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Catching Feelings at “Future Direction in U.S. Latinx Art” Symposium @ The Clark Institute

Cover of symposium schedule. Cover image: Rafa Esparza, Detail of “New American Lanscapes. Self Portrait: Catching Feelings (Ecstatic)”, 2017.

On May 4th, I went to the Clark Art Institute to attend a symposium: “Alternative Art Histories: Future Directions in U.S. Latinx Art”. To be honest, I only attended Panel 1, with three speakers: Rocío Aranda-Alvarado (art historian and Program Officer for the Ford Foundation, former curator of El Museo del Barrio), Rita Gonzalez (Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head of Contemporary Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and Pilar Tompkins Rivas (Director of Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College).

The morning was powerful; Rocío Aranda-Alvarado broke down the term Latinx, the term’s predecessors, siblings and other relatives, and then the “Pre-Latinx” Generation artists that paved the way to our contemporaries in her lecture “They’re Coming to America: The Pre-Latinx Generation”. Rita Gonzalez described the route Latinx Artists have and continue to enter the fine-art world through her aptly titled lecture, “Basements, Portals, Adobes: Latinx Artists Reconceiving Institutional Exhibitionary Frameworks”. Pilar Tompkins Rivas then outlined her scrappy and effective restructuring of the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM), VPAM’s programs that place young Latinx scholars at institutions like the Smithsonian and discussed the need for other parts of the artworld (scholars, collectors, museum institutions) to show-up and support Latinx artists.

During the Q & A, I listened to like-minded students and scholars discuss their ache for representation in art history.

In 2016, Seph Rodney of HYPERALLERGIC interviewed Dr. Adriana Zavala, associate professor of art history and director of the Latino Studies program at Tufts University. At that time, Dr. Zavala, identified only six full professors of US Latino art history, and only one of them taught Chicano or Latino art full time. Meanwhile, she found that approximately 95 colleges and universities teach Latin American art history/ have field specialists in Latin American art history.

Carolyn E Herrera. Collage with excerpt from a May 3, 2019 journal entry. 2019.

I thought today that I would write about the information that I gleaned from my 2.5 hours of attendance of this symposium, but when I was reading my notes, I noticed that a day prior I wrote in my Moleskine: “A quick coffee & muffin before work. Feeling like I’m always behind, but I’m trying to be kinder to myself.”

I know I’m not the only P.O.C. or LatinX person who feels like they are always behind schedule. I feel like this is prevalent in our community as we compromise our finances, “free time”, personal lives, and mental health in order to “catch up” to reach historically white spaces.

I’ve been playing around with this feeling for a while. I am not comfortable complaining, but I will say it was validating to hear from other Latinx people describe their route as an up-hill battle to study and represent their culture in art history.

To educate myself I know I bargain my day-jobs, my personal relationships, and my mental health. I make these concessions because I find myself within every little bit of information that I glean. I want you and I, to agree that we need to be kinder to ourselves as we make these compromises. It’s not sustainable to feel like we are ‘behind’ or to compare ourselves to other people’s stories.

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