of community arts. I hope I can get Claudia Bernardi to come and present for next year’s conference on the Walls of Hope project in El Salvador. I also think a panel of Emerging Cultural Activists would be very appropriate.

Download PowerPoint: RCAF Presentation