Hidden Histories in Latin American Art at the Phoenix Art Museum

In a small, dark gallery at the back of the Phoenix Art Museum is a thoughtful exhibition of artworks with a global interest in subjects often left unspoken. A mysterious low rumbling of vibrating glass sets the stage for Hidden Histories in Latin American Art: Teresa MargollesLa Búsqueda (The Search) (2014) is an installation consisting of glass panels plastered with missing-persons posters transported from Ciudad Juárez. Margolles’ work focuses on the women murdered in one of Mexico’s fastest-growing cities, and the glass panels evoke the urban sites where families search for their lost daughters, sisters, and mothers. Each woman has a story, and a family that is desperately trying to locate her.

Graciela Sacco.

Graciela Sacco. Enfrentados (serie Tensión Admisible), 2011; photographic inlay on wood, installed on wall. Courtesy of Diana Lowenstein Gallery and Artist.

The work of the six Latin American and Latino artists in Hidden Histories personalizes the staggering statistics of displaced, marginalized, and murdered individuals, both historically and presently. Using commonplace materials, these artists attempt to give voice to those who have been silenced or forgotten. At the front of the gallery, a broken wooden barricade overlaid with an image of Argentinian protesters confronting military police juts outs from the wall. Graciela Sacco’s Enfrentados (serie Tensión Admisible) [Confronted (Admissible Tension Series)] has a fractured barrier and an air of resistance; it stands as the lone positive response to the struggle against injustice.

Teresa Margolles.

Teresa Margolles. La Búsqueda (The Search), 2014; multimedia installation with sound; 112.5 x 71 ¼ x 47 ¼ in., 112.5 x 38 x 47 ¼ in., and 112.5 x 52 x 47 ¼ in. Photo: Thomas Strub.

In Untitled (Mobius), artist Luis González Palma fabricated a roll of felt resembling a blanket or rug that reveals the face of a young woman obscured by red threads. The woman is from one of Guatemala’s vulnerable indigenous communities. Lacking basic human rights, these communities have been held back and suppressed. The contradiction of revealing and obscuring, along with the title’s reference to a Möbius strip, alludes to the past and present marginalization of these people.

Doris Salcedo.

Doris Salcedo. Untitled, 1995; wood, concrete, steel, glass, and cloth; 110 × 47 × 14 ½ in. Photo: Ken Howie.

The Colombian civil war and ensuing unrest and violence motivated Doris Salcedo to create works wrought with emotional and psychological tensions. Her untitled piece from 1995 is one of a large group of sculptures combining domestic wooden furniture with cement. An armoire has been filled with cement and rendered dysfunctional; the furniture and its associations with domesticity and the body become evocative of death and entombment.

V. Valdez.

Vincent Valdez. The Strangest Fruit, 2014; pencil on paper; 40 x 26 in.

In contrast to Salcedo’s more abstract references, there are two figurative drawings by Vincent Valdez from his The Strangest Fruit series. Inspired by the history of lynched Mexicans and Mexican Americans from the late 1800s well into the 1930s, the title is borrowed from Abel Meripool’s poem “Strange Fruit,” made famous by Billie Holiday’s 1930s recording of the same name. The haunting lyrics use the metaphor of “strange fruit” to characterize victims hanged from trees. Valdez individualizes the erased histories of Latinos by drawing his friends in the positions of the dead. Depicted in modern clothing, the young men in these drawings poetically reference the current state of racial discrimination toward Latinos in the United States.


Annie Lopez. Sighting Mexicans in Phoenix, 2012; cyanotype on paper; 26 ½ x 17 ½ in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Similarly, Phoenix-based artist Annie Lopez is a fourth-generation Mexican American who incorporates her personal history into works that echo the sentiments of discrimination that underpin the exhibition. Sighting Mexicans in Phoenix (2012) is a photograph of her mother and aunt walking happily down the street in the 1950s, printed with gun sights over their bodies in reference to current-day racial profiling. Naturalized Citizens (2013) uses her family’s naturalization papers to create a cyanotype paper dress that alludes to the need to display one’s citizenship when it is so often called into question just by outward appearance.

While the works in Hidden Histories bravely assert a multitude of issues in Latin America and the U.S., the question lingers as to why the exhibition is sequestered in a small gallery wrapped around the freight elevator. The Phoenix Art Museum’s concurrent exhibition features works by such heavy-hitting Latino artists as Alfredo Jaar, Vik Muniz, José Bedia Valdés, Félix González-Torres, and Luis Molina-Pantin, among others. It would have been refreshing to see the Hidden Histories works, more than half of which are by women, expanded in a larger space to allow the sound of those voices to go from a whisper to a shout.

Hidden Histories in Latin American Art is on view at the Phoenix Art Museum through August 23, 2015.

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