September 22, 2023

Exhibits show how Latinx art 'is not a monolith'

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is being celebrated through Oct. 15, ASU News is featuring four essential artworks to see in the ASU Art Museum, selected by Alana Hernandez, the new senior curator and CALA Alliance Curator of Latinx Art.

Two of the works are part of the exhibit “Luis Rivera Jimenez: A Brief Proposal on Race and Cultural Cosplay,” the first solo show for the Puerto Rican artist, and two are from the exhibit “Making Visible,” which features artworks from the permanent collections and examines how they perpetuate and fortify mythologies of the American West.

Hernandez, who was most recently the executive director and curator of CALA Alliance, a Phoenix-based LatinxA gender-neutral term for Latino/a. arts organization, said she selected these artists to show that Latinx art is not a monolith.

“We have artists from Puerto Rico, from the border in Texas and from here in Arizona that all have a dynamic richness and cultural background,” she said.

“It’s important that we make sure that we show the dynamism within our communities.”

“Phatic Function #2,” 2023, by Luis Rivera Jimenez (pictured above)
Wheat-pasted LaserJet-printed posters

This work includes more than 200 phrases that are printed and pasted on a gallery wall. Rivera Jimenez culled the phrases during his three-month stay in Phoenix for his residency at the CALA Alliance.

“Phatic” refers to language that’s used for social interaction, such as, “What’s up?” rather than to give information. Among the artwork’s phrases are: “Which of you will tell me who I am?” “Why do you people not hug each other?” “Do I really have to be brown forever?”

“The artist really thinks about a digital global society — that we’re all connected in certain ways, especially when we talk about race,” Hernandez said.

“What’s important about this project is that when we think about race and questions of race, often people can feel uncomfortable with that macro topic. But here (within the exhibition) it ranges from the frivolous to the more intense.”

Some of the phrases he overheard while on the light rail, including “It’s racist but chill.”

Others are bits of song lyrics, including one from “Potential Breakup Song” by the Disney duo Aly and AJ.

“It’s something I would play in the office. I know it’s Aly and AJ, but if you have no context, what does it mean? ‘Let me repeat that — I want my s*** back.’ It can speak to land-back movements,” Hernandez said.

“Within the exhibition, Luis has created a space where we can collectively talk about race and have hard conversations, but we can do so in any manner we bring to it.”

“Field Positions,” 2023, by Luis Rivera Jimenez features screen-printed dress shirts with phrases that are personal to the artist. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“Field Positions,” 2023, by Luis Rivera Jimenez
Screen-printed dress shirts

“Field Positions” features three stacks of dress shirts screen-printed with messages. Rivera Jimenez collaborated with Phoenix-based artist Gloria Martinez-Granados on this artwork.

“He’s interested in language, and we see that manifested in different ways. These are his most deeply personal phrases,” Hernandez said.

One of the messages is, “why is my self worth so at ends with how others perceive me?”

Hernandez said: “It questions, ‘Who wears dress shirts — these inexpensive shirts that cost less than a dollar to make?’”

“Pulso,” 2022, and “En Tu Honor,” 2022, are chromogenic prints by the queer artist Isela “Chela” Meraz Rodriguez. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“Pulso,” 2022, and “En Tu Honor,” 2022, by Isela “Chela” Meraz Rodriguez
Chromogenic prints

Isela “Chela” Meraz Rodriguez is a Phoenix-based artist who was born in Durango, Mexico.

“This is an interesting work from a queer artist. As someone who is from Durango but grew up in Arizona, what does it look like when the cowboys don’t include her and don’t include people like her?” Hernandez said.

“As a queer woman, and especially in Mexican American communities with machismo, what does it look like to dress up and be what she would identify as most comfortable?

“She’s queering this idea of the noble cowboy in a fascinating way.”

Hernandez said that many museum visitors don’t realize that most artworks in museum permanent collections come from donors.

“We often have little control over what comes into the collection. The tastes and trends of museum collections are for the most part informed by donors,” she said.

“Now, it’s important that we have checks and balances.”

That means the museum must work hard to put the artworks into context.

“Because of where we are sited, much of the work references historic cowboys and representations of Indigenous communities that are not from their vantage point,” she said. “So the aim of this exhibition seeks to visualize invisible history.”

Hernandez said she’s excited to have “Pulso” and “En Tu Honor” in the permanent collection.

“It’s a contemporary look at the Southwest and what the cowboy means,” she said.

“Being queer in Mexican American communities is often challenging. She had a rekindled relationship with her father after she came out, so this is her father’s clothing that she uses to costume herself.”

Untitled, from the series "America’s Finest,” 2014, is a lithograph by Vincent Valdez. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Untitled, from the series "America’s Finest,” 2014, by Vincent Valdez

Valdez is a painter and printmaker from Texas.

“So much of his work is representational. So much of it underscores the social plight of Mexican American communities,” Hernandez said.

“I would say Valdez is one of the best painters of our generation. He’s a wonderful painter and person and teacher.”

This image of the boxer is also St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr who survived being shot through with arrows.

“He blends the iconography of his Catholic upbringing, which a lot of Mexican Americans have, with tenacity. The brown body in pain, many times,” she said.

“It blends the ideas of Indigeneity, Catholicism and of our cultural shift to the boxer as a heroic figure, and sports people as heroic figures.”

The artwork is part of a wall in the gallery that contextualizes images of “noble Indian,” from earlier representations to what it looks like when Indigenous people represent themselves.

“Luis Rivera Jimenez: A Brief Proposal on Race and Cultural Cosplay” will run through Dec. 31, and “Making Visible” runs through April 28, 2024.

Top photo: Alana Hernandez, senior curator and CALA Alliance Curator of Latinx art, gestures toward Luis Rivera Jimenez's work “Phatic Function #2,” 2023, which features more than 200 phrases that are printed and pasted on a wall of a gallery at the ASU Art Museum. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News