Erased from History: How the Latino Anti-Blackness Has Omitted Latinx Artists from the Great Catalogs

Photo via Wilson Borja Artwork (bechance.net) Belatina, Latinx
Photo courtesy of Afro-Caribbean artist, Wilson Borja artwork (bechance.net)

Amid the struggle for the just representation and inclusion of all communities of color in social debates, there are two major pillars responsible: discourse and history.

And when it comes to art, the large catalogs and institutions are responsible for giving recognition and bringing to light the work of artists of color, women, and members of diverse communities.

However, this has not exactly been true, in large part because of the same endogenous racism that permeates the Latin American community.

As Hyperallergic, a platform for the dissemination of the arts reported, the challenge facing Latinx artists in the United States is particularly difficult, compared to the privilege enjoyed by their white Latin American counterparts, which researcher Arlene Davila calls “national privilege.”

“A geographical presence in Central or South America and access to local spheres of influence, as well as the perception of authenticity from predominantly white, North American stakeholders,” Dávila defines the rigid structures of recognition in the art world, which only a small percentage of Latinx artists have been able to enjoy.

Black, indigenous, LGBTQ, and women artists are often mistakenly labeled “illegitimate” by the same audiences that applaud Latin American artists who, since the early 20th century, have filled the walls of major museums and exhibition halls.

In her latest book, Latinx Art: Artists, Markets, and Politics, Dávila dissects the concept of “national privilege” through the lens of race and class disparities with a “mirror” dynamic in both North and South America.

As Hyperallergic explains, in the five chapters of her book, Dávila advocates a broader use of the “Latinx” identifier to solve the prejudice against the creation of the diaspora. Dávila defines this “productive category” and claims that it is not used more frequently and is often missing from artists’ biographies.

But perhaps the essential aspect of this “fundamental” book, as described by the media, is the open criticism of the institutions and decision-makers of the “Latin American elite,” who have played a critical role in the “marginalization” of Latinx artists.

In an article published by the University of California Press, Dávila explains his point with an example:

“When E. Carmen Ramos organized Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art (2013) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, art holdings of Latinx artists at the institution were minimal and unbalanced. The museum lacked works by foundational figures; entire groups like Dominican Americans were missing, as were genres like abstract art; and with a collection dominated by colonial and folk art and work by Mexican Americans, it was impossible to produce any comprehensive exhibition of contemporary Latinx art, much less one that represented the diversity of artists and trends.”

For the curator, educator, and author Maria Trujillo, embracing the neologism “Latinx” in the art world proposes a “renewed freedom” in both artistic and curatorial practice, especially when the wave of activism for social justice and inclusion is opening new tables of debate.

Citing figures from the Public Library of Science (PLOS), Trujillo highlights the crisis of representation in large institutions:

“Analyzing over 40,000 artworks in the collections of 18 museums across the US, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts, to determine the gender and ethnic diversity of their collections, [the PLOS] found that 85% of artists represented in these collections are white and 87% are men,” she points out.

“This data does not represent the makeup of the United States; the last census concluded 18% of the US population to be of Latin American origin and 50.8% of the total population to be female.”

Where is the fair representation then?