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Why Were These Women of Latin American Art So Radical?

  • Graciela Carnevale - Acción del encierro (Lock-up action), 1968
August 14, 2018
A philosophy graduate interested in theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

Following its success both at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the celebrated exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 is making its first and only stop in Latin America.

Soon on view at Pinacoteca de São Paulo, the exhibition brings together over 280 artworks by 120 women artists representing 15 countries, looking at the female body as a form of expression of social and political criticism during one of the most turbulent periods in recent history.

Curated by British Venezuelan art historian and curator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Argentine researcher Andrea Giunta, in collaboration with the Pinacoteca’s Chief Curator Valéria Piccoli, it will map the experimental artistic practices of Latin women artists and their influence on international art. Spanning media and techniques, the works on view include photography, video, painting, and others.

Martha Araújo - Hábito/Habitante (Habit/inhabitant), 1985
Martha Araújo – Hábito/Habitante (Habit/inhabitant), 1985. Documentation of performance: four black-and-white photographs. 6 7/8 × 8 7/8 in. (17.5 × 22.5 cm) each. © Martha Araújo. Collection of Martha Araújo; Courtesy of Galeria Jaqueline Martins.

The Representation of the Female Body

Arranged chronologically, one of the themes the exhibition addresses is the symbolic and realistic representation of the female body. Artists on view have explored the notion of the body as a decisively political field, embarking on radical investigations that defied the dominant classifications and the established art canons and denounced the social, cultural and political violence of the time.

With a new approach which brought a radical change in the iconography of the body, these artists fostered the emergence of new directions across various art fields, including photography, painting, performance art, video art, as well as conceptual art.

In this way, these radical artists dealt with the dense political and social atmosphere, which was largely defined by the patriarchal power in the United States on one side and by the atrocities of dictatorships in Central America and in South America that were supported by the USA on the other.

Sandra Eleta - Edita (la del plumero), Panamá (Edita [the one with the feather duster], Panama), 1977
Sandra Eleta – Edita (la del plumero), Panamá (Edita [the one with the feather duster], Panama), 1977, from the series La servidumbre (Servitude), 1978-79. Black-and-white photograph. 19 × 19 in. (48.3 × 48.3 cm). © Sandra Eleta. Courtesy of Galería Arteconsult S.A., Panama.

Distinct Dimensions of the Female Existence

The exhibition is structured around themes instead of geographic characteristics since the themes these artists explored crossed borders despite their radically different cultural conditions.

Experiencing dictatorship, imprisonment, exile, torture, violence, censorship, repression, but also the emergence of a new sensibility, these artists created work which is both poetic and political. As the curator Andreas Giunta explains, this is explored “through self-portraits, through the relationship between body and landscape, through the mapping of the body and its social inscriptions, feminisms and social places.” 

Having in mind a strong history of feminist militancy in Latin America, the exhibition proposes to internationally consolidate this aesthetic heritage created by women who center on their own body to allude to the distinct dimensions of female existence. The exhibition is the result of the extensive research which included trips, interviews and analysis of publications found in the archives of the Getty Foundation and Texas University among others.

Regina Silveira - Biscoito arte (Art cookie), 1976, Lenora de Barros - Poema, 1979:2016
Left: Regina Silveira – Biscoito arte (Art cookie), 1976. C-prints (diptych). 29 1/2 × 39 in. (74.9 × 99.1 cm); 39 × 39 in. (99.1 × 99.1 cm); 69 11/16 × 39 3/4 in. (177 × 101 cm) overall. Collection of Fernanda Feitosa and Heitor Martins. © Regina Silveira. Courtesy of the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo. / Right: Lenora de Barros – Poema, 1979/2016. Inkjet printing on cotton paper. 139,7 x 29,8 cm © Lenora de Barros. Photo: Fabiana de Barros. Courtesy of the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo.

A Long-Due Recognition

Although being decisive figures in the expansion and diversification of the artistic expression in Latin America, these artists have been widely underrepresented. Marginalized by a dominant, canonical and patriarchal art history, these women are finally getting a recognition they deserve.

As the Director of the Pinacoteca, Jochen Volz explains, the exhibition is of great relevance for contemporary artistic and academic research, as well as for the audience of the museum, since “it was mainly women artists who pioneered experimentation with new forms of expression, like performance and video art, among others.”

This comprehensive display, as well as the extensive research archive, provides new investigative paths and a deeper understanding of Latin American history and art. As curators notice, this is a wider and urgent agenda, with this exhibition being only the beginning.

Among 120 represented artists are Maria Luisa BembergNarcisa HirschLea LublinMarta MinujínMara Alvares, Lenora de BarrosRegina Silveira, Ana MendietaGracia BarriosDelfina BernalVictoria CabezasMargarita AzurdiaYolanda AndradeSandra EletaMargarita MorselliTeresa BurgaBarbara CarrascoTeresa Trujillo, and Mercedes Elena González.

The Pinacoteca’s curator Valéria Piccoli highlights the importance of the representation of Brazilian artists in the show:

In addition to the names that participated in the exhibitions at the Hammer and Brooklyn Museums, we have also included works by Wilma Martins, Yolanda Freyre, Maria do Carmo Secco and Nelly Gutmacher in the São Paulo exhibition.

Amelia Toledo - Sorriso do menina (Girl’s smile), 1976, Marta Palau - llerda V, 1973
Left: Amelia Toledo – Sorriso do menina (Girl’s smile), 1976. Mold in plaster. 16 9/16 × 13 × 3 1/8 in. (42 × 33 × 8 cm). Collection of Fernando and Camila Abdalla. © Amelia Toledo. Courtesy of the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo. / Right: Marta Palau – llerda V, 1973. Spanish jute, cotton. 63 × 39 3/8 × 7 7/8 in. (160 × 100 × 20 cm). Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM. © Marta Palau. Photo by Oliver Santana. Courtesy of the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo.

Radical Women at Pinacoteca de São Paulo

The exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 19601985 will be on view at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo from August 18th until November 19th, 2018.

The exhibition was first organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an initiative by the Getty Foundation in partnership with other institutions from South California, and was curated by guest curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta.

It is accompanied by a catalog that includes the biographical information of the 120 artists, and more than 200 images of the works in the show, in addition to other reference images, widening the panoramic scope of this mapping work beyond the exhibition. The publication is the first to bring together extensive research on the theme, and the Portuguese version, edited by the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, is the first to make this information accessible to readers in Latin America. Unlike the exhibition, the catalog is organized around countries and accompanied by essays by Fajardo-Hill and Giunta, as well as essays by ten other authors, including American curator Connie Butler and Guatemalan art critic and curator Rosina Cazali.

Educational visits will be organized as from August 25th, on Sundays and holidays, from 10.30 to 11.30 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m.

  Editors’ Tip: Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985

This stunning reappraisal offers long overdue recognition to the enormous contribution to the field of contemporary art of women artists in Latin America and those of Latino and Chicano heritage working during a pivotal time in history. Amidst the tumult and revolution that characterized the latter half of the 20th century in Latin America and the US, women artists were staking their claim in nearly every field. This wide ranging volume examines the work of more than 100 female artists with nearly 300 works in the fields of painting, sculpture, photography, video, performance art, and other experimental media. A series of thematic essays, arranged by country, address the cultural and political contexts in which these radical artists worked, while other essays address key issues such as feminism, art history, and the political body. Drawing its design and feel from the radical underground pamphlets, catalogs, and posters of the era, this is the first examination of a highly influential period in 20th-century art history.

Featured image: Graciela Carnevale – Acción del encierro (Lock-up action), 1968. Ciclo de Arte Experimental, Rosario, Argentina; Photography: Carlos Militello. Black-and-white photographs. Fifteen sheets: 3 9/16 × 5 1/2 in. (9 × 14 cm) or 5 1/2 × 3 9/16 in. (14 × 9 cm); one sheet: 6 7/8 × 9 7/16 in. (17.5 × 24 cm). Collection of Graciela Carnevale/Archivo Graciela Carnevale. © Graciela Carnevale. Courtesy of Pinacoteca de São Paulo.