In 2017, art historians Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta curated an exhibition titled Radical Women: Latin American Art that made its debut at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California. After working on its inception for seven years, the display served both as a testament to the obscurity of women’s work in Latin American art history and a revelation of the amount of work that has been unexplored as a result.
Andrea Giunta explains in her book Feminismo y el Arte Latinoamericano, “the art world is predominantly white, European, North American, heterosexual, and above all, male… the percentage of women’s artwork in the art world has never exceeded 10% and, on average, it has constituted around 5% of the total.”
As Latin American professionals who have dedicated their scholarship to the study of female artists’ strength and activism, it’s no surprise they teamed up to challenge the patriarchal lenses of history that deny and disregard women’s contributions.
The narrative of Latina involvement in Latin American art cultivation has been reduced to the idea that they just weren’t producing notable work and, therefore, aren’t worthy of being showcased in historians’ records. Cecilia Fajardo-Hill recounts in an interview with Hyperallergic that many historians dismissed their extensive research as irrelevant since history has traditionally excluded women’s role in art, especially during the time-frame the exhibition encapsulates. “It comes from a patriarchal perspective where they accept the history that we have as the status quo. And it’s very comfortable to think that history is okay, especially when you’re a man,” she explained.
With the intent of amplifying the presence of women artists working in Latin America and US-born Chicanas and Latinas between 1960 and 1985, Radical Women addressed the art history gap that segregated and obscured the work of women that were an influential part of the development of contemporary art.
By representing 15 countries, 120 artists, and over 280 artworks, they brought forth the various works that focused on the notions of political bodies. Featuring emblematic artists such as Lygia Pape, Ana Mendieta, and Marta Minujín alongside freshly discovered artists such as Zilia Sánchez, Feliza Burstztyn, and Sophie Rivera, the display captures the radical and experimental expressions of these artists that forged new paths in a variety of mediums.
Their approach and perspective in tackling this narrative of women’s involvement in art is the first of its kind. Although art historian Linda Nochlin had previously produced a popular body of work in 1971, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Fajardo-Hill poses that, for them, the question was not about questioning the quality of the work but rather their whereabouts.
As a result of permeating prejudice and sexism, women work’s visibility and success have been denied for centuries. Because this framework is still alive today, this kind of radicalism is important and poignant as it continues to pave the road for women’s contributions to be recognized in systems that only acknowledge men as the sole shapers of art’s history.