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Brooklyn Museum's "Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985"

Jul. 2, 2018
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Brooklyn NY, 6/26/18, 1:35pm 

As I reread my notes from last Thursday’s visit to the Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 show at the Brooklyn Museum, I slowly slip into the skin of the woman I was before entering the first room of the exhibition. I try to remember, what were my hopes like? How did I think of the world? And how many women do I still need to know about? 

I entered the first room of the show and was struck by the heartbeat of Teresa Burga (Peru, 1935), in synch with the sudden euphoria I feel when entering a good show. My eyes swept the walls, the ceiling, and the floor at a steady rhythm, dictated by this first artist’s (he)art. I read the description of the show. 123 women artists from 15 different Latin American countries. 123 women with 123 different experiences and 123 different bodies of questions coming from 15 different places, political climates, periods, backgrounds, schools of thought. 123 women from 123 mothers who taught them 120 different ways. 123 artists  represented in an important art space. 123 femme voices in a patriarchal city. As my eyes ate the lines of descriptions, I breathed well. My lungs were free to fill up from safe and inspiring air.

Beyond the fact that Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 gives a voice to these women, and creates a safe and inclusive space for all minorities and underrepresented artists to move and feel, it questions the filter of history. As I moved through the rooms, I wondered why was I so drawn to all the descriptions and short biographies siding the artworks. Immediately, I realized I had never been taught any of this history. No aspects of these women’s lives had been mentioned in my eighteen years of history classes. I knew more about Rodin’s affairs and Napoleon’s hidden arm theory than about any of these 120 women. Why were they making their work and for whom? What did it mean? I want to learn Spanish, I thought. 

I note:  

I don’t know this language

I don’t know anything about all this history

I am not hoping to understand

I am just reading 

I am seeing words I like

Where is my privilege from 

I have never felt so stimulated

I continue reading.

All these fragments of biography have helped me see better. These women mapped their bodies, spoke up, wrote, carved, photographed, recorded in one way or another their feelings, their fear, their anger. I have been questioning myself about the politicized body, and about endless feminisms. What we make is a mirror of our identity and experience. The feminist artist is a politicized body. I felt like nothing was forgotten, no one was left out, as if female superheroes had succeeded in journalistically covering yesterday with their hands and heads. Sometimes they represent, like Lenora de Barros (Brazil, 1953) in Homenagem a George Segal / Homage to George Segal (1975/1990): The artist brushes her teeth, getting more and more buried under a mountain of white toothpaste/shaving cream that hides her face, putting forward white censorship while observing the disregard for minorities’ basic needs, sharp teeth on white foam. However, it could also simply mirror her love for George Segal’s sculptures. Many interpretations. Open ended. I don’t look for them, I feel them. Then, I feel stupid to interpret something I have no knowledge of, and I remember when I had used a photograph of Ana Mendieta (Cuba, 1948 - New York, 1985) for a nonfiction piece about my mother’s loneliness in my sophomore year of college. My teacher had found it unrelated and politely had asked me to remove it. 

The viewer is invited to learn, to experience, and to understand. Anyone who is not a Latino femme artist from the ‘60s-‘80s shall empathize while walking around this city of work, this dozen of windowless rooms, where we can forget who we are in today’s society. We can overlook our own roles, step out of ruling egocentrism, and glance at the unfortunately obscure lives that have changed history.  I questioned my life map, my interests, my knowledge, my beliefs. I wondered about the experience of these women who had dared to be radical. 

“Experience is the convergence of diverse elements, of the individual and social context, of history, and History.” - Lea Lublin (Poland/France/Argentina, 1929-1999)

Research these women, spend time with their work, read their stories, and if you are in New York City between now and July 22nd, run to the Brooklyn Museum.

This was published under Adolescent's collaboration with Speciwomen. You can check them out here.