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The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures: Research and Museums Conference Documentation
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Aesthetics Beauty: Transcript of Discussion Session

Challenging Traditional Curatorial Practices

Historicizing Narratives

Borders and Diasporas

Aesthetics Beauty

The Body: The Real and the Symbolic

All Abstracts



MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  Good morning. I'm Victor Zamudio-Taylor and it's my pleasure to ask some few questions, string in a tensile-like fashion hopefully some of the issues dealt with, and open up the floor for discussion of these most interesting, sharp, provocative presentations.

            And this panel as the other panel I think is also very indicative of our new generation of scholars and curators and professionals.  And it's very important that this conference is taking place and it's emblematic of the state of the field insofar as we no longer need to legitimize our field of study and our professional preparation.

            And I think that for future conferences it would be very interesting to have nonLatino colleagues from both the community base as well as major institutions participate in the panels as discussants or as presenters so that we can take this moment on to the next step, which has to do with a dialogue and intervention in wider professional constructs.

            The title of the panel was developed by the organizers, "Esthetics and Beauty," and, like our like our usage of "mestizaje" and of issues having to do with slavery, these are terms that are completely loaded intellectually and with a lineage that I think is important for us to deal with.

            And all the panelists dealt with esthetics and beauty by means of their focused and critical sharp object analysis of their experience or the artists they are working with.  All of them at one point or another did utilize the term "esthetics" or formal issues or conceptual issues.

            So I think it's very important for us to think about how we can challenge and differentiate ourselves from that baggage which goes from Aristotle's "Poetics" on to its medieval versions either in the Iberian Peninsula or in what is now Europe to the Renaissance and Baroque rereading of the Greek classics and all the esthetic debates at that time and on to our modern era, which is actually the body of knowledge that most informs us, which has to do with enlightenment, that is to say, Kant's concepts of beauty and esthetics on to Hegel on to Marx and on to 20th century post- modernism so that it's very important for us to define and defy that tradition as we are utilizing that terminology.

            Another thread I think through the presentations has to do with issues about professional, artistic, and curatorial agency that involves issues about self- representation, choice of the object or subject matter that we are dealing with, and issues of subjective agency and practice and its repercussion in wider fields.

            And by that I mean it's very interesting for us to see how indexical the materials that the panelists chose to work with relate to the role of the Latino and Latina intellectual, the role of the Latino and Latina curator, and how we relate to our larger and wider communities as well as to those communities that in many respects historically have marginalized us as communities.

            I'll begin with a couple of points that I think are very important that Rocio dealt with and that has to do with the contextualization of art and particularly art of Latino and persons of color in the States within the larger context of visual culture, particularly aspects dealing with style, with passion, and with urban culture, and how these artists are redefining that field.  So while they are partaking of the same materials and signs and symbols as their counterparts like Jeff Kuhns and Cindy Sherman and Nan Golden, who Rocio mentioned, there is also an operation that's very similar to what Tere pointed out with the calendars, that is to say, the usage of similar imagery or ambiance or semiotic systems but for different purposes.

            That I think is a very important aspect of that presentation.  And a point that also needs to be addressed is how do we work with Latino artists who don't want to be in Latino exhibitions?  So that, for example, the work of Luis Gespert, who is a Cuban-American and actually trained at Yale, is I think very suitable and very important for Rocio's proposal at the same time that artists shies away from being essentialized within Latino constructs.  So I think that's a really important issue, which is how the curator and the professional and the researcher negotiate these shifts of identities, Latino/Latina, Chicano/Chicana, post-Chicano/post-Chicana, post-Latino, Latin American, et cetera.

            With respect to Ondine's presentation what I found extremely important is the relationship between art as a form of knowledge and as a practice of knowledge and its relationship to the broader material and visual culture that in this case is politicized within the context of Los Angeles.

            And I thought that his relationships were extremely sharp and poignant about those relationships and about how one can read with an art historical background and an interdisciplinary background these seemingly disconnected issues and themes.

            But like Luis Gespert in Rocio's proposal Ruben Ortiz is also interesting. One can also define him as a Chicanoized Mexican.  One can also think of Enrique Chamoya and Guillermo ÄÄÄÄ and, to be sure, the diaspora and the hybrid in the border is redefining our concept but at the same time there is a border and many times Latinos and Chicanos have issues with Mexicans and Latin Americans because the politics of power imbalances still exist in terms of art market and in terms of exhibitions and in terms of context.  So I found that extremely invigorating presentation in terms of the agenda.

            Judith's presentation I thought was most fascinating because it shifted the attention away from the object and from more exhibition-based proposals or analysis of objects to pedagogical and more conceptual conformative aspects of knowledge and how that also informs a concept of esthetics or beauty when the process and the site and the learning that takes place is in fact a category of that esthetics or of that beauty.

            Tey's work also touched on those aspects of beauty and esthetics insofar as how new technologies within new forms of agency, namely, Hispana and Chicana and Latina use of these media, creates images that defy and define paradigms and in this case are particularly interesting and important for us because it touches on subject matter that is taboo and sacred from the communities we represent.

            And so how do we negotiate as curators these widening forms of technology and agency and media when they're dealing with such loaded subject matter?  And it was I think a very important presentation for us today.

            And lastly Tere's presentation, which dealt also with issues about esthetics and self-representation and tradition but how that use of the calendars becomes a hybrid use of a tradition and an imagery when it's decontextualized and placed in another politic, in another context, particularly for a reading of how the myth is reimagined and how it conforms art for the Chicano and Chicana's social imaginary.

            So I think that these issues of what are the aspects of beauty and aesthetics and how that relates to broader issues that we have and aspects that have to do with how we name ourselves and how we conceive ourselves and how we negotiate our research and professional duties I think is a good way to begin.


MS. ARANDA-ALVARADO:  I actually have a question for Tey.  Raquel Salinas, the model for the Vergine de Guadalupe, is a performance artist and you mentioned several times her past experiences of trauma, violence against women.  Yet she is a performance artist who writes her own scripts, assumes multiple roles, gets in front of people up on stages, and performs a kind of self-healing, is defining a voice and making a presence and telling her story about victimization, brutalization, but also self-empowerment.  That's the focus of her work.

            And those stories, her performances, what happens outside of the actual representation of the Vergine de Guadalupe by Alma Lopez, what happens outside, is directly connected to that image.  So how was that broader social context of Raquel as model of Vergine communicated to the museum audience?


DR. NUNN:  At first it wasn't communicated to the museum audience.  It started getting communicated through some media interviews because she was in Los Angeles and the exhibit was in New Mexico.

            The museum is looking at some point at holding a conference about the Our Lady controversy and having Raquel come and do her performance.  We wanted her to do it then but for many reasons we decided that it wasn't a good idea.  The passion in all of this was so great that it was not safe for a very long time for her to be there.

            Without going into a lot of details but just to give you an example, Sandra Cisneros came to support us and to read her piece, which Our Lady is inspired after, Guadalupe as Sex Status from the original Guadalupe collection edited by Ana Castillo. In looking at this and looking at all the dynamics, and Sandra donated her time and her reading, we ended up having the reading in Albuquerque and not in Santa Fe.  That's how heated it was.

            So we talked to Raquel a number of times to bring her in but it was a mutual decision on everybody's part that it wasn't the right time.  But when we do the conference we will have her.


QUESTION:  I was going to ask Tey to also talk about perhaps during that same time there was an appropriation of that whole situation by some artists in Santa Fe. Paula Lopez had an exhibit by other artists who pulled out some of their stuff that they felt that they weren't able to necessarily publicly exhibit and Goldie Garcia also was able to do a performance piece so that was sort of an immediate response by some artists in Santa Fe that was very interesting, I think.


DR. NUNN:  Yes.  It was called Las Malcrianas (?) and it was held in a private gallery.




MS. RAMIREZ:  Well, it's interesting that I actually gave a talk around the time of this protest called "Sacrilege" discussing this and also the virgin that was protested in the Sensation show.  And I was just wondering, actually, the Sensation show did proceed this and whether you think that in fact what was happening in New York might have played a role in people's hypersensitivity to this?

            Because what I have explained to the audience was that in fact a curator can't really anticipate because sometimes they blame the curator and say well, didn't you know that this would happen and it's, like, you can't anticipate necessarily which image is going to cause controversy.  And I was particularly surprised because of the historical recreations within Chicano culture of the Vergine that that particular image would be necessarily controversial.

            And, number two, because it was on this book cover and there was nothing necessarily protested about it being on the book cover you would imagine as a curator that it's a green light to go ahead and put it in your show.  So I just want to know a little bit more about the context in which you made the decision, okay, this is a good piece versus not?


DR. NUNN:  I'll answer this really briefly so we can get to some other questions.  When I was considering the piece for the show I was really worried about the breasts on the angel holding up Our Lady, concerned enough to meet with the education department.

            I wasn't worried about the Our Lady image, the image of Raquel as Our Lady.  But I really was worried about the breasts because we do have a lot of school groups going through.

            But the education department, we all met, we talked about it, and we have a lot of nude folk art.  We have a lot of male nudity and a lot of female nudity.  And so that's the part that I was worried about.  I was not worried about Our Lady.

            Among the many things that happened and, as I said, this is very complex and northern New Mexico is at times a very unique place, which is one of the reasons why this got so heated, the bikini.  A male reporter used the term "Bikini Virgin." "Bikini Virgin" became a flashpoint just like "Dung Virgin" and became a major flash point.

            And all people needed to hear was there's a Virgin of Guadalupe in a bikini or sometimes the angel and the Virgin got melded together and it was a naked Virgin without seeing the image.  So it just created a lot of emotion.  That was a very key point in all of that.


MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  I think that from these experiences no doubt there are, totems and taboos and sacred terrains that curatorially I think we do now have to take into account.  For example, when they exhibited Paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico there were guards specifically sen out in the galleries so that people don't begin to bring offerings and burn candles in the museum.  It's that powerful.

            Any questions or comments, please, preferably questions for the presenters? Yes.


QUESTION:  I just wanted to begin with an acknowledgement to the panelists.  I think you individually but yet collectively in a voice have stumbled upon a very important kind of methodological tool which I recall from political economy.  At least in the social sciences that's what we call it.  Each of you in a very different way have engaged the political economy of art practice, of curating the production of art, and I think that's the way in which Chicano/ Latino scholars should look at art or else they run the danger of missing exactly what's going on.  I wanted to commend that activity.

            The question is drawing on Judith's work, which I was very inspired by, for the other panelists how do you draw that out in practice?  For half of you it's in the museum and the other half of you it's in your teaching.


MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  Good question.


MS. ROMO:  I'll start first.  I think for me one of the things that I've been interested in as a curator is looking at specifically Chicano art but then obviously you have to look at the linkages with Mexican art because not all but a lot of the influences and I think at one point in one of Tomas' readings he talked about nutrient sources and it certainly is because in some ways a lot of the art that you saw obviously it's filtered through the fact that Chicanos have either grown up, born here in the United States, or like myself came when I was very, very young.  So in a sense you can't avoid those influences so in a sense trying to look at these different sources and then take them and then in my case either through writing or ideally through exhibitions being able to pull all these images together.

            And this is an exhibition I really do want to do because I think it would be really great to not only see the original paintings because some of these, I mean, just visually they're stunning not only in terms of the images but also the sizes.

            Some of these paintings, like the one called Sochi (?), it's, like, about 10 feet by 8 feet.  I mean, just visually it has this great impact.  To be able to take that and then explore more that whole concept of how Chicanos took those images and reworked them and also get more into why they were gravitating towards those images and what kinds of things they wanted to do with them and, of course, I consider myself a product of the Chicano movement so I am going to look at the social implications, the political implications, and what somebody talked about, the power relations and looking at all of those things because I think that there's no such thing as art in a vacuum.

            I mean, I don't care what anybody tells you about artists.  He grew up in a society, grew up with a certain idea of esthetics, and whether they're trying to refute them or not they're still a product of their own upbringing and what they were exposed to.  So in a sense that's what has informed my work as a scholar and as a curator.  So I'm going to continue to look at those different angles and try to put exhibitions that look at these waves in a totally different way and, like I said you can look at the calendars nostalgically and say they do represent a certain time period and a very romantic time period and appreciate them for that.  But then, like I said, if you keep digging deeper you've got to know where those artists came from that actually produced them and then what they bring along with them that's reflected in that art.



QUESTION:  Well, I want to follow the commendations that have already started but I want everybody here to recognize what a historic moment this is; that is, we started out with Gary Keller, who is a longtime activist, and his two books are really important, University of Arizona Press.

            But I want to talk about the question of lineage because starting with the very first speaker yesterday I hope that we're all beginning to feel that there's a tradition and a lineage of scholarship and of knowledge that is being passed on and I'd like to tell a story about me.

            When I came to Stanford the tradition there is when you go for tenure when you're given tenure after a lot of struggle you get to invite somebody to speak about the field.  And I asked Don Fernando Alegria, who is a great Chilean scholar of Latin American literature, to speak.  And what he spoke about was this tradition and this lineage.  He said when I came to Stanford 30 years ago there was only Spanish literature, Peninsular Spanish literature, and all of us, we came from Chile, we came from wherever that was our tradition and I struggled very, very hard, and this is Fernando Alegria saying, to open up a space and to open up a genealogy and to open up a trajectory and to open up the fact that we also had a mind, we Latin Americans.

            And I am very happy that tonight, we continue this tradition by having a young scholar, 35 years ago, me, when I have hair, who is continuing the tradition by now being a professor of Chicano literature.  So I think that more than anything what this conference I hope makes all of us feel is that there is a lineage, and there is a tradition and, as everybody has said, you represent the next level.  It's a really terrific day.


MS. ARANDA-ALVARADO:  Since Tomas shared a story I want to share one, too.  I remember the first time I saw the Diego Rivera exhibition, the retrospective, and I went to that exhibition and I stood in the first two galleries, where the cubist work was and I cried because I felt so angry that in an entire class on cubism at the graduate level that man's name was not mentioned once and I think part of our duty is to correct those things.  And Tomas is leading all of us right now in that direction and that's what I try to do every day of my life.

            And in answer to Karen's question to keep including things that are continually excluded from a museum.  I'm lucky.  At the place where I work we have a very long history of being the kind of place where because Jersey City is so diverse we reflect that in our programming even since the early 1970s.  So I am very happy to be where I am but I continue to fight that same battle.  It's very important.


MS. HUACUJA:  I have something I wanted to say about lineage and political economy.  The artists that I spoke about are very in touch with Chicano activism and Mexican and Latin American activism.  And this idea of pedagogy, this idea of using art as a moment to point to the political economy and to agitate and activate, very much comes out of a Latin American lineage.

            These artists of the 1960s and 70s who are now working in the 1990s and the new millennium know about the pedagogy of the oppressed and the pedagogy of hope and this idea of using art that does not point to the lineage saying art is this one discrete object and as exhibitors we put it on display and it emanates directly to you a sense of beauty.  Rather, this Latin American lineage says art is the social relationships pertaining around and through the making of the art and as exhibitors we need to always point to those social relationships and as a scholar you certainly got us started 35 years ago so thank you.

DR. NUNN:  As you can tell, I am the insensitive curator.  I was just going to say that without getting too emotional that what I try and do in my work is always get the artist involved.  My project before this, which is an interesting juxtaposition and one of these days I'll do a paper both of them, was called "Sin Hombre, Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era," and it was a major recovery project started here at the Smithsonian.  It's all Magdalena's fault and Gil's and everybody's and Tomas'.

            That took seven years in recovering the voices, the art works, and the stories of the Hispano and Hispana, and I use that because of New Mexico, artists of the WPA because they were completely left out and that was a major community project.  And because of that and just because of my experience here at the Smithsonian I just think it's very important not only to include our voices because the artists have such a tough time, and one of the very quick questions I was telling somebody the other day about the opening day of Cyber Arte where we had an artists panel and four artists.  It was like a talk show, Oprah Winfrey, and I said, "How do you feel about having your work being in a folk art museum?"

            And the artists started answering about folk art and their eloquent answers about I work with Marian Martinez with computer parts, I work with what's around me, and we're finally just so glad to be in the museum.

DR. CHAVOYA:  I think the one thing that I can just say briefly is that because of this lineage but also I want to indicate the kind of relationship that the scholars, the generation of Tomas and others, have had with the artists, also, that that has also been a model that's been very important to me.

            And I also want to say that as a result of that one of the things that I've been very self-reflective about throughout my whole process of graduate school and then becoming, as someone described, very inscribed in New England and now in his little ivies, right, these incredible places of privilege and teaching in one of the most distinguished undergraduate art history programs in the country now, is that one of the things that I've learned is that I never want to be an art critic.

            And that doesn't mean that I don't want to use critical thinking and critical skills and so forth but that I really don't want to expend my time disliking and dissing, right, artists and their work and their contributions.  I really do see myself and hope that I will always continue to be an arts advocate and that's something that I have learned very much from this lineage within Chicana and Latino art history.

MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  So just one closing statement.

MS. MIERI:  Don't close.  What I'd like to say is that I think we need to skip the break and the next session on inter- generational issues I just want to invite everybody to come and not just from the art and beauty esthetics perspective but everybody to participate in this and then we'll break for lunch.

MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  Well, then what I'll do is I'll close this session and then open up the other session that follows on the intergenerational.  And I think that given our contested histories and traditions there's also another very important aspect of this lineage, and that is the valor and courage to recognize the contributions of the prior generations and to also be able to hear the critique of the younger generations coming up and I think that's very, very characteristic of us, this intergenerational relationship and intercritical relationship between generations, and how we're able to come to the table and continue our practices with this complexity and dynamism of different positions involving our different histories and our different advocacies and agendas that relate to our personal and professional lives.

            On that note I'd also like to close out this panel and open up the floor.


DR. CHAVOYA:  But we're not on the hot seat for this next discussion.


MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  No, we're not on the hot seat for this next discussion but I think we need a moderator for the next discussion.

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